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Guest conductor John Williams feels at home at Heinz Hall

| Friday, Nov. 5, 2010

Composer and conductor John Williams doesn't have to work. He's the most successful composer alive, with more 100 film scores to his credit -- ranging from "Jaws" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" to the "Star Wars" and "Harry Potter" series. He's 78, been nominated for 45 Oscars, won 21 Grammys and earned a lot of money.

But Williams hardly even takes vacations. He's so busy that he was especially delighted when he was able to schedule another visit to Heinz Hall to conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

"I haven't seen them for a long time. It's hard for me to find an opportunity to get out," he says. "My relationship with the orchestra goes back a while, before the earliest days of (Andre) Previn's tenure (as music director), when he was a guest conductor, in the '60s, I think. It's a privilege and joy to conduct them. I consider them my friends and will be delighted to see them again."

Williams will conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony in a concert of music he's written for the movies on Tuesday evening at Heinz Hall, Downtown. The repertoire will include music from the scores for "Indiana Jones," "Harry Potter" and "Star Wars" films, as well as "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "E.T." and "Schindler's List." Some will be performed with film clips.

"Heinz Hall is a place I love very much," Williams says. "I recorded there with Itzhak Perlman. Itzhak always says the best hall to record him in is Heinz Hall."

Perlman recorded "Cinema Serenade" with Williams and the symphony in 1997 for Sony Classical. Perlman also made several of his best recordings for EMI Classics at Heinz Hall with Previn and the symphony.

The closest Williams gets to an annual vacation is when he goes to the Tanglewood Music Festival in Lenox, Mass. It's the summer home of the Boston Symphony, and he goes every summer.

Tanglewood is "one of the most beautiful places in the country. My workload is pretty light. Most importantly, it's a break from the deadlines of the commercial world," he says.

At home in Southern California, Williams relaxes every day by walking for an hour over the beautiful Bel-Air Country Club golf course near his home. "It's an antidote to all the sitting I have to do writing music. The last time I was in Pittsburgh, a couple of the members of the orchestra invited me out to play the course in Oakmont," he says. "It was way beyond my meager abilities, but some of them are avid golfers."

Movie fans will want to know, if they don't already, that his recent sit-down work includes a film score for another collaboration with filmmaker Stephen Spielberg, "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn." It is scheduled for release in 2011. Williams expects to finish the music by February or March.

Williams also has written a large body of concert music. He's just completed a quartet for violinist Jimmy Lin, who is music director of a festival in La Jolla, Calif., where it will receive its premiere this summer. Williams was particularly interested in the unusual combination of instruments -- violin, cello, clarinet and harp.

One concert piece done, Williams has started another, an oboe concerto for Keisuke Wakao, assistant principal of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and principal of the Boston Pops. Williams is laureate conductor of the Boston Pops, after serving as its conductor from 1980 to 1993.

Conducting is a special love for him, partly for visceral reasons.

"I always say to the audience that the podium is the best seat in the house and it truly is because the sound is beautiful there -- immediate and intimate and powerful," he says.

But it's much more than just sounds for Williams.

"The music that our orchestras play consists of some of the greatest thinking, at least until now, of the Western mind," he says. "The organization of sound throughout the centuries has given us this precious heritage. The mechanical success of people who have perfected these instruments, who can perform fantastic feats before our eyes and ears, is also a magnificent accomplishment. The combination of all of this and what all this music means to us creates an experience which, for listeners and players and with perhaps more drama for the conductor, is one of the most thrilling things one can do in life."

Additional Information:

'John Williams and the Music of the Movies'

Presented by: Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra with John Williams, conductor

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Admission: $40-$150

Where: Heinz Hall, Downtown

Details: 412-392-4900 or website

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