The music of John Williams brings magic to the Pittsburgh Symphony

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Wizards, Jedi, and extra-terrestrials of the silver screen came to life in Heinz Hall on Saturday afternoon as resident conductor Lawrence Loh led the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in a magical tribute to the film scores of John Williams. 

Even without the reels and special effects of Hollywood, the work of the Academy Award-winning composer stood on its own, bringing fantasy to the stage with a flurry of well-known tunes.

In a formula that has become a trademark of the composer’s work, grandiose fanfares alternated with poignant melodies, creating a powerful exchange throughout the brass and string sections reminiscent of on-screen battles. Pitched against this bold interplay, the sharp xylophone and creeping violin glissandos rose above the stage to create an eerie, ethereal atmosphere that would have Harry Potter himself on the edge of his seat.

This orchestra was in no need of animation to bring beloved characters to life. Mr. Loh brought the cinema to the chamber hall with a series of props that ranged from life jackets to light sabers converted into batons.

Draped in a scarf from the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, Mr. Loh opened with a blaring rendition of Mr. Williams’ “Olympic Fanfare.” The remainder of the first half was devoted to cinematic themes produced for director Steven Spielberg, including the ominous two-note “Jaws” suite and the exotic croons of the flute in “War Horse,” hauntingly performed by flutist Damian Bursill-Hall.

Mr. Loh balanced the familiar roster with a few of Mr. Williams’ lesser-known works, including excerpts from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and the 2005 political drama “Munich.” Contrasting with the slower pieces that had younger audience members shuffling in their seats, the sweeping finale from “E.T.” brought the first act to an epic close.

The high point of the concert came during the “Harry Potter” music, with the duet of “Fluffy” delivered by harpist Gretchen Van Hoesen and contrabassoonist James Rodgers. In a veritable act of magic, Mr. Rodgers injected beauty into the character of a drooling three-headed dog with evocative diminuendos.

The performance came to a forceful conclusion with four pieces from “Star Wars” in story order, including two recent vault releases: “Here They Come” and the vigorous “Forest Battle” from Episode VI.


Rocio Labrador: rlabrador@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1370.

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