“That was sick,” exclaimed a twenty-something guest as the Los Angeles Philharmonic concluded its stirring gala opening night performance celebrating the 90th birthday of composer John Williams on Tuesday, Sept. 27. The LA Phil, conducted by music & artistic director Gustavo Dudamel, had just surprised attendees by playing Williams’ famed Star Wars :Main Theme” song as an encore. It capped a night that also included selections from his memorable scores for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Schindler’s List (played by acclaimed violinist and guest artist Anne-Sophie Mutter), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, plus “Princess Leia’s Theme.”
Williams, who turned 90 in February, took the stage himself to conduct Mutter and the LA Phi playing his original Violin Concerto No. 2, a piece written especially for the violinist.
“This music is for eternity,” said Dudamel in welcoming remarks at the beginning of the gala concert, which marks the beginning of the LA Philharmonic season at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Noting that he places the composer right up in the musical pantheon with “Mahler, Strauss, Mozart and Bach,” Dudamel said of Williams’ music, “It transcends.”
The opening night event in downtown Los Angeles raised more than $3.5 million to support the LA Philharmonic’s music learning programs benefitting youth around Los Angeles. The crowd of 650 guests included actor Christoph Waltz, Herbie Hancock (the LA Phil’s creative chair for jazz), composer Kris Bowers (Bridgerton, Dear White People), Marilyn and Jeffrey Katzenberg and Frank Gehry, the designer of Walt Disney Concert Hall.
After the concert — which also included Williams’ composition “Just Down West Street” — guests enjoyed a dinner created by chef José Andrés, sitting outside on a portion of Grand Avenue that had been blocked off for the night. Chad Smith, the CEO of the LA Phil, spoke to the gathering, noting that Williams had first conducted the orchestra back in 1978: “You stepped in for an ailing Arthur Fiedler … and you have conducted this orchestra almost every single year since then. You conducted this orchestra 122 times. You’ve conducted in front of an audience of 2.2 million live people.” Counting that night’s performance, he added that LA Philharmonic audiences have heard the opening credits of Star Wars played 130 times to date.
And Dudamel added that the music always feels fresh. “Again, I think that I can fly,” he said of the feeling he gets while listening to Williams’ compositions.
After the dinner, guests headed to an after-party for desserts and dancing at the new Conrad Los Angeles hotel, designed by Gehry and featuring a food and beverage program overseen by Andrés.
Scroll on for further photos from the evening: