World Premiere Recording – 2022 Williams Violin Concerto No. 2 & Selected Film Themes

Stars Aligned

Stars Aligned

John Williams’s Violin Concerto No. 2 is the result of several years of collaboration and friendship between two of the world’s most celebrated musical artists. In requesting it from Williams, Anne-Sophie Mutter added to the already remarkable, stylistically varied series of works written for or dedicated to her by composers including Witold Lutosławski, Wolfgang Rihm, Krzysztof Penderecki, Henri Dutilleux, and Sebastian Currier. The present recording was made shortly after the world premiere of Williams’s concerto with the same performers at Tanglewood on July 24, 2021.

Mutter was long aware of Williams’s deep love for her instrument, not only from his concert works for violin and orchestra – the Violin Concerto and TreeSong – but also from the beautiful “Three Pieces from Schindler’s List,” derived from his Academy Award-winning film score. With those in mind, she had asked Williams to write a new piece. The initial result was his lyrical and haunting Markings for solo violin, strings and harp, which Mutter premiered in July 2017 at Tanglewood, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under its music director, Andris Nelsons. From there the musical relationship has grown substantially. In addition to the present concerto, Williams and Mutter collaborated on a Deutsche Gram- mophon album of the composer’s film music, Across the Stars, released in summer 2019. A joint concert together with the Vienna Philharmonic in January 2020 was released by DG the same year on video, CD and digitally as John Williams in Vienna.

It’s significant that the Violin Concerto No. 2 should have originated with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and at the Tanglewood Festival. Williams has warm relationships with many orchestras, but the BSO and the Boston Pops are honored to be among his most frequent partners. (Made up of essentially the same performers as the BSO, the Boston Pops was originally created to perform lighter, “popular” orchestral music in the BSO’s off season.) Williams became conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra in 1980, succeeding the legendary Arthur Fiedler, and led the orchestra through 1993, remaining the orchestra’s Conductor Laureate. He also became a mainstay of the Boston Symphony’s summer home at Tanglewood in western Massachusetts, which features an annual “John Williams Film Night” including classic music from Hollywood’s golden era along with nearly the full range of Williams’s own celebrated scores.

The overwhelming popularity and familiarity of John Williams’s film music and his status as a Hollywood icon have tended to overshadow his impressive catalogue of concert works – many of which originated in his per- sonal friendships with BSO musicians. Among his many concertos are those written for former BSO tuba Chester Schmitz; BSO assistant principal oboe/Pops principal oboe Keisuke Wakao, and BSO assistant principal viola/Pops principal viola Cathy Bas- rak. His harp concerto On Willows and Birches was a gift for former BSO principal harp Ann Hobson Pilot, and Tributes! (for Seiji) was composed for the BSO to honor the orchestra’s longtime music director, Seiji Ozawa. His Cello Concerto, composed for Yo- Yo Ma, was commissioned by the BSO for the opening of Tanglewood’s Seiji Ozawa Hall in July 1994.

One of William’s earliest concert works, predating the Boston Pops association, was his First Violin Concerto, written in reaction to the death of his first wife, the actress Barbara Ruick. Begun in 1974, completed by 1976, and slightly revised in the late 1990s, it was premiered in St. Louis in 1981 but has found its highest-profile champion in violinist Gil Shaham, who recorded the concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for DG under the composer’s direction. The lyrical and personal concerto created for Anne-Sophie Mut- ter in 2021 manifests a new emotional weight accrued over those further decades of Williams’s artistic life. Its four-movement, symphony-like shape – with the third movement, “Dactyls”, as scherzo – is reminiscent of Brahms’s four-movement Piano Concerto No. 2, both works going against the grain of the expected three-movement concerto form while maintaining a traditional relationship between the soloist and orchestra.

The concerto is rich in stylistic variety, each movement creating a contrasting environment and cast of secondary characters. Chief among these is the harp, reprising its supporting role from Markings, Williams’s earlier piece for Mutter. (A third-movement cadenza with timpani – an oblique reference to Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3? – finds the soloist engaged with a much different partner.) The orchestration is magically colorful throughout, surging at times in the powerful transitions that flow from one solo episode to the next. The wide-ranging musical narrative and the details of the solo violin part were inspired by the deeply expressive character of Mutter’s playing, its virtuosic brilliance as well as its lyrical warmth. The concerto’s emotional journey passes through disquiet and wonder, yearning and self-confidence, tinted with the colors of Williams’s deep affinity for a world of musical traditions and his own inimitable artistry.

Robert Kirzinger

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