Westmoreland Symphony closes season with movie music program
Think of prolific composer John Williams’ blockbuster movie scores and you probably think of “Star Wars,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Jurrasic Park.” Maybe even “Harry Potter.”
Williams also wrote the oh-so-cool jazz score for “Catch Me If You Can,” Steven Spielberg’s 2002 flick starring Leonardo DeCaprio as a slippery doctor-lawyer-pilot impersonator and Tom Hanks as the FBI agent on his trail.
Music from those movies and more Williams greats will be on the bill of the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra’s 50th anniversary season finale concert. Artistic director Daniel Meyer will pick up the conductor’s baton at 7:30 p.m. May 11 in The Palace Theatre in Greensburg.
Williams’ is a feature of the symphony’s free summer concerts and lighter pop programs, Meyers says, but this will be the first all-Williams bill.
Audiences love the music for both its association with the films and for its stand-alone strength, he says.
“I still get emotional when I hear the ‘Star Wars’ music,” Meyers says. “It reminds me of hearing it as an adolescent dreaming of being a superhero, traveling through the universe and going off to conquer strange planets.
“I say, watch 15 minutes of ‘Star Wars’ with the sound off, and you’ll realize the amazing richness, depth and power the music provides. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were smart enough to know that their movies needed those epic scores.”
Joining the symphony on pieces from the three-movement concerto that Williams re-orchestrated from the “Catch Me If You Can” score will be saxophonist Jason Kush of Cranberry, who has performed numerous times with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and also with the Russian National Orchestra and New World Symphony.
An associate professor at Slippery Rock University and artist lecturer at Carnegie Mellon University, Kush is a member of the Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra and has collaborated with artists including Arturo Sandoval, Sean Jones, Frank Sinatra Jr., Andrea Bocelli, Barry Manilow, Patti LuPone, Johnny Mathis and Michael Bolton. To name a few.
Kush earned a doctor of musical arts degree in saxophone performance from the University of Miami, a master of music degree in jazz pedagogy from the University of Miami and a bachelor’s degree in music education from Slippery Rock.
He also has an interesting connection to the music he will play with WSO.
“When (“Catch Me If You Can”) came out, there was a lot of buzz about the music, and I was wondering who that was playing sax,” Kush says.
That player was Dan Higgins, a California-based session musician in the film, television and record industry, with more than 700 motion picture scores to his credit. Higgins is the saxophone voice of Bleeding Gums Murphy on “The Simpsons.”
Higgins studied saxophone at the University of North Texas under Terry Steele, who later taught at Slippery Rock — where Kush was one of his students.
A big hit
In 2004, while working in Los Angeles, Kush reached out to Higgins and asked if Higgins would be willing to give him a lesson.
“He said, ‘Oh, you’re Terry Steele’s student,’” Kush says, and told him to come on over. “Usually, a lesson is one hour, but I was at his house for eight hours. We just played the whole time.”
That should bode well for concert-goers at The Palace, who will be hearing Kush in his first appearance with the Westmoreland Symphony.
“When (“Catch Me If You Can”) came out, the music actually was a big hit,” Kush says. “It was big within the saxophone community to have a score like this, and it’s still a prominent piece in saxophone music.”
Kush says he has played the music before in more casual settings, but this will be the first time with an orchestra. Joining him will be pianist Corinne Adkins.
“The piano is also pretty significant in this piece,” he says.
The symphony also will perform William’s “Olympic Fanfare” and music from “E.T.,” “The Patriot” and “Far and Away,” which Meyers calls an “underappreciated gem” in the Williams oeuvre.
“It’s very evocative and Irish-influenced, but I understand all the pieces are original — (Williams) didn’t rely on Irish folk music tradition. It’s really sumptuous and beautiful.”
Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Shirley at 724-836-5750, [email protected] or via Twitter .