John Williams has been making movie magic with his music for decades, transporting audiences on emotional cinematic journeys to a galaxy far far away, to a school for young witches and wizards, to an island where dinosaurs can once again walk the Earth, and back to the wonders of our childhoods.
Tuba player Norman Pearson performed Williams” music early in his career, as a freelancer just out of college, when he played on the soundtrack for “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” in 1982. Thirty-three years later, he”s performing the film”s heartwarming, awe-inspiring score for an audience at Hollywood Bowl. The L.A. Philharmonic is performing the score live in sync with HD screenings of the film at the Los Angeles venue for three nights over Labor Day weekend.
Pearson recalls being “quite nervous” when he got to the MGM soundstage to record the score with Williams conducting. That recording session was in April 1982 for the movie”s soundtrack LP. (In an unusual move, the “E.T.” score was recorded again for the soundtrack release, instead of using the recording that is heard in the film).
“I have a lot of respect for [Williams”] music and as a conductor, he”s very demanding,” Pearson told HitFix. “He knows exactly what he wants out of the orchestra. And on a recording session, he doesn't stop until he gets exactly what he wants. Some conductors and composers may do five or six cues in a day. He may do just one in a day cause he knows exactly what he's trying to get, and if we're not producing it, he won”t go on.”
The tubaist has played on about 120 film score recordings, though his time has mostly been devoted to the L.A. Philharmonic since he joined the orchestra in 1993. Among the other movies he”s lent his tuba skills to are “Edward Scissorhands,” War of the Roses,” “Crimson Tide” and another Spielberg/Williams project, “Jurassic Park.”
It wasn”t until the release of “E.T.” in June 1982 that Pearson learned what the film is about.
“I realized it was this big blockbuster film, and I thought, ‘People are gonna be buying this record.” So I went over to Tower Records as soon as it came out, and I bought it. I just wanted to make sure I didn't sound bad,” he said with a laugh. “I was relieved when I heard it.”
Big blockbuster it was indeed. “E.T.” went on to become the top-grossing film of 1982 and was nominated for 9 Oscars, winning four, including one for Williams” score. As the Hollywood Bowl screening on Friday was about to begin, among the audience, more than once there was chatter of “Did you bring tissues?” The tale of a 10-year-old boy named Elliott and the little alien he befriends has continued to connect with and move audiences over the years.
Pearson says he feels more connected with his audience at the Bowl performing Williams” scores than with most other pieces of music. Next to the 17,000-seat Hollywood Bowl, other venues, like the Walt Disney Concert Hall, feel “like playing in someone”s living room,” Pearson said.
“At the Bowl, when you”re on the stage, sometimes it just doesn”t feel real. There”s not really a connection between you and the audience. But when you”re doing something like the John Williams concert, there just seems to be such a connection between the audience and the orchestra and the conductor,” explained Pearson, who has also performed Williams” scores at the Bowl when Williams has conducted selections from a number of his films in one concert.
The crowd at the Hollywood Bowl on Friday night certainly seemed to be packed with Williams fans. During the opening credits, the prolific, acclaimed composer”s name got a far louder chorus of cheers than anyone else”s name. (Unlike at the “Back to the Future” live orchestra screening earlier this summer, when composer Alan Silvestri got just about as many cheers as all the other major players.) There were also cheers at particularly thrilling moments in the film, including when the orchestra finally swells into the iconic “Flying Theme” as E.T. takes Elliott”s bicycle soaring past the moon.
For “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” the power of the live music-to-picture experience was perhaps most evident during the moment E.T. appears to to be dead: There”s no score at this moment, and Elliott”s house is rather quiet after a lot of chaos when a hoard of scientists and doctors invade his home. All is still, and crickets surrounding the outdoor venue can be heard. Then, as Elliott realizes E.T. is alive, the orchestra gradually blossoms to life too, and there”s once again a big flurry of movement in the orchestra that”s seated beneath the big screen.
Following Friday's world premiere of the “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” concert screenings, produced by FILM CONCERTS LIVE!, the film will screen with a live orchestra in more cities, including San Francisco, St. Louis and Perth, Australia. More info about the concert screenings is available via the FILM CONCERTS LIVE! website.
Photo credits, from top: 1. Mathew Imaging, 2. Emily Rome, 3. Emily Rome, 4. Universal Pictures