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Wishing a very happy eighty-fifth birthday to the incomparable John Williams! Composer, conductor, winner of five Academy Awards (and fifty nominations) and twenty-two Grammy awards, he has given us several of the most popular movie soundtracks in the history of cinema.
When Williams became the first composer to be awarded the American Film Institute‘s lifetime achievement award in 2016, his longtime collaborator Steven Spielberg said, “Without John Williams, bikes don’t really fly, nor do brooms in Quidditch matches, nor do men in red capes. There is no Force, dinosaurs do not walk the Earth, we do not wonder, we do not weep, we do not believe.”
Erich Kunzel first led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Williams’s music—selections from Star Wars: Episode IV–A New Hope—at the Ravinia Festival on August 13, 1978. Williams himself first guest conducted the Orchestra at Ravinia on July 31, 1994, and at Orchestra Hall on November 28, 29, and December 2, 2003. During that first downtown residency on November 29, he led the Orchestra in the world premiere of his Concerto for Horn and Orchestra, dedicated to then–Principal Horn Dale Clevenger. The work was commissioned by the Edward F. Schmidt Family Commissioning Fund for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Under the baton of the composer, the Orchestra recorded a suite from Memoirs of a Geisha in August 2008, with Yo-Yo Ma as soloist. In May 2012, Williams led the Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Chorus in sessions for the soundtrack for Lincoln, later nominated for both Grammy and Academy awards.
Happy, happy birthday!
Orchestra Hall became a Hollywood recording studio in May 2012 when John Williams led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in recording sessions for the motion picture Lincoln. Director Steven Spielberg was on hand to supervise the production.
“I can’t speak for Steven certainly, but I would guess that this particular project, Lincoln, was viewed by him as a great responsibility and a daunting challenge very different than making a straightforward entertainment film,” commented Williams. “For quite a few years now I’ve been conducting the Chicago Symphony . . . one of our greatest orchestras in the country and certainly one of the best in the world. And every time I would come back from Chicago I’d say, ‘Steven, that’s the greatest orchestra in Chicago. Someday we should do something with them,’ never really thinking that would be practical. And as we approached the time to make the decisions about where, when, and how to do Lincoln, I think Steven said, ‘You know, wouldn’t it be a great time to have your friends down at the Chicago Symphony perform?’ ”
Nominations for the Grammy Awards were announced a couple of weeks ago, and John Williams received a nomination for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media for Lincoln. The soundtrack was recorded by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Orchestra Hall in May 2012. John Williams conducted, and Steven Spielberg also was on hand to supervise the production.
Williams’s score also was a nominee for an Academy Award earlier this year in the category of Best Original Score from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. (Mychael Danna‘s score for Life of Pi was the winner.)
The movie’s trailer—which prominently features the Orchestra and Chorus performing selections from Williams’s evocative score—is here:
And a behind-the-scenes video, also included as an extra on the DVD release, is here:
A complete list of this year’s Grammy nominees can be found here. The winners will be announced on Sunday, January 26, 2014.