Given the Boston Pops’ season-long focus on the music of legendary film composer John Williams, it was all but inevitable that the laureate conductor himself would return to Symphony Hall for his customary program of movie music. It was probably also inevitable that Film Night would, for the first time, consist entirely of Williams’s compositions. After all, if your intent is to salute someone, salute him properly. And the Pops did precisely that on Wednesday (the first of two Film Nights), demonstrating the breadth and depth of the man’s work without other composers mucking up the works.
With Keith Lockhart at the helm of the concert’s first half, the opening “Pops on the March” set the tone; its proud horn lines and warm, soaring strings (to say nothing of the brief snippet of “The Stars and Stripes Forever”) were all hallmarks of Williams and of the Pops. From there, the orchestra provided adventure (heart-pounding derring-do from “The Adventures of Tintin” and the rollicking “Harry’s Wondrous World,” which evoked all of the awe of Harry Potter with none of the darkness), urban jitteriness (“The Towering Inferno”) and grandeur both solemn (“JFK”) and triumphant (“Superman”).
For a more striking departure, there was the Mussorgsky-esque “Devil’s Dance” from “The Witches of Eastwick,” all akimbo angles and offbeat twitches, with shrieking strings, alarm-bell chimes, and antsy percussion providing its clattering bones. But the breathtaking twilight dreaminess of “Stargazers” from “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” didn’t have to rise above a murmur to make an even greater impression, as Jessica Zhou’s harp twinkled against a bed of soft, moonlit gossamer.
Lockhart described Williams as the type of composer who gets the most out of an orchestra by knowing exactly where each note belongs, and that was plainly evident as Williams took the stage himself. He coaxed and cajoled the music, clapping as he conducted his “1941” march (“An American in Paris” as written by Aaron Copland) and more than once grabbing notes from the musicians.
Following a handful of lesser-known pieces like an eager, innocent harrumph from “The BFG,” selections from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” solidified that score’s place in the Williams canon.
Following a suite smartly combining his Big Four — “Jaws,” “Star Wars,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and “E.T.” — Williams returned for an encore bookended by the soft, heartstring-pulling Carrie Fisher tribute “Princess Leia’s Theme” and “The Imperial March.” The latter generated delight throughout the audience rather than menace, but that’s because it was so good at generating menace a long time ago in a darkened theater far, far away.
The Boston Pops: John Williams Film Night
At Symphony Hall, WednesdayMarc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @spacecitymarc