One Night Only: Spielberg and Williams at the DSO

Legendary director Steven Spielberg and Oscar-winning composer John Williams will perform at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra this Saturday, June 14. The sold out event benefits the DSO.

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s most highly anticipated concert is being held this week, and it sold out in 15 minutes — a DSO box office record. For one night only on Saturday, June 14, legendary director Steven Spielberg and Oscar-winning composer John Williams have partnered together and donated their time for a benefit concert unlike any other.

Williams will conduct music from some of his most iconic scores, including Star Wars, Harry Potter, E.T., and many others; while Spielberg will host the second half of the evening, presenting selections from their 40-year artistic collaboration, including selected film clips projected on a giant screen above the orchestra.
Hour Detroit interviewed DSO music director Leonard Slatkin about how his friendship with Williams sparked this unique event, and what ticketholders can expect to see at the concert.  Although Slatkin will be unable to attend the concert, as he is also the music director of the Orchestre National de Lyon and will be preparing music to take on tour to Paris, he wishes he could attend the rare event that will probably never happen again in metro Detroit.
“To have both of them on the stage talking about their relationship and how they put together music for the films will be a true treat for everyone coming to the concert.” he says.
We can’t wait. — Casey Nesterowich
Q: How did you form a friendship with John Williams? 
A: A long time ago my parents were, among other things, musicians in the studios in Hollywood, both film and recording. They already knew John back in the 50s when he came out and started playing as a pianist for TV shows, and backing up recording artists. Then as John progressed into the movie field he would ask for my mother to play as his first cellist, my father had died by then.
Since I’m from Hollywood and the area, I met him a long time ago, and over the years we stayed in contact and we’ve worked together on several projects at both of my former orchestras in St. Louis and Washington.
Q: How else have you worked with Williams?
A: The Detroit Symphony has been with me recording many of the serious pieces John has written that were particularly serious pieces not derived from film, but written specifically for concerts. We’ve recorded six of them so far and will do more as we continue the project into the next few years. He’s [John] become a very close friend, and among other reasons to celebrate him is the fact he’s one of the few people who maintained the traditions of the great film score writing that emanated from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Whereas many other film composers have moved into the world of electronics, John has remained faithful to the more natural sound of the orchestra for his scores.
Q: What are some highlights of this particular concert? 
A: This particular concert, which I’ve seen them do before, is quite astonishing, because here you have one of the longest collaborations in all of artistic history between Steven Spielberg and Williams, and its hard to imagine two people, I mean you’d have to go back to, at least in this country, to the musical team Rodgers and Hammerstein who wrote “Carousel,” “Oklahoma” for Broadway to find this kind of collaboration over such a long period of time. To have both of them on the stage talking about their relationship and how they put together music for the films will be a true treat for everyone coming to the concert.
Q: How long have they been doing this concert together? 
A: I think over the years now it’s probably been about five or six years. They don’t do it very often obviously because Steven is usually out there working on a film, and John is out there working on a film, so it probably only happens once every few years.
Q: How did you propose it to Williams, did it organically happen or did you specifically ask him if it’s something he would be interested in? 
A: I think it started maybe 6-7 months ago, and I was having a discussion with him and I said, “Look you haven’t been to Detroit in a while, and we are in a great state of recovery after the horrendous time we had during our strike, would you like to help us out?,” and he said “Absolutely, could I bring a friend?”
Q: Can you talk about the dynamic between John and Steve and what the audience will expect? 
A: First of all, obviously the orchestra is there and John is conducting and it’s all of his music, but what’s a little different here is overhead the music is a giant movie screen. At selected portions of the program they will show clips from the films and play the music that accompanies those clips, so the part that’s really unique is at one point the two of them will dissect one of the clips. I don’t know which one they are going to do, and what happens is you watch the clip without music, and its exactly what John sees when he’s thinking about what kind of music to put in. He and Steven will probably talk about where they need particular emphasis, where something has to happen, where the music absolutely lines up with the film, and then they will literally show the audience how it’s done. They show how everybody knows how to play in the correct order to coordinate with the film, and its an amazing moment.
Q: What kind of clips have they done in the past? 
A: They usually do a clip from E.T., or really any clip that has a lot of punch points, where the music has to coordinate exactly with the screen. For example if somebody jumps from the top of a train to a horse, there has to be that landing point on the horse where the music hits it exactly, and its tough, its hard to do, but it’s a remarkable demonstration and you’re really being let in on what musicians do.
I’m also going to assume, and I’m not sure because I haven’t seen the program book yet, that they will probably end with the last segment from E.T., because its such a perfect example of how music and film work together.
Q: What are you hoping this concert will promote?
A: This event brings together artists who are important and special, and also benefits the Detroit Symphony and its goals for financial stability.
I think it’s a one time thing for this particular show, I don’t think Steven and John are going to come back here and do it again, but it could pave the way for other collaborative presentations that we have not thought of before in this way.
There are very few musicians who are as universally loved as John and no one has a bad word to say about him, it’s just remarkable, he’s a real gentleman, and one of those colleagues I just wish there were more like him.