116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Composer John Williams, who recently turned 90, has created some of the most majestic, mystical, magical movie scores, from the heart-pounding UFO conversations in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” to the whip-cracking soundtrack for the “Indiana Jones” franchise.
Orchestra Iowa has played Williams’ music in previous iterations. But Maestro Timothy Hankewich, who has been known to conduct with a Lightsaber or wear a Superman logo under his tux shirt, will wave his wand over a new collection for a pair of Pops concerts Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Cedar Rapids.
“His catalog is massive,” Hankewich said of the prolific Williams, “and so if you were to play every film score that he wrote — certainly all the famous ones — you'd have three, four, five or six different programs.”
It’s also been a while since Orchestra Iowa’s last John Williams night, stretching back to May 2017.
“The timing worked out beautifully, because we were initially wondering what kind of program we should be putting together in the month of February, and it so happened on Feb. 8, John Williams turns 90,” Hankewich said, “and we were also in the midst of the Olympics, the theme of which was also written by John Williams.”
What: Orchestra Iowa Pops at the Paramount: Musical Movie Moments by John Williams
Where: Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 19, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022
Tickets: $18 to $59, artsiowa.com/tickets/concerts/musical-movie-moments/ Half-price student tickets at the box office, 119 Third Ave. SE or (319) 366-8203
COVID protocols: Masks required
He’s also a bridge to old and new Hollywood, bringing back the practice of creating “lavish” symphonic film scores, a practice that began in the 1930s and continued for 30 years, Hankewich noted.
“Then they went out of vogue, sometimes for reasons of expense, but also just in terms of the style at the time,” Hankewich said. “When John Williams came back and wrote the ‘Star Wars’ score, it blew everybody's minds. He was just resurrecting a common practice from years ago, but it rekindled an interest in movie music and symphonic music.
“He became so successful that if there was going to be a high-budget blockbuster movie, John Williams was the go-to guy to write for. By the time ‘Star Wars’ came about, most people had forgotten about the music of (Erich Wolfgang) Korngold or Dimitri Tiomkin or Max Steiner, who were just giants in Hollywood during their days. John Williams, very much, is an extension of that tradition. The viewing public had just forgotten it for a while.”
Williams’ industry star began rising in 1967 with an Oscar nod for co-writing the score to “Valley of the Dolls.” Since then, he’s amassed 51 more Academy Award nominations, most recently in 2020 for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” He won five times, with “Fiddler on the Roof” in 1971, “Jaws” in 1975, “Star Wars” in 1977, “E.T.” in 1982 and “Schindler’s List” in 1993. He also has 72 Grammy nominations and 25 wins. His list of awards, nominations and honors goes on and on and on, including a Kennedy Center Honor in December 2004 and the National Medal of Arts in 2009.
“He influenced a generation,” Hankewich said, adding that he is peerless.
“I think what separates John Williams from any other contemporary composer is his craftsmanship. It's one thing to create mood music to add depth to a scene. It's another thing to actually create music that can stand on its own right. When you hear the music of a lesser composer without the visual elements, the music just sort of wanders aimlessly. But when you listen to the music of John Williams, it survives as concert pieces because it holds your attention and can survive without the visual stimulus,” Hankewich said.
“He also uses the orchestra in such a masterful way. His orchestration is so far above anyone else. It's difficult but fun to play for the orchestra because it exploits the full resources and potential of the symphonic orchestra. He also happens to be a very good tunesmith.”
Still, it’s no walk in the park for the pros.
“It's very demanding,” Hankewich said. “The notes per square inch for the strings is intimidating. And the brass are constantly playing. It is a test of their stamina as well as their skill.”
Paramount Theatre audiences will hear a mix of familiar and not so familiar — all chosen by Hankewich — from the instantly recognizable Olympic fanfare, “Jurassic Park,” “Superman,” “Indiana Jones,” “Close Encounters,” “Harry Potter,” “E.T.” and “Star Wars” to music from “Lincoln” and “Midway.”
And while audiences won’t see film clips on a big screen, they’re apt to see costumes and decorations among the musicians, including the conductor.
“If the music is satisfying, as John Williams’ is, musicians love to participate in programs like this,” he said. “They can also be a little silly and dress up in costume. It also allows musicians to kind of step out of their normal concert attire restrictions and let their inner nerd fly.”
Likewise, Hankewich hopes audience members will come in costume, and span the generations, like the crowds that come to Brucemorchestra, the orchestra’s annual season opener on the front lawn at Brucemore mansion in Cedar Rapids.
“I want to see people of all ages,” he said. “I want to see kids who are discovering this music for the first time and adults of all ages --- whether you’re old enough to remember when ‘Superman’ first hit the screens or whether you're a Gen-Xer who loves Harry Potter. John Williams’ career has been so vast that he's touched so many generations of filmmakers and music lovers, so I would like to see that variety of age represented in the audience.”
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