Music Concert Video Review: ‘John Williams: Live in Vienna (Limited Deluxe Edition CD + Blu-ray)

(C)  2020 Bernhard Fleischer Moving Images GmbH & Deutsche Grammophon (Universal Music Group)

John Williams/ Wiener Philharmoniker/ Anne-Sophie Mutter John Williams – Live in Vienna (Limited Deluxe Edition CD + Blu-ray)


On August 14, 2020, Deutsche Grammophon (a Berlin-based subsidiary of Universal Music Group and the oldest surviving recording company in the world) released

John Williams/ Wiener Philharmoniker/ Anne-Sophie Mutter John Williams – Live in Vienna (Limited Deluxe Edition CD + Blu-ray), a two-disc set that presents a performance by the Vienna Philharmonic of 15 film themes by five-time Oscar-winning composer John Williams.  

Joining Maestro Williams and the Vienna Philharmonic is Anne-Sophie Mutter, one of the world’s best living violinists and a long-time friend of the legendary composer/conductor who wrote scores for the Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Harry Potter films. Mutter, who is from Germany, met Williams when she was married to his long-time friend and fellow musician Andre Previn; in 2019, she collaborated with him for the first time when they recorded Across the Stars, which was also a Deutsche Grammophon release.

From the Deutsche Grammophon website:

When the legendary American film composer John Williams conducted the Vienna Philharmonic for the first time, Der Standard headlined its report “A Visit from God” and continued: “He was hailed by a standing, cheering ovation like God himself received by earthly disciples.” John Williams in Vienna documents this historical performance – “a very special honour” in the life of the composer.

Symphonic Hollywood sounds on the stage of the Vienna Musikverein: the world-famous orchestra plays iconic themes from Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park and other milestones in film history. Star guest Anne-Sophie Mutter performs violin arrangements made especially for her by Williams himself.

Filmed in January at the Wiener Musikverein (or, in English, Golden Hall, House of the Society of Friends of Music) by director Michael Beyer and his crew, the filmed concert showcases two hours and nine minutes’ worth of the Vienna Philharmonic’s first foray into the world of Hollywood music.

Photo Credit: (C) 2020 Terry Linke, DGG

Unlike Britain’s London Symphony Orchestra, which performed music used in the soundtracks for the first six Star Wars films, Superman, Dracula, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Wiener Philharmoniker had never played any material composed exclusively for the movies. In Austria – and to some extent in Germany, too –  “classical music” conductors, performers, critics, and even listeners tend to place orchestral music into two categories: “serious” music by the masters – Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Berlioz, and Mahler; and “entertainment” music, which includes “beautiful music/easy listening,” pop, and film scores. (The Blu-ray delves deeper into this cultural curiosity in a conversation between John Williams and Anne-Sophie Mutter which is one of  John Williams – Live in Vienna’s extra features.)

As the Bernhard Fleischer Moving Images (BFMI) webpage for John Williams – Live in Vienna describes the relationship between the players of the Wiener Philharmoniker and the 88-year-old Maestro Williams:

The Hollywood legend and the world-famous orchestra, joined by violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, performed iconic themes from cinematic landmarks including Star Wars, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park. The legendary American composer’s movie soundtracks are among the best-loved of all time and have received countless prestigious awards, including five Oscars, five Emmys, four Golden Globes and twenty-five Grammys.

Mutter captivated the Musikverein audience with a series of the virtuosic arrangements written specially for her by Williams, including ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ from the Harry Potter films, ‘Devil’s Dance’ from The Witches of Eastwick and the Theme from Sabrina. The conductor and the violinist formed their artistic partnership last year for their album Across The Stars, featuring many new arrangements of John Williams’ iconic movie themes for violin and orchestra.

John Williams admitted he’d been unsure how the Vienna Philharmonic would adapt to playing his music. “I couldn’t have been more happily surprised,” he said after their concerts. “I have to compliment the orchestra on their great virtuosity and fantastic ability to perform all styles of music.” During rehearsals the Vienna Philharmonic’s brass players asked John Williams if they could add the ‘Imperial March’ from Star Wars to the programme. “It was honestly one of the best presentations of that March I’ve ever heard”, Williams reflected afterwards. “They played it as though they owned it and I felt very grateful to them for giving me a chance to play it at the end of our programme.”

John Williams: Live in Vienna documents this historic collaboration between the composer, the Vienna Philharmonic, and soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter and their interpretations of the following compositions:

John Williams

THE FLIGHT TO NEVERLAND
from HOOK

EXCERPTS
from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND

HEDWIG’S THEME
from HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE

THEME
from SABRINA

DONNYBROOK FAIR
from FAR AND AWAY

DEVIL’S DANCE
from THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK

ADVENTURES ON EARTH
from E.T.

THEME
from JURASSIC PARK

DARTMOOR, 1912
from WAR HORSE

OUT TO SEA | THE SHARK CAGE FUGUE
from JAWS

MARION’S THEME
from INDIANA JONES – RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK

THE REBELLION IS REBORN
from STAR WARS – THE LAST JEDI

LUKE & LEIA
from STAR WARS – RETURN OF THE JEDI

MAIN THEME
from STAR WARS

THEME
from CINDERELLA LIBERTY

THE DUEL
from THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN

REMEMBRANCES
from SCHINDLER’S LIST

RAIDERS MARCH
from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK

IMPERIAL MARCH
from STAR WARS


 
Wiener Philharmoniker
John Williams, conductor
Anne-Sophie Mutter, violin

As noted earlier, John Williams/ Wiener Philharmoniker/ Anne-Sophie Mutter John Williams – Live in Vienna (Limited Deluxe Edition CD + Blu-ray) includes the “standard CD” album from Deutsche Grammophon (DG), John Williams: Live in Vienna. This album is an abridged presentation of the concert filmed by Bernhard Fleischer Moving Images for C-Major Entertainment, Servus TV, and DG, and contains 13 of the 20 selections performed in the video version. 

Here is the tracklist from the audio-only CD:

John Williams: Live in Vienna

  1. Flight to Neverland from “Hook”
  2. Excerpts from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”
  3. Devil’s Dance from “The Witches of Eastwick” (with Anne-Sophie Mutter)
  4. Adventures on Earth from “E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial”
  5. Theme from “Jurassic Park”
  6. Dartmoor, 1912 from “War Horse”
  7. Out to Sea and the Shark Cage Fugue from “Jaws”
  8. Marion’s Theme from “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of The Lost Ark”
  9. Main Title from “Star Wars: A New Hope”
  10. The Rebellion is Reborn from “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”
  11. Luke & Leia from “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi”
  12. The Imperial March from “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back”
  13. The Raiders March from “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of The Lost Ark” (with Anne-Sophie Mutter)

My Take

I own quite a few albums –  including original soundtracks from all nine of the Star Wars Skywalker Saga films, Superman, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, as well as Philips and Sony Classical CDs released during and after his 1980-1994 tenure as principal conductor and music director of the Boston Pops Orchestra (for which he is the Laureate Conductor). I also have several “cover” albums of Maestro Williams’ movie themes recorded by such ensembles as the Los Angeles Philharmonic (Gustavo Dudamel, conductor) and the National Philharmonic Orchestra (Charles Gerhardt, conductor).

These recordings contain many of the selections presented in John Williams/ Wiener Philharmoniker/ Anne-Sophie Mutter John Williams – Live in Vienna (Limited Deluxe Edition CD + Blu-ray), so I probably needed the CD half of this deluxe set like, well, a hole in my head.

However, even though I have a 2015 Blu-ray – which, coincidentally, is another Bernhard Fleishcher Moving Images/C Major Entertainment presentation – titled A John Williams Celebration, which documents the gala concert by the L.A. Philharmonic with Gustavo Dudamel at the opening then-new Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, I didn’t have any “in concert” DVDsfeaturing Maestro Williams conducting an orchestra throughout an entire program of music.

(A John Williams Celebration does have an “encore” performance of The Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back in which Maestro Williams, who was the guest of honor on that occasion, conducts the L.A. Philharmonic, but that’s not quite the same thing as watching him lead an orchestra through an entire concert, like I saw Williams do in the old 1980s and early 1990s episodes of WGBH Boston’s Evening at Pops concerts.)

I stumbled upon John Williams/ Wiener Philharmoniker/ Anne-Sophie Mutter John Williams – Live in Vienna (Limited Deluxe Edition CD + Blu-ray) whilst I was doing a Google search for an officially-sanctioned DVD of a Boston Pops Orchestra concert from the “Williams era.”  I couldn’t find one on Amazon, but I did see the DG/C Major Entertainment one in one of the search results, so I first went to the DG site to see if John Williams: Live in Vienna was worth getting.

Now, I have to be brutally honest. If the DG link had led me to only the standard CD audio – with its 13 tracks – I probably would have passed. As I said earlier, I have at least 10 Philips and Sony Classical albums – recorded between 1983 and 2017 – which contain most, if not all, of the musical material heard in the audio-only CD portion of John Williams/ Wiener Philharmoniker/ Anne-Sophie Mutter John Williams – Live in Vienna (Limited Deluxe Edition CD + Blu-ray)

What made me buy the two-disc Deluxe Edition was, of course, the live-in-concert film shot in the Musikverein earlier this year – shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything throughout the world – as Maestro Williams (looking for all the world like the Jedi Master of Orchestra Conductors and in excellent form for a man a few weeks short of his 88th birthday) led the Vienna Philharmonic and guest performer Anne-Sophie Mutter through a two-hours-and-nine-minutes concert that can be best described as a Best of John Williams program.

Of course, considering the breadth of Maestro Williams’ discography – the man has been active as a film music performer/composer/conductor since the 1950s, after all – John Williams/ Wiener Philharmoniker/ Anne-Sophie Mutter John Williams – Live in Vienna (Limited Deluxe Edition CD + Blu-ray) doesn’t present all of his iconic movie themes. Every fan of the composer will doubtlessly grouse that some of his or her favorites are not in here – I would have preferred, say, a rendition of Love Theme from Superman over Nice to Be Around from 1973’s Cinderella Liberty, or The Superman March over Devil’s Dance from The Witches of Eastwick, partly because I am a huge fan of Superman: The Movie, but mostly because I have not seen either Cinderella Liberty or The Witches of Eastwick.

But these are minor complaints, at least about the Blu-ray portion of the two-disc deluxe set. The main draw for me wasn’t precisely the musical selections – although it was wonderful noting that the piece that made me a Williams fan – Main Title from Star Wars: A New Hope back in 1977 is included in the program, as are The Raiders March from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark and Luke & Leia from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. (Original Trilogy fans will note that the Star Wars portion of the program leans heavily in favor of the 1977-1983 films; no themes from the 1999-2005 prequels are in John Williams/ Wiener Philharmoniker/ Anne-Sophie Mutter John Williams – Live in Vienna, and only one Sequel Trilogy theme, The Rebellion is Reborn from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, is heard here.)

Another bonus is the onstage presence of 57-year-old Anne-Sophie Mutter, one of the world’s best living violinists. Known for her elegance – she performs in strapless gowns because slippery fabric that would otherwise cover her shoulders makes it hard for her to play the violin – and her prodigious musicianship, Mutter wins the audience over with a fine blend of keen intellect, passionate interpretations of the material – some of which was arranged for her by Williams – and femininity.  Mutter has been performing both serious and entertainment music since she was 13 (she made her professional debut in 1976), and her poise, musical instincts, and sheer joy of performing in front of a live audience shine through in her on-stage appearances.

All in all, John Williams/ Wiener Philharmoniker/ Anne-Sophie Mutter John Williams – Live in Vienna (Limited Deluxe Edition CD + Blu-ray) is a good deal, considering that you get a CD and a Blu-ray in the same package.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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