In a way, Scott Speck will fulfill a long-held wish April 11-12 on the stage of the Saenger Theatre. He won’t literally change personas, but he can at least pretend.
“I have to confess, when I was a teenager, growing up, I wanted to be John Williams,” Speck said. “He was absolutely my idol. I was going to follow in his footsteps in exactly his style.”
As maestro for the Mobile Symphony Orchestra, it was Speck’s decision to make America’s most famous cinematic composer the focus of this weekend’s concerts from MSO. It’s easy to spot the inspiration.
Williams is one of the most prolific composers in American history, much less cinematic history. Not only does he have four Golden Globes and 22 Grammy Awards to his credit, but also a staggering 49 Academy Award nominations, winning five.
Perhaps Williams’ most lasting collaborative union has been with producer and director Steven Spielberg. It was Williams’ initial project with Spielberg that also caught Speck’s ear.
“The first time I became aware of him was with ‘Jaws,’ back in 1976,” Speck said. That really struck me as being the most distinctive music for a movie, the most recognizable theme for anything since ‘Psycho.’ From that point on it was just a love affair with that lush orchestral sound.”
Speck laughed at the apocryphal story of Williams’ first meeting with the young filmmaker and how his conception of a two-note theme elicited wary disbelief from the auteur. Once Spielberg heard the full arrangement, his doubt evaporated.
Since then, Williams has scored every Spielberg movie except 1985’s “The Color Purple” and his latest, “Bridge of Spies.” For his newest film, Spielberg has tapped Thomas Newman.
“There are few composers in history with (Williams’) gift for melody or so many tunes not just recognizable but ingrained in the national consciousness,” Speck said, comparing Williams to Mozart and Tchaikovsky in that regard.
“Tchaikovsky’s great keys to success were that he wore his heart on his sleeve so you felt like it was a friend pouring out his emotion and he had this unending fountain of unforgettable melodies. Look at ‘The Nutcracker,’ where it was an unforgettable catch tune every minute for two hours.”
Williams’ resume includes some derivations in style. He implemented a jazz-inflected treatment for “Catch Me If You Can,” a nod to his father’s musical roots and his own youthful pursuits. In “Lincoln,” Williams nodded toward Aaron Copland and for “Warhorse,” he evoked British composer Vaughan Williams (no relation).
Speck and the MSO will glide across Williams’ career, with themes from “Jaws,” “Jurassic Park,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” “Harry Potter” and a work from “Schindler’s List” that features a violin solo written for Itzhak Perlman and performed at the Saenger by Jenny Gregoire.
“Most of what I chose for the concert was because they are epic. If we did his music from ‘Gidget Goes to Rome,’ or ‘The Reivers,’ or ‘The Cowboys’ people would love it but it wouldn’t be that recognizable,” Speck said. “We could have a whole series on him and still not run out of great music.”
The meteoric impact of the show is likely the entire first half of the program. It’s a natural culmination for a composer who wrote the themes for TV shows like “Lost In Space,” “Time Tunnel” and “Land of the Giants.”
“Of all (Williams) wrote for the movies, the ones with the biggest cult following are the ‘Star Wars’ movies,” Speck said. “People are still obsessed with them and of course the seventh one is coming out this year — almost 40 years after the first and he wrote the music for all of them. Isn’t that amazing? So we’re playing works from all six of those movies.”
Word has it there will be appropriately outfitted representatives of Star Wars’ universe in the Saenger, especially one tall, dark and imposing stranger. There might be other tricks in store but the most helpful could come from the audience.
“We think it be fantastic if people would show up in costume,” Speck said.
The April 11 show begins at 8 p.m. The April 12 matinee is at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets are $20 to $100. Students in kindergarten through college can enter for $10.
For more information, call 251-432-2010.
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