In two sold-out John Williams at 90 concerts on Friday and Saturday, conductor Nicholas Buc led the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and added welcome commentary.

Celebrated worldwide, Williams’ career in arranging and composing has encompassed major motion-picture scores, many of which have made an indelible mark in the public consciousness. Hearing his themes often immediately evokes the movies.

An early stand-out in this concert was the peppy “March” from Superman. After the regal trumpet heralding, strings settled the mood before adopting the Williams’ signature swirl (one he often gives to flutes and piccolo) and reintroducing the measured beat of horns. This march faintly suggests a jig.

Excerpts from Fiddler on the Roof were expertly blended in a rich sampler that frequently spelt dance. The intricate ‘Cadenza and Fantasy’, famously performed by Isaac Stern, was beautifully played here by ASO violinist Cameron Hill.

Jaws? Here it was, with humorous commentary from Buc plus a farewell to Peter Whish-Wilson after 45 years’ service to the orchestra. His tuba sound was fundamental. The fog-horn effect combined well with grave double basses to produce a sense of trouble approaching, and the orchestra drove it to a fitting crescendo.

A less-recognised theme was “Viktor’s Tale” from The Terminal, a story of displacement and being stranded between places by bureaucratic failure. The situation has contemporary resonance. Dean Newcomb’s clarinet solo added a jaunty, Slavic feel.

A very affecting “Remembrances” from Schindler’s List gave us Carolyn Burgess on harp and the plaintive violin of Cameron Hill, combining to convey a real sense of grief before the orchestra tended to overwhelm their playing. Even with some detail lost, this was an aching and tender tune.

The theme from The Lost World – Jurassic Park was a triumph. Its big drum intro and heavy bass feel, mixed metres, and rollicking middle passage and tempo changes were very well received.

Highlights elsewhere included the overture to The Cowboys, a John Wayne movie. Motifs from Westerns abounded and there was a kind of wink to the listener. It was almost cliché with its classic home-on-the-range references, a touch of hoedown and cattle-drives, and then of a night under the stars.

The “Love Theme” from Superman was melodic and delicate, hinting at Henry Mancini’s work but with more body; constantly swelling before the sweet hush at the end. Three short pieces from The Empire Strikes Back spoke to the audience’s expectations, and there was the affecting theme from Angela’s Ashes. The piano of Katrina Reynolds was joined in this by strings and sat on the edge of mournful with a lovely balance.

Who could fail to respond to “The Raiders March” from Raiders of the Lost Ark? The ASO tapped its well-known key change, accelerating pace, and tight, energetic march feel perfectly.

The best ending was to give people what they wanted: more of the iconic Star Wars. Holst, Elgar, Mahler; they’re all there in “Throne Room / End Title”. The encore was a vibrant “Imperial March” from The Empire Strikes Back, with captivating light effects. Job done.

It was a full and varied program that spoke to Williams’ continuing strengths. What next? Another Indiana Jones score is on the cards – maybe it will be one for another concert?

The ASO presented John Williams at 90 at the Festival Theatre on February 11 and 12.

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