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The Art of the Score on composer John Williams

Sydney Opera House

This June, Sydney Symphony Orchestra will perform the iconic music of composer John Williams in four unique concerts at Sydney Opera House. Hear from your hosts, Art of the Score podcasters Andrew Pogson, Dan Golding and conductor Nicholas Buc, on why they are the composer’s ‘superfans’. 

Who is Art of the Score? What brought you together in the first place?

We’re three music nerds who bonded over our shared love of soundtracks. For quite a while we would meet for lunch and just talk constantly about certain films and their scores. We then put a microphone in front of us and our lunches turned into podcasts uncovering every little detail in the music for films like Star Wars and Blade Runner. From there we started doing pre-concert talks before orchestral film music shows, and finally now we’re actually up on stage with the orchestra hosting concerts of some of our favourite film music, and uncovering the art of the soundtrack with some of the best musicians in the world. But it all started with that love of the music and enjoying each other’s company and it’s still the backbone of what we do now, whether in audio form or live on stage.

What is it about John Williams that people love so much?

John Williams defined the sound of the blockbuster when it came to dominate the movies from the 1970s onwards. He had a golden run of films from 1975: Jaws, Star Wars, Close Encounters, Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and then E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, all within the space of seven years. Then he followed it up over the years with Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Harry Potter – the man has 52 Academy Award nominations for his troubles. People who haven’t seen these movies can still recognise their main themes – people who don’t even like or think about music much still probably like a bit by John Williams! He has a skill not just for writing memorable music, but writing music that is exactly what each film needs.

What do you think Williams’ impact has been on popular culture?

It’s hard to measure, or even grasp John Williams’ impact on pop culture. When you think of a big, super popular movie, chances are its got music by John Williams. Today, only Hans Zimmer comes close to that kind of impact, and even then, Zimmer doesn’t have the whistle-able melodies that Williams does. Without Williams, the movies just wouldn’t sound the same, and it’s entirely possible that some of the biggest franchises for which John Williams’ music was so important, like Star Wars, may not have been so successful.

Why is a symphony orchestra performing film music? What is the connection there?

The orchestra has been the sound of the movies since practically the very beginning. Even in the 1920s, when movies were silent, you’d still often have a big orchestra playing along live for the audience. Then when films got sound, it was the big orchestral composers of Europe, people like Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Max Steiner, who wrote the biggest music. Today, orchestras get some of their biggest and most enthusiastic audiences through film concerts. It’s the music that people want to hear, the music they grew up with - they’re sophisticated and passionate about their favourite scores in the same way classical audiences are about their favourite symphonies.

What can you tell us about the format of these shows? What can the audience expect?

These concerts are such a great time. You’ll hear some of John Williams’ biggest and most loved pieces of music, and a few surprises and rarities along the way. We’ll be there to guide you through his career, too – how he went from Johnny Williams, a 1960s jazz band leader, to the biggest composer in Hollywood. We’ll explore how his music works, too – why does Princess Leia’s theme sound so romantic? Why those five notes for Close Encounters? And we don’t just talk about it; we’ll use the Sydney Symphony Orchestra to demonstrate the magic in real time, showing how Williams can weave a melody or make you feel a certain way. Basically, we’re John Williams superfans, just like you, and we’ve written a love letter to the great man and invite the audience to come and hang out with us.

What would you like people to take away from these shows? And why should people come to the live show rather than just listen to your podcast?

We want people to love film music just as much as we do, to discover the pure magic and joy that is contained within these scores and to hopefully understand how much thought and care goes into it from composers. It isn’t just throw away music designed to be unnoticed in the background – it’s carefully crafted by some of the best musicians to have lived. And what better way to illustrate that than via a massed stage of professional, world-class musicians? No recording can replicate 100 musicians live in a concert hall – it’s breathtaking. The movies never sounded as good.

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