It’s likely that no film composer can match the reach that John Williams — scorer of “Jaws,” “Star Wars,” “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” “Jurassic Park,” and many others that weren’t the all-time box-office champ at one time or another —has had. In fact, it’s possible that no symphonic composer, full stop, has had the reach that John Williams has had. At 86, he’s a rock star, and Wednesday at Symphony Hall, the first of his two Film Nights with the Boston Pops, he inspired hollers and wolf whistles upon simply taking the stage.
It’s an imposing act to precede, acknowledged the BSO’s Thomas Wilkins with a joke as he conducted the concert’s first half: “Yeah, that’s what I’m looking forward to, John: conducting your music with you in the building.” But his jovial, wry persona was well-suited to the all-Williams program, from the tinkling glockenspiels and dangling-tinsel horn lines of “Olympic Fanfare and Theme” (familiar to anyone who’s seen a commercial for the Games, let alone the actual broadcast) to the fluttering, legato “Marion’s Theme” (from “Raiders of the Lost Ark”), where feathery strings seem to melt softly against one another.
Williams’s childhood-shaping ubiquity notwithstanding, there were still discoveries to be made, as demonstrated by the lovely theme from “The Sugarland Express,” one of Williams’s few soundtracks never commercially released. Taking the place of Toots Thielemans’s harmonica, Elizabeth Ostling’s flute curved and fluttered atop the orchestra’s floating, sustained notes before brushed drums gave it a jazzy turn. And there was a point midway through “Adventure on Earth” from “E.T.” when the violinists’ and violists’ bows all gently sawed upward during a dreamlike passage, and it was as if the entire orchestra was slowly lifting.
The Williams-conducted second half featured the world premiere of “The Adventures of Han” from the new “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” and with its emphasis on close scrapes and near-misses, it was urgent and scampering, less about triumph than survival. There was also uncertainty in “The Rebellion Is Reborn” from “The Last Jedi” and stormy, low strings threatening fitful sleep in “A Child’s Tale” from “The BFG.”
But Williams also easily evoked wonder and humanistic generosity in music from “Jurassic Park” and “Lincoln” and underlined the romantic and sad “Han Solo and the Princess” with warm strings. Even so, he concluded with the rhythmic and percussive “To Lenny! To Lenny!” (the night’s only nod to the Pops’ season-long tribute to Leonard Bernstein) and “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme),” with its strings slashing out a staccato bolero underneath the tromping brass. In “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” the mode of communication chosen by the aliens to bridge the gap with humans was music. It’s no wonder the task fell on Williams here on Earth.
BOSTON POPS: John Williams’s Film Night
At Symphony Hall, WednesdayMarc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @spacecitymarc.