Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 7, 2023

When is an Artist a Genius? A Tribute to John Williams at Tanglewood

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA
August 5, 2023
by Shera Cohen

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If I was asked to define the work of composer/conductor John Williams in a single word, I would quickly answer, “genius”. Whether this is Webster’s definition or not, I really don’t care for the purposes of this article. I doubt that many would disagree with my description of this amazingly talented man.

On the evening of August 5, 2023, I was among the thousands charmed by the skills of John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra. Adding the magnificent grounds and ambiance of Tanglewood, a clear sky, and 75-degree weather made for the proverbial perfect day. My usual Tanglewood excursion includes dousing myself in bug spray. For some reason, I forgot this part of my regime; surprisingly the site seemed mosquito-free.

Tanglewood hosts Mr. Williams annually, or with the luck of precise scheduling, twice each summer. To date, I have been lucky enough to attend most of these glorious concerts, even the year that I broke my leg. If John Williams can stand to conduct the Boston Pops hour-long Act II of “Film Night” then walk across the stage and back countless times – each time earning more accolades than the last – then I can hobble on the grass with or without broken body parts. Yes, this 91-year-old man is a genius.

David Newman, an accomplished composer and conductor himself, lead the BSO in the first part of the evening’s program, all the while praising the talents of Mr. Williams. 

The program offered the Boston University Tanglewood Institute Young Artists and Vocal Program Chorus the unforgettable opportunity to sing some of Williams’ scores from the Olympics Anthems as well as “Star Wars”. I can only imagine how the members of these youth choruses will feel about this moment 50-years from now.

Although I hadn’t picked up a program book until the concert’s end, it was obvious that the Suite from “Far and Away” was imbedded with an Irish lilt, “Superman” focused on the Love Theme for a softer section rather than the “up in the air…it’s Superman” segment.

My favorite music piece was “The Cowboys Overture,” not movie music, but television. The fast-paced rousing segments brought back memories of good westerns which I’d seen as a child, as well as the theme of “The Marlboro Man”.

This concert focused on the lesser-known works by Williams rather than Indiana Jones I – 5. The second part of the concert was heavy with “Star Wars”. Accompanying those onstage, was a superbly edited montage of Olympian to Williams’ “Call of the Champions,” which I hadn’t realized was yet another display of genius.

If I am not wrong, “The Theme from Shindler’s List” is included at each Film Night. Mr. Williams’ music is not all pomp, circumstance, marches, and continuously embellished themes. Elita Kang’s violin set a serious, melancholy tone. Sometimes, it is amazing that the man who brought us the “crushing” music of Indie, Luke, ET, Superman, et al, can compose the softness and sadness of “Shindler’s List”.

In his own words, “Writing a tune is like sculpting. You get four or five notes, you take one out and move one around, and you do a bit more and eventually, in that rock there is a statue, we have to go find it”.

I have never met Mr. Williams. Although he once sat six rows in front of me, I doubt that that counts. His stance onstage, his appreciation of the audience implies to me that he is a humble man, just doing his job – the job of a genius.