Review: A Celebration of John Williams at the Royal Albert Hall

The night was as unforgettable as his compositions

Everyone has been touched by the music of John Williams; we’ve all cowered behind our eyes at Jurassic Park, shed a tear at Schindler’s list, and got our first glimpse of the magical world in Harry Potter through his film scores. Sadly, after making the journey to London, the legendary composer fell ill and asked his friend, Maestro Dirk Brosse, to take his place conducting at the Royal Albert Hall, which would have been his first UK concert in over 20 years. This may have disappointed the audience initially, but as we were told that Williams was listening from his hospital bed (and to still "raise the roof"!), his absence felt less like a gap in the evening, and more like a true commendation of his musical career.

John Williams' good friend Dirk Brosse conducted the show

The night opened with a member of the orchestra explaining how he fell in love with John Williams’ music as a child when he first watched the Star Wars films, poignantly reminding the audience that Williams was not just the reason we were there; it’s the reason why it meant so much to them, too. Brosse conducted the Star Wars live concerts between 2009 and 2011, and as he led the musicians through those memorable trumpet cords, something stirred inside every generation of the audience, as they grinned to their neighbour or tapped out the rhythm on their knees.

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After titanic applause, the orchestra began Hedwig’s Theme, which was the soundtrack that I was most looking forward to. I truly felt the moment that my nine-year-old self sat in a very similar velvet seat at the cinema for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and first set eyes on Albus Dumbledore – a character who had previously only existed in my imagination. Williams’ score brought to life a world that was so special to me growing up, and hearing the iconic celesta notes performed so beautifully by the LSO brought back more than just my childish excitement; it brought back magic. Even without sweeping shots of Hogwarts and broomsticks flying through Quidditch pitches, the music told a story flawlessly to the audience.

Despite John Williams' absence, the Royal Albert Hall was still packed with fans

During the evening, other musicians had a chance to share their experiences with Williams, whether it be through his music or their first meeting with him. Before the performance of Schindler’s List, we were reminded that his music manages to "penetrate the soul of the listener", which certainly rang true when I heard audible gasps during the first solo violin notes. The entire track rippled an eerie melancholy throughout the hall, as if the violinist was a narrator – each haunting note so impeccably delivered to illustrate the gravity of the story. During the standing ovation, I overhead someone behind me whisper ‘Wow’, as if they were expelling the breath they had held during the entire score.

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The very fact that such emotion was stirred by the audience with the score alone indicates just how fundamental Williams’ music is to the films. The entire concert felt like not just a celebration of his music, but of everyone’s - orchestra and audience – experiences with Williams’ compositions bringing stories to life.

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