Music Album (Mixed Media) Review: ‘John Williams/Berliner Philharmoniker: The Berlin Concert’

(C) 2022 Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

John Williams/Berliner Philharmoniker: The Berlin Concert (2022)

Release Date: February 4, 2022 (Germany and European Union); March 4, 2022: U.S. & Canada

Label: Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Music Group

Genre: Classical/Stage & Screen

Style: Orchestral/Film & Screen

On Friday, March 4, 2022, Berlin-based Deutsche Grammophon (DG) released John Williams/Berliner Philharmoniker: The Berlin Concert, a “live” concert performance by the 140-year-old Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of five-time Academy Award-winning composer/conductor John Williams of selections from the Maestro’s repertoire of film scores and classical music compositions.

Billed as the meeting of two legends – the New World’s dean of film composition and the Old’s “greatest orchestra” – The Berlin Concert was recorded both on audio and video at the second Berlin Philharmonie concert hall in October 2021, a few months before Williams’ 90th birthday.

Per DG’s website page about The Berlin Concert: 

Two legends shared the stage this autumn – in a glorious debut, John Williams conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker for the very first time. John Williams – The Berlin Concert, captured live by Deutsche Grammophon during a series of sold-out concerts, presents some of the world’s best-known film music performed by one of the world’s greatest orchestras. The DG album is out now and released with the renowned composer’s 90th birthday occurring just four days later (8 February). “John Williams doesn’t need the films, the films need him,” wrote Rolling Stone after the concert, while Berlin’s Der Tagesspiegel summed up the event as simply “one of those great evenings”. 

Released in several formats – including compact disc, vinyl, and digital – The Berlin Concert is, like last year’s John Williams in Vienna, is (in the words of Tobias Moller, who writes the liner notes’ essay) “a celebration of the composer who has provided the world with so many emotional experiences, of the orchestra who lent new splendour to his works, and perhaps also of the power of music itself to bring people together, something rarely encountered more forcefully than in these concerts.”

Although The Berlin Concert is similar to John Williams: Live in Vienna in format (the composer/conductor leading a major European orchestra he had not been a guest conductor previously through a program of his own music), Williams’s repertoire is so vast and varied that even though there is some overlap, there is enough of a difference between the two recordings’ musical selections for fans and new listeners to buy both albums.

The Berlin Concert is a blend of music from several periods of Williams’ storied career, ranging from what fans call the “Golden Era” of orchestral film scores from the late 1970s and ‘80s, to the “later hits” era of the 1990s and early 2000s, as well as one selection from the post-George Lucas Star Wars movies: The Adventures of Han, his new theme (and sole contribution) for Ron Howard’s 2018 Solo: A Star Wars Story.

In addition to the various themes from the movies, there are two non-film score compositions in The Berlin Concert: the Olympic Fanfare and Theme that Williams composed for the 1984 Summer Olympics (which were held in Los Angeles), and the somber classical piece for cello and orchestra, Elegy. (See the complete track list at the end of this review.)

My Take

(C) 2022 Deutsche Grammophon (Universal Music Group)

Although I could have purchased the less expensive two-disc CD album or its even more abridged digital version, I decided to treat myself to the limited-edition Deluxe set with two audio-only CDs, one video Blu-ray, and an audio-only Blu-ray, which presents the audio elements of the concert in the Philharmonie but in high-definition (HD) format

See, I used to watch the long-running Evening at Pops series of televised concerts on PBS, starting in the late 1970s when Arthur Fiedler was the conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, which he led from 1930 until his death in 1979. When John Williams was chosen to replace Fiedler, I of course watched Evening at Pops with a more vested interest, even though I already was a fan during the last years of Fiedler’s life. 

Williams stepped down as the Boston Pops’ principal conductor after the 1993 concert season, but he is still the orchestra’s Laureate Conductor. But since the Boston Symphony (the Pops’ parent organization) canceled Evening at Pops 20 years ago, I rarely see a John Williams concert performance on TV. Thus, whenever I have an opportunity to buy a Blu-ray or DVD of a John Williams-related concert, I take it.

The Deluxe Edition’s video presentation – directed by Michael Beyer – not only highlights The Berlin Concert’s similarities with its precursor John Williams: Live in Vienna (Williams’s guest-conducting a major European orchestra for the first time; all the music is by the dean of film scores) as well as the differences.

I’ve already said that The Berlin Concert has some overlap in its program with the earlier John Williams: Live in Vienna. Both feature Excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Hedwig’s Theme from Harry Potter, as well as a few themes from Williams’ Star Wars and Indiana Jones scores. 

Mainly, The Berlin Concert favors the Golden Era of Film Scores from the 1970s up to the early 1990s, with only a couple of themes from Williams’ 21st Century contributions – and one of them is a purely classical piece (Elegy). 

The audio CD of John Williams: Live in Vienna – Live Edition (C) 2021 Deutsche Grammophon (DG)

And unlike John Williams: Live in Vienna, the Maestro and the Berlin Philharmonic perform without a megastar guest performer like Anne-Sophie Mutter. Here, Herr Williams and the orchestra are the focus of both the audience and video director Beyer’s crew. The only soloist – cellist Bruno Delepelaire – is a member of the Berliner Philharmoniker; Williams wanted a member of the orchestra to have a shining moment in the 155-minutes-long concert, and Delepelaire shows his musicality in his emotional performance of the sad but lovely Elegy in the middle portion of the program.

(C) 2022 Deutsche Grammophon (Universal Music Group)

Because John Williams: Live in Vienna and The Berlin Concert were filmed 20 months apart, we see the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in full view. Williams’ appearances with the Wiener Philharmoniker occurred in January of 2020, in the last days before the pandemic altered life throughout the world and ushered in the use of masks and social distancing. At Vienna’s Great Hall of the Musikverein not long after New Year’s in 2020, no one wore masks or looked tense at his or her neighbors with suspicion or apprehension that they might have COVID-19.

In sharp contrast, at the 2021 concerts, we see the audience members all wear masks. The Berlin Philharmonic and Maestro Williams – all of whom were vaccinated and even had booster shots – do not wear masks on stage. 

A less significant difference is that Williams wore a suit and tie in Vienna, whereas in Berlin he is more casually (but still elegantly) attired in an all-black outfit, 

Well, whatever Williams wore at those different concerts is trivial. What is more interesting is that he is energetic, focused, and in command of the finest professional musicians in the world. 

One of the best features of this Deluxe Edition is that we not only see that Maestro Williams is not only still in fine form as a conductor, but that he is a genuinely witty and gentle person. 

Not only does he compliment his hosts at the Philharmonie by saying he is honored to be sharing the stage with “the greatest orchestra in the world,” but he delights the audience in the concert hall in his introductions to some of the pieces in the program. 

We learn, for instance, that when Williams was working on the score for the original Star Wars movie in 1976 and 1977, George Lucas did not tell him that he planned on making more movies in the series. He also did not tell him that Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia were siblings. Working on the assumption that Star Wars was a one-shot kind of project, Williams composed a “love theme” for Princess Leia. William explains, rather amusingly, that he thought Luke and Leia would have a relationship offscreen and that they might even get married and have kids. 

He also said that when Lucas told him that Luke and Leia were brother and sister, he had to come up with a true love theme, but that would be for Han Solo and Princess Leia. 

I can listen to the music-only digital version of John Williams/Berliner Philharmoniker: The Berlin Concert on Amazon Music (at least as long as the music streaming service says I can before it asks me if I want to buy it), and while I think it contains all of the musical content, the digital album lacks much of the Deluxe Edition’s charm, which is derived from not just the performances by conductor and orchestra, but also from the interactions between Williams and the audience.

If you’ve never been to a concert where a live orchestra performs any of John Wiliams’ film scores, or if you want to see and hear true musical magic from one of the legendary composers of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, you’re in for a treat with The Berlin Concert. Whether you’re a long-time fan or a newcomer to the genre of symphonic film music. I think you’ll be amazed by how strong the Force is with Maestro Williams. 

Truly, The Berlin Concert is an amazing experience for anyone who loves movies, music, or both.   

John Williams/Berliner Philharmoniker: The Berlin Concert  Deluxe Edition – The Compact Discs

CD1-1 Applause 0:29

CD1-2 Olympic Fanfare and Theme 4:30

CD1-3 Excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Unheimliche Begegnung Der Dritten Art) 8:14

CD1-4 Introduction by John Williams 3:08

CD1-5 Suite from Far and Away (In Einem Fernen Land) 8:13

From Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Harry Potter Und Der Stein Der Weisen)

CD1-6 Introduction 1:37

CD1-7 Hedwig’s Theme 5:16

CD1-8 Nimbus 2000 2:28

CD1-9 Harry’s Wondrous World 5:26

CD1-10 Theme from Jurassic Park 5:47

CD1-11 Superman March 4:58

From Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Indiana Jones Und Der Letzte Kreuzzug)

CD2-1 Introduction 2:06

CD2-2 Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra 3:47

From Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (Indiana Jones: Jäger Des Verlorenen Schatzes)

CD2-3 Marion’s Theme 4:19

CD2-4 Raiders March 5:52

CD2-5 Introduction 1:22

CD2-6 Elegy for Cello and Orchestra

Cello – Bruno Delepelaire      7:52

CD2-7 Introduction 0:56

From Solo: A Star Wars Story

CD2-8 The Adventures of Han 4:31

From Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Star Wars: Das Imperium Schlägt Zurüch)

CD2-9 Yoda’s Theme 3:51

From Star Wars: A New Hope (Star Wars: Eine Neue Hoffnung)

CD2-10 Throne Room and Finale

Encores:

From Star Wars: A New Hope (Star Wars: Eine Neue Hoffnung)

CD2-11 Introduction 1:40

CD2-12 Princess Leia’s Theme 4:57

From E.T. The Extra-terrestrial (E.T. – Der Ausserirdische)

CD2-13 Flying Theme 4:15

From Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Star Wars: Das Imperium Schlägt Zurüch)

CD2-14 The Imperial March 3:38

The Deluxe Edition’s Audio and Video Blu-ray Discs

BD Audio & BD Video-1 Applause 1:29

BD Audio & BD Video-2 Olympic Fanfare and Theme 4:55

BD Audio & BD Video-3 Excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Unheimliche Begegnung Der Dritten Art) 8:16

BD Audio & BD Video-4 Introduction by John Williams 3:05

BD Audio & BD Video-5 Suite from Far and Away (In Einem Fernen Land) 8:21

From Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Harry Potter Und Der Stein Der Weisen)

BD Audio & BD Video-6 Introduction 1:38

BD Audio & BD Video-7 Hedwig’s Theme 5:25

BD Audio & BD Video-8 Nimbus 2000 2:40

BD Audio & BD Video-9 Harry’s Wondrous World 5:40

BD Audio & BD Video-10 Theme from Jurassic Park 6:07

BD Audio & BD Video-11 Superman March 5:08

From Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Indiana Jones Und Der Letzte Kreuzzug)

BD Audio & BD Video-12 Introduction 2:07

BD Audio & BD Video-13 Scherzo for Motorcycle and Orchestra 3:54

From Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (Indiana Jones: Jäger Des Verlorenen Schatzes)

BD Audio & BD Video-14 Marion’s Theme 4:25

BD Audio & BD Video-15 Raiders March 6:19

BD Audio & BD Video-16 Introduction 1:15

BD Audio & BD Video-17 Elegy for Cello and Orchestra

Cello – Bruno Delepelaire    8:22

BD Audio & BD Video-18 Introduction 0:51

From Solo: A Star Wars Story

BD Audio & BD Video-19 The Adventures of Han     4:43

From Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Star Wars: Das Imperium Schlägt Zurüch)

BD Audio & BD Video-20 Yoda’s Theme 3:56

From Star Wars: A New Hope (Star Wars: Eine Neue Hoffnung)

BD Audio & BD Video-21 Throne Room and Finale 9:39

Encores:

From Star Wars: A New Hope (Star Wars: Eine Neue Hoffnung)

BD Audio & BD Video-22 Introduction 1:34

BD Audio & BD Video-23 Princess Leia’s Theme 5:07

From E.T. The Extra-terrestrial (E.T. – Der Ausserirdische)

BD Audio & BD Video-24 Flying Theme 5:13

From Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Star Wars: Das Imperium Schlägt Zurüch)

BD Audio & BD Video-25 The Imperial March 5:20

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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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