Raiders of the Lost Ark: Program Notes cover

Raiders of the Lost Ark: Program Notes


Raiders of the Lost Ark
From John Williams:
In creating the character Indiana Jones, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg introduced an enduring and much-loved figure into the pantheon of fictional movie heroes. Raiders of the Lost Ark was illuminated by the superb comedy-action performance of Harrison Ford and enlivened by the spirited direction of Steven Spielberg. Speaking for myself, I must say that the experience of composing the music for this film, and for the subsequent installments in the series, was a very happy one, and offered me a wild and truly joyous ride. I’m especially delighted that the magnificent Pacific Symphony has agreed to perform the music this evening in a live presentation of the movie. I know I speak for everyone connected with the making of Raiders in saying that we are greatly honored by this event… and I hope that tonight’s audience will experience some measure of the joy and fun we did when making the film nearly 35 years ago.
To learn more about Music Director Carl St.Clair, click here.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars on 1 review

"Well done! I have always loved John Williams. So many great childhood memories when i hear his music. Looking forward to seeing the concert tonight." 5 stars by

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Raiders of the Lost Ark: Program Notes

Raiders of the Lost Ark


Master Composer John Williams

Sitting back in our seats to enjoy Raiders of the Lost Ark, we not only see one of the greatest of all Hollywood adventure features, but we also hear a master composer at work in one of his most accomplished scores.

Combining esteemed musical traditions with a compositional skill that has kept up with the times, the sound of Raiders of the Lost Ark works in perfect unison with the onscreen adventure, updating the thrills of the classic swashbuckler with contemporary spirit, wit and zest. This is a score that Billboard magazine has ranked as number four among Williams' 10 best.

The Last Movie Maestro

The Last Movie Maestro

Is this kind of musical glory vanishing? Not as long as the movies themselves retain their power to entertain and to thrill. But in an age of digital technology both aural and visual, Williams' successors may not be waiting off-screen. In the redoubtable Wall Street Journal, a 2011 profile of Williams by writer John Jurgensen was headlined "The Last Movie Maestro."

When it comes to job-hunting, The Wall Street Journal speaks with a magisterial voice, and it has advised aspirants more than once to keep their résumés down to a single page… which makes it all the more striking that, as Jurgensen noted, a résumé surveying composer John Williams' principal achievements in the movie industry would have to be 15 pages long.

That was five years and several movies ago. And let's not forget that Williams is also a noted conductor and composer of concert and occasional pieces.

Williams is—should it go without saying?—the composer of many of the most popular and recognizable film scores of Hollywood's modern era: Jaws, the Star Wars franchise, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and of course the Indiana Jones franchise. No other composer approaches his dominance in the movie industry.

His staggering prolific-ness and its circumstances bring to mind the career of J.S. Bach, who also affiliated with a dominant cultural force of the time (in his case the Church) and turned out inspired compositions with breathtaking speed. And like Bach's, Williams' career has become the stuff of cultural mythology, though in Williams' case this distinction came during his lifetime, rather than later.

A large part of the legend is Williams' alliance with Steven Spielberg and his terrifying score for Jaws, which became the prototypical summer blockbuster and broke all existing box-office records with its release in 1975.

The score for Jaws became famous with just two repeated bass notes—the spine-tingling theme that Williams wrote to suggest the presence of a dangerous shark that was rarely seen. It became the sound of nightmare fantasy for millions of viewers and still rings in our ears as the essence of terror.

Just as Jaws was often compared to Hitchcock thrillers, its score was often compared to Bernard Herrmann's soundtrack for Psycho, which also ratcheted up the tension and curdled our blood with the accompaniment to the famous shower scene.

But while Williams demonstrates his compositional abilities with a brilliant and memorable theme in Jaws, his achievement six years later in Raiders of the Lost Ark demonstrates even greater range and depth.

That's because the challenge was even more formidable: to recapture the spirit of the classic Hollywood swashbuckler, full of rollicking melodies and orchestral sweep, for modern times.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is a good-and-evil quest that has everything: romance, danger, exotic locales and colorful characters. Its tumultuous plot spans elements from biblical times to World War II.

To make musical sense of this potential chaos, Williams could not simply give free rein to his gift for memorable melodic gesture and for gripping effects; instead, his delineation of dramatic incident is combined with the use of motifs that define character and historic themes.

Without his skillful illumination of these elements through music, the tumble of incidents might not make as much sense as it does as we watch—nor be as enjoyable.

It all seems natural as we listen, thanks to Williams' interweaving of disparate materials. But if it sounds easy, it wasn't.

Famous for his rapid and seemingly effortless ability to churn out a score, Williams shed light on his hidden travails in composing Raiders of the Lost Ark in this description of the passage called "Raiders March”:

A piece like that is deceptively simple to try to find the few right notes that will make a right leitmotivic identification for a character like Indiana Jones. I remember working on that thing for days and days, changing notes, changing this, inverting that, trying to get something that seemed to me to be just right. I can't speak for my colleagues but for me things which appear to be very simple are not at all, they're only simple after the fact. The manufacture of these things which seem inevitable is a process that can be laborious and difficult.

Richly Rewarded

Richly Rewarded

Williams' mastery of the big orchestral sound is evident in every moment of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and his use of motifs to express character and mood hark back to the composers of Hollywood's golden age, such as Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who were also respected as classical composers. Few, if any other movie scores reward the listener more richly with the sound of a big, virtuoso orchestra.

Born in Queens, N.Y., Williams moved to Los Angeles with his family in 1948. He attended the University of California in Los Angeles and studied composition privately with Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco—like Williams, a composer who balanced a respect for tradition and a gift for melody with more modern influences.

After service in the Air Force, he returned to New York to attend The Juilliard School, where he studied piano with the distinguished pedagogue Rosina Lhévinne and also worked as a jazz pianist in clubs and on recordings.

Returning to Los Angeles, he began his career in the film industry, working with such composers as Bernard Herrmann, Alfred Newman and Franz Waxman. He went on to write music for many television programs in the 1960s, winning two Emmy Awards for his work.

In January 1980, Williams was appointed the 19th conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra since its founding in 1885, succeeding the beloved Arthur Fiedler. He assumed the title of Boston Pops laureate conductor following his retirement in December 1993 and currently holds the title of artist-in-residence at Tanglewood.

Williams has written many concert pieces, including a symphony, a sinfonietta for wind ensemble, a cello concerto premiered by Yo-Yo Ma and the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in 1994, concertos for the flute and violin recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra, concertos for the clarinet and tuba, and a trumpet concerto, which was premiered by the Cleveland Orchestra and their principal trumpet Michael Sachs in September 1996.

The Five Sacred Trees

John Williams and Judith LeClair

The Five Sacred Trees

His bassoon concerto, The Five Sacred Trees, which was premiered by the New York Philharmonic and principal bassoon player Judith LeClair in 1995, was recorded for Sony Classical by Williams with LeClair and the London Symphony.

Movies are hardly Williams' only link to popular culture; he also composed the well-known NBC News theme "The Mission," introducing the network's evening news program; as listeners of a certain age (including your intrepid annotator) can recall, this theme replaced a passage from the scherzo movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, which had long introduced the network's nightly broadcasts with newscasters Chet Huntley and David Brinkley.

Williams also composed "Liberty Fanfare" for the rededication of the Statue of Liberty; "We're Lookin' Good!" for the Special Olympics in celebration of the 1987 International Summer Games; and themes for the 1984, 1988 and 1996 Summer Olympic Games.

His most recent concert work—Seven for Luck, for soprano and orchestra—is a seven- piece song cycle based on the texts of former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove. Seven for Luck was given its world premiere by the Boston Symphony with soprano Cynthia Haymon as soloist and Maestro Williams conducting.

John Williams has led the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra on United States Tours in 1985, 1989 and 1992 and on a tour of Japan in 1987. He led the Boston Pops Orchestra on tours of Japan in 1990 and 1993.

In addition to leading the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall and at Tanglewood, Williams has appeared as guest conductor with numerous major orchestras, including the London Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Dallas Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Williams holds honorary degrees from 14 American universities, including Berklee College of Music in Boston, Boston College, Northeastern University, Tufts University, Boston University, the New England Conservatory of Music and the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

On June 23, 2000, he became the first inductee into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame.

Michael Clive is a cultural reporter living in the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut. He is program annotator for Pacific Symphony and Louisiana Philharmonic, and editor-in- chief for The Santa Fe Opera.

Guest Conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos

Guest Conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos

Constantine Kitsopoulos has made a name for himself as a conductor whose musical experiences comfortably span the worlds of opera and symphony, where he conducts in such venues as Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall and Royal Albert Hall, and musical theater, where he can be found leading orchestras on Broadway.

Kitsopoulos is in his eighth year as music director of the Queens Symphony Orchestra and continues as general director of Chatham Opera, which he founded in 2005.

He serves as music director of the Festival of the Arts BOCA, an extraordinary multiday cultural arts event for South Florida, and was most recently appointed artistic director of the OK Mozart Festival, Oklahoma's premier music festival.

In addition to his ongoing music director commitments, in the 2014-15 season Kitsopoulos led the New York Philharmonic in holiday subscription concerts following a notable debut the previous season.

He returned to the symphony orchestras of San Francisco, New Jersey, Houston and North Carolina, and makes debuts with the Florida Orchestra, San Antonio Symphony, Louisville Orchestra and Toledo Symphony. A frequent guest conductor at Indiana University, he led Menotti's Last Savage and Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific.

Kitsopoulos also maintains a busy opera schedule. In recent seasons, he has led annual productions at the Indiana University Opera Theater of Gilbert & Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore (2013-14), Verdi's Falstaff (2012-13), Bolcom's A View from the Bridge (2011-2012), Strauss' Die Fledermaus (2010-11) and Loesser's The Most Happy Fella (2010-11).

Also much in demand as a theater conductor, both on Broadway and nationwide, Kitsopoulos was music director and conductor of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella on Broadway.

He served as music director and conductor of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, the Tony-Award winning Broadway musical revival featuring Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis which ran until September 2012.

Prior to that, he was conductor and musical director of the Tony-nominated musical A Catered Affair, the Tony-nominated musical Coram Boy and the American Conservatory Theatre's production of Kurt Weill's Happy End, for which he recorded the cast album at Skywalker Ranch.

Other musical theater highlights include serving as music director and principal conductor of Baz Luhrmann's highly acclaimed production of Puccini's La Bohème, conducting the new musical Mambo Kings in San Francisco, serving as music director of Frank Wildhorn's Dracula and Les Misérables, and conducting Matthew Bourne's Broadway production of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.

Kitsopoulos' most recent recording is the Grammy Award-winning original Broadway cast album of the Tony-Award winning The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, released in May 2012 on P.S. Classics.

His first recording, Baz Luhrmann's production of La Bohème, is available on Dreamworks. Also available are recordings of Happy End, the only English-language recording of the work, and an original Broadway cast recording of A Catered Affair on P.S. Classics.

Kitsopoulos studied conducting with his principal teacher Vincent La Selva, as well as Gustav Meier, Sergiu Commissiona and Semyon Bychkov. He studied piano with Marienka Michna, Chandler Gregg, Ed Edson and Sophia Rosoff.

To learn more about the Pacific Symphony Music Director Carl St.Clair, click here.