Friday, February 21, 2014

An Evening With John Williams At The Drafthouse

This past Sunday the Alamo Drafthouse DFW put on a special event, An Evening With John Williams. There were two films that night, HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN and INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE, and before each film was a 30 minute set of music played by the Richardson Symphony. The orchestra didn't play music from every John Williams score, though that would be a wonderful night of music to experience, but they picked six pieces including SUPERMAN, JAWS, RAIDERS, HARRY POTTER medley, E.T., and STAR WARS.

In true Alamo fashion, there were drink specials during each show. Harry Potter had delicious adult and kid friendly "Butterbeer" milkshakes, and Indiana Jones had a sweet, yet tart mixed drink aptly named, "The Ah….Venice." Unlike most symphony performances, the theater opted to leave the lights all the way up during their set. No film scenes or pictures on the screen, just us and the music. At first I was afraid the lights would take away from letting myself be immersed into the performances, but I soon found out that it doesn't matter, music will grab hold of you in any light.

As the symphony played each piece, a little-kid-type smile crept over my face and all the movies began to play through my mind. Superman flying through the air; the tense anticipation as the Jaws was about to attack; Indiana Jones running from the boulder; Harry, Ron, and Hermione staring into the distance at the end of film six. And then, when they started playing E.T., I had a response that I wasn't ready for.

Clay Couturiaux, the conductor and music director, prefaced this piece with a story about how John Williams was having trouble creating music for the end of E.T. Spielberg told Williams to create whatever he wanted, and Spielberg would cut the film to fit the music. After hearing that story, it makes sense how emotional the finale of E.T. is. I never saw it in theatres, but we had the VHS at home, and I literally watched the film so much I wore out our copy. There would only be a certain number of scenes I would watch: Elliot and the Reese's Pieces, Drew Barrymore screaming when she sees ET, and of course, the bike flying sequence. When the music swelled and the orchestra played through the finale, I became overrun with emotions. I was instantly transported back to my living room floor, eyes focused on the screen, watching ET say goodbye to Elliot. All of this was running through my head, and I found myself pushing back tears. Had the theatre been dark, I would have been sobbing like a baby, but I held it together as best I could. Once the piece was over, I realized I hadn't been breathing either, so I gasped for air as I joined the audience with applause.

This is what I love about movies and music...the reaction it can cause. I know music plays a major role in film making. It's easy to search the web on think pieces about music toying with the audiences' emotions too much to get the right emotional reaction. Williams' score for ET definitely was written to pull those emotions out from you when you watch the film. But what I was shocked at was the visceral reaction I had from JUST the music. I haven't seen E.T. is over 20 years, but my childhood connection to it was stronger than I realized.

The rest of the set was equally fantastic, and it was a treat to hear the Imperial March from STAR WARS live. The audience at both screenings gave standing ovations at the end of the performances. Seeing both of the films on the big screen made me equally as giddy. I hadn't seen AZAKABAN since it was released in theatres, and I had never seen CRUSADE on the big screen before. Couturaux stated that he was surprised what an instant hit this was, "The players and the audience thoroughly enjoyed the experience. As we were leaving, many audience members shared requests for future performances." James Wallace, the creative programmer for The Alamo Drafthouse, was surprised no one fainted with how awesome the performance was. He hints that there could be more collaborations between RSO and Alamo: 
This was really an experiment that proved to be extremely successful. It's always a gamble doing something like this - bringing in a 40-piece ensemble to perform in the theater and all that goes into making an event of its complexity happen. We obviously hoped and thought people would show up but if people don't, think about how awkward that could be; a skilled group of players playing for only a few people! But that was not the case at all considering that we had not one but two SOLD OUT shows in our biggest house not to mention one of the greatest responses to any event we've put on. So, all that to say, no plans right now but we'll definitely be doing another event with the RSO in the near future...only bigger, better and more awesome!
As someone who doesn't get out to the symphony as much as I would like, this was a real treat to experience. And I very much look forward to future events like this one.

If you want more information about the RSO, please visit their website here! And you can always find out about more events at Alamo DFW here!

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