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John Williams sells out the house at Tanglewood (again)

The 91-year-old composer and conductor collected multiple standing ovations during an evening, with the Boston Pops, devoted to his music

John Williams received a standing ovation after conducting at Saturday's "John Williams' Film Night" event with the Boston Pops at Tanglewood in Lenox.Hilary Scott

LENOX — The gates were open for this year’s edition of Tanglewood’s “John Williams’ Film Night,” and near the back of the lawn, a line was forming to take pictures with John Williams. Not the real one, who was presumably backstage at the Koussevitzky Music Shed or somewhere else removed from the approximately 18,000 concertgoers who had sold the entire place out, but rather a life-size cardboard cutout of the composer, facing the walking path. Waiting their turn were families with children, roaming teenagers, groups of friends, and one man who took a solo selfie.

On a picnic blanket nearby sat the couple who had brought the cutout and explained it was a leftover from their 4-year-old son’s recent Williams-themed birthday party. The boy was dressed in a custom T-shirt decorated with logos from films Williams scored. His favorite piece? “Jurassic Park!” he said, pointing to the icon on his chest.


Williams, 91, announced last summer that he planned to retire from film scoring after this year’s “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” but that plan lasted all of six months before he walked it back, declaring “a day without music is a mistake.” David Newman, a veteran film composer and the son of scoring legend Alfred Newman, eagerly conducted the first half of Saturday’s concert and thanked Williams for his “tireless” work over the past several decades to bring film music out of the studio and onto the concert stage. He then led selections from “Superman,” with the main theme cued up to a montage of photos and videos from Williams’s life.

Williams energetically led the Pops through a string of his greatest hits and three encores in the second half, conducting the capable high school-aged singers of the Boston University Tanglewood Institute vocal program in a performance they’ll likely never forget. (The 16-year-old chorus geek I’d once been burned with jealousy during “Duel of the Fates,” a Verdi-esque battle theme that’s one of the best things about the “Star Wars” prequel trilogy.) I suspect Williams is one of those people who will never believe their life’s work is truly complete, and from that drive comes his spirit.


Kazuki Yamada conducted soloists Lucas and Arthur Jussen with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood on Aug. 6.Hilary Scott

If Friday night’s performance of Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1 was any indication, pianist and Tanglewood regular Emanuel Ax is drinking from that same wellspring. With the reliably exhilarating Dima Slobodeniouk on the podium, peppering the backdrop with fiery accents, Ax’s solo felt no less virtuosic for all its frank unfussiness. (You could have set your watch by his trills.) When not playing, the pianist usually had his eyes on the orchestra, and even when he didn’t, he never seemed to silo himself off; it was an ensemble performance to the last. The audience clamored for an encore, and he responded with Schubert.

The evening began with John Adams’s “Shaker Loops,” which the BSO hadn’t played since 1984; like many minimalist orchestral pieces, it requires a deft and thoughtful approach to interpretation to stop it from feeling mired down, but Slobodeniouk had come prepared. Busier episodes brimmed with well-ordered energy while longer, lyrical phrases drifted in perpetual motion.

The piece only included strings, but at times they conjured uncanny impressions of horns, clarinets, soprano saxophones, and glass harmonicas. Next time, assuming I’m off the clock, I might stop by one of those five cannabis business partners listed in the program book before the concert. Hopefully, I won’t have to wait another 39 years for the BSO to play it again.


Sunday afternoon brought the Tanglewood and BSO debut of a protege of BSO music director laureate Seiji Ozawa: Kazuki Yamada, who introduced himself with an Ozawa calling card in Berlioz’s “Symphonie fantastique.” Before the Berlioz was Felix Mendelssohn’s Concerto for Two Pianos in E Major: The composer wrote it at age 14 for himself and his sister Fanny, and Sunday’s performance showcased another pair of siblings at the piano in Dutch duo Lucas and Arthur Jussen. Mendelssohn apparently later wrote the piece off as immature, but in the Jussens’ hands, it burgeoned with life and vigor. As an encore, the brothers fired off a blistering fantasia on Johann Strauss Jr.’s themes, arranged by Igor Roma.

As for “Symphonie fantastique,” Berlioz’s programmatic symphony that he wrote while obsessed with a woman he’d never met, I’ve often heard the piece start off unassumingly and build up to the opium-induced nightmare the composer depicts in the final two movements. There was nothing unassuming about Sunday’s rendition, in which every exaggerated accent and fermata in the first two movements seemed to foreshadow the eventual descent into delusion. Bravo to Yamada: Come back soon.


At Tanglewood, Lenox. Aug. 4-6. 888-266-1200,

A.Z. Madonna can be reached at Follow her @knitandlisten.