How John Williams changed the relationship between movies, music

By Erica Palmer

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, July 11 2014 6:48 a.m. MDT

Updated: Friday, July 11 2014 6:48 a.m. MDT

A crowd at the Deer Valley Music Festival's outdoor venue, which holds about 5,000. This Friday the Utah Symphony will perform "The Music of John Williams," a concert honoring the distinguished film score composer.

Brandon Flint, Provided by Utah Symphony

Any mention of "Star Wars," "Indiana Jones" or "Jurassic Park" is almost sure to incite a mental overture of triumphant, well-known theme music.

But without John Williams, the lauded film score composer, popular perception of these iconic movies could be completely different.

"These are the blockbuster movies and the movie franchises of the last 30 years, and John Williams has been at the center of that," said pops conductor and musician Jeff Tyzik, who will conduct the Utah Symphony in "The Music of John Williams" concert on Friday, July 11, as part of the Deer Valley Music Festival. "Literally over a billion people are familiar with his music. It's pretty hard to say that about a music composer. His film score (is) like the Beatles are to the pop world."

Williams' credits include "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977), "Superman" (1978), "E.T. the Extra Terrestrial" (1982), "Home Alone" (1990), "Hook" (1991), "JFK" (1991), "Schindler's List" (1993), "Saving Private Ryan" (1998), "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" (2001), "Catch Me If You Can" (2002), "Memoirs of a Geisha" (2005), "Lincoln" (2012) and "The Book Thief" (2013). He's also working on "Star Wars: Episode VII" (December 2015 release date).

Toby Tolokan, the vice president of artistic planning for the Deer Valley Music Festival, said the Utah Symphony continues to feature John Williams' music because there is an appetite for it.

"The audience tells us they want to hear it, and we do listen to what the audience knows and loves," he said. "We know these pieces. We grew up with them. We've listened to them over the decades."

Tyzik said Williams' ability to produce such memorable melodies and to capture characters in his music has made him such a successful film composer.

"You hear the opening of 'Jaws,' of 'Star Wars,' of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark,' and you instantly know what it is," Tyzik said. "(And) as a film composer, he is really adept at creating a sound that depicts a character. If you look at 'Jaws,' for instance, he captured the absolute terror of that shark."

Williams has also been credited for helping to bridge the gap between movie soundtracks and true classical music.

"For years, movie composers were not using actual symphony orchestras for their music," Tolokan said. "John Williams bridged that amazing gap. We have a special debt to pay to Mr. Williams because he loved the sound of the whole symphony orchestra."

Travis Peterson, principal trumpet player for the Utah Symphony, said his love for Williams' music goes back to his childhood. When Peterson was 10 years old, he bought his first CD: the soundtrack to "Jurassic Park." Although his family didn't have a CD player, he was so excited to listen to it that he would take it to the store and play it there.

He credits that soundtrack for introducing him to the world of classical music, where he would later find his career.

"It kind of turned me on to orchestral sounds and kind of encouraged me to start exploring different legitimate classical pieces," he said. "I think it's a good gateway for people to start exploring the classical music that we (the Utah Symphony) perform during the year."

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