I don’t know where to start if not from the most banal sentence that I will use one day to tell my grandchildren about this experience: “I was there, I was there…”.
I have to make some premises: I grew up in the 80s in the golden age of cinema for kids. E.t., Indiana Jones, Star Wars (and pretty much everything I’ve seen Spielberg involved in some way) have been my imagination. Movies seen in crowded theaters or in open-air arenas, films seen dozens and dozens of times on VHS worn out by use. To be clear: until about the age of 20 my school career was projected towards the goal of becoming…Indiana Jones. This fantastic imagery was nourished by the music written by Sir John Towner Williams.
Williams himself was then the reason why I first began to be passionate about soundtracks and then start writing them. I remember vividly that the spark struck when I read an article that spoke of the leitmotiv of the Force in the context of the first (and only at the time) Star Wars trilogy. Everything I’ve done in my profession as a composer has revolved around the modus operandi of Williams and Morricone. Years ago I left for Vienna to study with Conrad Pope, John Williams’ orchestrator, to get a little closer to the Master’s secrets.
I have always read and collected every single interview granted by the Maestro, it is my way to “listen” to the great composer and be a little closer to him.
In 2018 I had bought the ticket for the London concert at the Royal Albert Hall, a concert canceled due to Williams being ill, which made us tremble a lot. I was then unable to secure tickets for the performances in Berlin and Vienna, which I could only experience remotely thanks to the beautiful Blu-rays. As soon as the concert at La Scala in Milan was announced (originally scheduled for June 2022) I cried out for a miracle, at just 90 the Maestro plans his very first concert on Italian territory, in one of the most important theaters in the world: “I have to be there!”. When thye gig was postponed due to scheduling conflicts, even if for a few months, I feared the worst. Even with all the energy of a nonagenarian of steel, any delay (also thanks to a pandemic and an international geopolitical situation that is uncertain to say the least) inevitably calls everything into question. On October 10th at 2 pm at the time of ticket sales I was in front of two computers, I fought like everyone else with the system that crashed several times but I managed to get two tickets in the audience. I was one of the privileged ones, the tickets were sold out in a matter of minutes. From that moment on, weeks of anxiety trying to dodge any inconvenience in any way could have prevented them from participating in one of the most important historic musical events of recent years.
Surprisingly, yesterday’s concert was preceded by a rehearsal open to the under 30s, never in my life have I so wished I was 15 years younger, I hope the young participants have realized the absolute privilege reserved for them. The videos shared by the Philharmonic of the Scala were the fuse that literally exploded the impatience and the will to be there in Milan at every single moment, just to be able to live a few days in the same city as the Maestro.
(from the Instagram account of the La Scala Philharmonic)
December 12, 2022
We are in Milan, my first experience at La Scala.
In the Foyer of the theater which has hosted the greatest composers in history for more than 200 years (Gounod, Berlioz, Bizet, Massenet, Saint-Saëns, Mascagni, Leoncavallo) I was lucky enough to meet important personalities in the history of Williams.
Emilio Audissino, author of a beautiful book The Film Music of John Williams (pictured here with me and Massimo Privitera, director of www.colonnesonore.net).
Anne-Sophie Mutter, the famous violinist who has recorded more than one album with John Williams, as well as having participated as a soloist in the Vienna concert.
20.00 the seats fill up, the electricity in the room is palpable. The orchestra takes its place, they too feel the importance of the event, Williams has chosen the Scala and the Philharmonic to celebrate his presence in Italy. Once the musicians have been positioned, applause and a roar rise up in the room, Williams enters the room with a decisive step, greets and positions himself on the podium.
The concert includes the program that you can read below, some songs are inevitable in his repertoire, others are nice surprises, I am thinking of the love theme taken from Superman. In the encore the theme of Yoda and the Imperial March.
We all know the importance of Williams as a composer, more than fifty Academy Awards nominations, 5 wins. For the two hours of the concert, my gaze fixed on Williams conductor, a confident, energetic, essential but imperious, decisive but delicate gesture. A giant with a powerful charisma who manages to conduct even with minimal movements of his little finger, walking as needed in large strides or on tiptoe to guide the orchestra and bring it where his music must be, without conceding anything to chance . Williams is 90 years old, I have seen incredible physical and mental energy, regardless of age. I would have liked to have the video recording of a camera aimed only at him, in hindsight I would have gladly bought tickets in the boxes that were close to the stage, losing the balance of the sound of the orchestra but gaining a view that would have allowed to appreciate every minimal conducting gesture. I felt a lot more energy from him compared to recordings seen at other concerts. As in his compositions he never lets a section or a musician get “bored”, there is music for everyone, continuously, non-stop. And so is his conducting, attentive to each individual musician in the search for a unitary sound (he is one of the few now who does not record the orchestra in separate sections facing, so that everyone breathes and transpires music together), enhancing at the same time the sound peculiarities of each instrument. Seeing how his gesture becomes sound was a great lesson, observing with how much strength and love, I would say paternal, he manages to lead the musicians to the middle is an image that I will hardly forget. Between one song and another, not even the time to take a breath or drink a drop of water, hinting at a few words in Italian (“buonasera” “thank you very much”) he proceeds to tell the songs with anecdotes about their compositions and the films to which those songs are inextricably linked. He underlined the privilege of being able to bring that music to life outside the limited context of the film. And even without images to tickle the imagination we have seen bicycles flying across the lunar circle, explorers in search of precious treasures, young wizards playing Quidditch flying on brooms, journalists with glasses becoming superheroes.
(from the Instagram account of the La Scala Philharmonic – Andrea Veroni)
I will not dwell on the performance of the orchestra because my focus here is on the figure of Williams who, from the height of his ninety years, has shown what it means to have the stature of a great conductor. Without going into details, I think I’m right in saying that it was an “Italian” version of Williams’ music, more passionate in some passages, definitely very comfortable in the more melodic moments of the program. I just want to point out the sound of the strings (which, under his direction, become “Williams strings” that velvet sound that we all know) and the beautiful sonority of the first flute which made the instrument the protagonist in various passages with apparent simplicity and uniqueness of sound: probably the best performance for flute in many listened performances dedicated to the music of Williams.
I can’t even choose a favorite moment, but having to select a memory to preserve I necessarily have to select the “Flying Theme” from E.t. I dedicate it to my child who from behind the glasses began to fall in love with the magic of Cinema and to my friend Claudio, Spielbergian of the first hour, with whom I planned to attend the Williams concert together in June. Claudio unfortunately passed away last September, E.t. it was his favorite movie of his, I dedicate to him this experience we should have shared.