John Williams on The Force Awakens and the legacy of Star Wars

John Williams is so much more than Star Wars, that uber-popular outer space adventure serial he’s been scoring since 1977. But for better or worse, Star Wars is the first line in Williams’ biography and the primary reason he’s one of the only film composers in history to become a household name. In pop culture history there is Before Star Wars and there’s After Star Wars, and Williams’ big, brassy, neo-romantic music capitalized on (and arguably helped propel) the unprecedented cinematic blastoff on that sunny Wednesday in May not so long, long ago. The sheer cultural infiltration of these films meant Williams’ earworm themes were worming their way into millions upon millions of ears, and the potent combination of his unsurpassed talent as a composer and the phenomenal reach of the films turned the series’ main themes into post-Vietnam American folk tunes.

Avalon: A 25th Anniversary Conversation with Barry Levinson and Randy Newman

Avalon is one of a handful of deeply personal films from my childhood. I remember watching it on VHS at my grandparents’ house in Del Rio, Texas. It became a kind of family tradition—every few years we’d pull it out and have a good cry. The fact that it’s a movie about family traditions, and generations, and the passage of time just makes it all the more poignant.

The somewhat downbeat heartbeat of the film is Randy Newman’s elegiac score—a masterpiece of waltzing ghosts, trumpet requiems for vanished childhoods and fallen ancestors, and the kind of soulful, melancholy solo piano writing that Newman does better than anyone else.

The Final Dialogue: Ridley Scott on Film Music

With The Martian coming out today—the best film Ridley Scott has made since Gladiator, and one of his best ever—I thought it timely to hear what the great auteur has to say about film music. I had the chance to interview Scott last winter in anticipation of Exodus: Gods and Kings… specifically about its score and the music for his films. I found his take illuminating. (Side note: Harry Gregson-Williams’ score for The Martian is aces.)

I Don’t Care What You Think: Philip Glass on his new memoir and a careless career

Philip Glass is awesome. I’m a relatively recent convert to his churning, repetitive, deeply hypnotic music, but I could listen to it all day. Some people hate Philip Glass. The guy in front of me at the world premiere of Glass’ concerto for two pianos (with the LA Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall) last Friday could not contain his irritation, and made sure we all saw how bored and annoyed he was with Glass’ insistent, bewitching exploration of the same four chords. I get it. But I repeat (and repeat and repeat and repeat): Philip Glass is awesome.

James Newton Howard’s violin concerto: a film composer in the concert hall

Last Friday night I attended the world premiere of James Newton Howard’s concerto for violin and orchestra, performed by Pacific Symphony in Costa Mesa. I was excited to hear Howard’s writing removed from the constraints of film and inside a traditional concert form. His violin music for films like The Village and Defiance (the two scores that specifically prompted Pacific Symphony’s music director Carl St. Clair to commission the concerto) are gorgeous demonstrations of Howard’s imagination for the instrument, so there was ample reason for excitement at the thought of a whole concerto.