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Concert Reviews:
Steven Spielberg, John Williams bring Hollywood glow to DSO

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Sunday, June 15, 2014

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DETROIT -- Truth be told, John Williams and Steven Spielberg could have simply shown up on stage at Orchestra Hall, waved to the crowd and walked off and still received a rapturous response.

That's the power of presence, after all, for two bona fide arts geniuses -- in music and film, respectively -- who have a case full of awards and massive box office and sales figures between them.

Fortunately the duo did much more than that on Saturday, June 15, as part of a special Detroit Symphony Orchestra Heroes concert honoring Quicken Loans and Opportunity Detroit's Dan Gilbert and Matt Cullen -- a gala event that raised more than $1.25 million, according to DSO Music Director Leonard Slatkin, and was attended by General Motors CEO Mary Barra, former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer and other dignitaries. Williams and Spielberg engaged the exuberant crowd with a polished and practiced two-hour show that combined Williams' iconic movie score music with film clips and commentary from both men, a presentation that was a bit light for those craving deep insight into their processes but certainly offered an illuminating peek into the "marriage" of movies and music.

You couldn't find a more suited pair for that type of endeavor; Spielberg and Williams have worked on 27 films together during the past 41 years, including "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," the "Raiders of the Lost Ark" series and "Schindler's List." The first half of Saturday's show, however, focused on Williams' other work, starting with an overture of "Hooray For Hollywood," accompanied by film clips, and touch on selections from "Far and Away," "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" and a particularly moving "Dartmoor, 1912" from "War Horse" before concluding with a sweeping "Star Wars" suite -- and, yes, Williams acknowledged that he's working on the music for the seventh "Star Wars" film that's currently in production.

Folksy and friendly, Williams conducted the DSO with an easy confidence and shared a personal connections with the audience; that Slatkin's mother was a cellist in his Hollywood orchestra, playing on, among other pieces, the theme from "Jaws." "Mrs. Slatkin frightened swimmers every summer," he quipped. Having Williams' pieces presented en masse was a unique experience that gave careful listeners insight into his style, particularly repeating themes and motifs that repeated themselves over the course of his career -- elements of "Star Wars" in "E.T.," for instance, and, more strikingly, parts of the "Schindler's List" score that became primary content for "Harry Potter."

Spielberg's commentary in the second half was quick and concise, noting that "if a movie can be like lightning in a bottle, a great musical score is like thunder...I can direct bicycles to fly over the moon, but musically actually lifts them." The most instructive segment came when the two presented an action scene from "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" twice, first without the music and then with it to demonstrate how, Spielberg noted, "film music gives every moment on the screen a lift."

"Marion's Theme" from the first "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was treated as a tribute to film heroines from Elizabeth Taylor to Miss Piggy, while "The Duel" from "The Adventures of Tintin" saluted swashbucklers. DSO concertmaster Yoonshin Song was spotlighted during the "Schindler's List" theme, and "E.T.'s" rousing "Adventures on Earth" was a rousing finale to a night heavy on Hollywood star power.

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