There are certain composers whose work shares a signature which marks their work as instantly theirs – Hans Zimmer, Harry Gregson-Williams, Danny Elfman – all brilliant creators whose work is somehow always new and exciting yet still carries their unmistakeable hand in every note.
Watching this stunning live performance of Raiders made me recognise that John Williams is amongst that Illustrious company too. Yes, I have always loved his work – as a child of the 80s every major movie I loved seemed to have been scored by him, and the three iconic movie themes of my youth were always Star Wars, Superman and Indiana Jones – but I had never before appreciated how integral that signature is to his output.
Sat in the Royal Albert Hall listening to the 21st Century Orchestra belt through the soundtrack of the movie under the conduction of Ludwig Wicki, I found myself noticing similarities to the themes of other films that I knew better than Raiders. The soaring crescendos of triumphal bombast recalling the same mood of the Superman title theme, the lilting, delicate melodies reminiscent of Princess Leia’s theme – nothing that ever sounded ‘the same’ but a common lifeblood that united them and let you know just whose music you were listening to.
Seeing the film was an odd experience – there were large parts where I would simply forget the orchestra was there, carried along with the familiar excitement and laughs of the movie and dragged in so deep by the perfection of the playing as to let the players fade from conscious attention. At other moments, notably ones where dialogue was being delivered among action scenes that would inevitably be accompanied by a thumping soundtrack, I would become very aware of the orchestra as the power of their sound overpowered the spoken soundtrack entirely, leaving me to rely on the subtitles on screen. This yo-yoing between total immersion and occasional jarring back to the reality of being in a large theatre with an orchestra made for a slightly jarring but no less enjoyable experience – had it been a film I had not seen before or did not know well, it might have troubled me more, but again, as a child of the 80s, this is a movie I was intensely familiar with, and I was happy to enjoy whichever element was most present to my attention at any given moment.
The Interval came at the precise halfway mark of the film, and was ushered in by a quick flourishing rendition of the main Indy theme. Another flourish came at the end after the credits had been played out in full, and the applause for conductor and orchestra was loud and heartfelt, continuing for some time.
If you are either a fan of the movie or of Mr Williams work, then I would heartily recommend this as an experience – the breadth of the score, from rousing brass to tension-marking plucked violin strings, makes for an entertaining ride in and of itself, and with this classic movie accompanying it, it becomes a no brainer. 9/10
Greg D. Smith