The Music of John Williams at the National Concert Hall, 29 August 2014

Continuing their hugely successful foray into the world of film music, the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, under the baton of Neil Thomson, brings a selection of John Williams’s captivating scores to the National Concert Hall. The excitement circulating throughout the sold-out auditorium is refreshingly palpable, as the instrumentalists alight the stylishly minimalistic back-lit stage. Our witty compère for the night is trombonist Karl Ronan.

The show opens with a stirring rendition of the 2002 Winter Olympic Theme, Call of the Champions. This work was Williams’s fourth collaboration with the sporting institution. With its dignified march-like quality, and rousing brass lines, this theme encapsulates the Olympian’s epic journey through its rising crescendos and dramatic finale. The sheer enormity of sound is magnificent as audience members applaud with vigour.

A lilting march from the film Midway (1976) transports us back to the era of World War II movies. Flickers of John Philip Sousa and American patriotism glisten throughout this vibrant score. The musical pace shifts to 1940s Japan as we encounter ‘Sayuri’s Theme’ from Memoirs of a Geisha (2005). The orchestral texture builds from a captivating solo flute melody, performed by Jennifer Sturgeon, with cellos, chimes and quivering strings, to a stunningly evocative oriental theme on the oboe, played by David Agnew.

Following much deserved applause, Mia Cooper, the leader of the orchestra, takes to the platform with a powerful interpretation of the famous tango, Por una Cabeza, from Scent of a Woman (1992). Her technical dexterity here is spectacular, as is her clarity of tone in the upper registers. Cooper’s passionate performance inspires a cascade of whoops and “bravos” from the concert hall.

The mood alters as strings draw us into the languid world of ‘Dartmoor, 1912’ from War Horse (2011). An air of contemplation washes over the environs of the hall, as eyes close and heads recline in their seats beneath the music’s alluring spell. Here, Williams blends delicate solo fragments and sweeping orchestral passages within a beautiful harmonic palate.

Memories of childhood abound as a trio of unforgettable themes from E.T. (1982), Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone (2001), and Superman (1978), sound out triumphantly to rapturous applause. The first half of the concert concludes with a series of haunting excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Built upon a five-tone motif, used by the scientists in the film to communicate with the visiting space-ship, shrieking strings, grumbling percussion and swarming brass climax to an impressively controlled crescendo of sound.

Following the interval, we are treated to an entertaining collage of excerpts from Fiddler on the Roof (1971). Audience members hum along to ‘If I Were a Rich Man’, ‘Sunrise Sunset’ and ‘Matchmaker’, with violinist Cooper shining brightly in her solo passages. Impressed by her playing, numerous members of the audience take to their feet in appreciation.

By way of introduction to the infamous ‘Jaws Theme’ (1975), of which Williams earned an Academy Award, Ronan addresses the conductor cheekily with the words “Neill, you’re gonna need a bigger baton!”. The menacing two-note motif growls across the double basses, cellos and bassoon, whilst the harp writhes beneath. Lincoln’s ‘The People’s House’ (2012) offers musical respite as the pretty timbre of piccolo and flutes chirp along in a rather uninteresting melody. Michael Seaver provides an elegant clarinet solo.

Ronan dedicates the performance of Jurassic Park’s main theme to the recently deceased Richard Attenborough. A slightly dull suite from the Indiana Jones franchise brings the programme to its end. The concluding notes of the ‘Raider’s March’ invites a standing ovation. Much to the delight of the crowd, the award-winning music of Star Wars (1977) is performed as an encore.

Bravo to the RTÉ Concert Orchestra for making us fall in love with the music of John Williams all over again!


Call of the Champions (Winter Olympic Theme, 2002)

Midway March (Midway)

Sayuri’s Theme (Memoirs of a Geisha)

Por una Cabeza (Scent of a Woman)

Dartmoor, 1912 (War Horse)

E.T. Flying Theme (E.T.)

Harry’s Wondrous World (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone)

Superman March (Superman)

Excerpts (Close Encounters of the Third Kind)

Excerpts (Fiddle on the Roof)

Jaws Suite (Jaws)

The People’s House (Lincoln)

Main Theme (Jurassic Park)

The Adventure of Indiana Jones (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull)

Raiders March (Raiders of the Lost Ark)