San Diego Symphony Salutes Maestro of the Movies
Sameer Patel leads Symphony in John Williams Concert March 24 at the Moonlight Amphitheatre
By Marcia Manna
Digital Content Writer
Some film soundtracks have a visual reference that are part of our culture.
When we see a shark’s fin slicing through water, those two, deep and low tuba notes come to mind.
And then there’s that familiar melody that penetrates our thoughts when the Force is with us or the euphoric march that reminds us that, it’s not a bird or a plane, no, it’s Superman, flying through the clouds with hands outstretched, cape fluttering in the wind.
The musical scores that connect us to iconic films will be performed by the San Diego Symphony in a concert conducted by Sameer Patel titled, "Rebels, Raiders, and Supermen: The Music of John Williams" on March 24 at the Moonlight Amphitheatre.
Just the beginning notes of the soundtracks for films such as “Jaws,” “Superman” and “Star Wars” bring quick recognition.
But John Williams, who created all of those memorable themes, has such a common, American name that, while musicians revere it, the general public often forgets.
The San Diego Symphony Orchestra has enjoyed a long and productive relationship with Williams, who made an appearance this past January and shared the podium at Copley Symphony Hall with associate conductor Patel.
Conductor Sameer Patel
“John Williams is a hero of mine and growing up, I watched many of the films he composed and scored from ‘Home Alone’ to ‘Jaws’ to ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Jurassic Park,’” Patel said.
“I remember telling my dad, ‘I’m conducting a program of the music of John Williams and he said, ‘Who’s that?’ I started whistling the theme to ‘Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and he said, ‘Oh, that’s the guy that wrote that!’”
When Patel first met Williams, a winner of five Academy Awards and more than 20 Grammy Awards, he let him know the impact his music had on him and the orchestra.
“It’s a love fest when he is here and everyone is excited and so honored to play with him on stage,” Patel said.
“I told him how much his music has meant to me, not only as a conductor but just as a person. He has found a way into our hearts and minds and souls and I thanked him for the gift he shared with all of us. He’s a warm, kind person. My wife and I had a baby six months ago and he was asking about the baby - he’s a sweet man.”
One of the challenges a young conductor faces is to communicate well with a diverse group of musicians. Patel, who has performed internationally and has held conducting positions with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, Chicago Sinfonietta and the Boston Philharmonic, said his job is “a privilege” and he tries to focus on “the human connection.”
“My responsibility is simply to make great music and to engage with the people in front of me,” said Patel, now in his third season as the associate conductor of the San Diego Symphony.
San Diego Symphony
“You are dependent on musicians to not only make sound but to join in the spirit of making great music. Part of the challenge as a conductor is how to unlock that potential. I have my own conception of what I think the Mozart style should be. They are interested in that but I also am interested in what they are presenting to me as well. It’s like a dialogue.”
While many conductors are closely affiliated with the classical repertoire, Patel admits to being a Radiohead fan and for fun, he tunes into classic rock.
“People would be surprised by that,” Patel said. “I listen to classical music, of course, but so much of that is what I do for work. When I’m in my car, I want to unwind with something else. It can be music from the “Thriller” album or Amy Winehouse. There are so many cross genres. Great music is great music.”
Great music, Patel notes, can be defined by a melody that is so pleasant, it lingers.
He especially likes “Princess Leia’s Theme” from “Star Wars.”
“You think of great composers, Schubert was a great melodic writer and even Mahler wrote great melodies and when you think of opera, Puccini as well,” Patel said.
"But I also love all those great melodies by John Williams and it’s hard to pick a favorite-it’s like trying to pick a favorite family member. When you are conducting, you are surrounded by this beautiful sound.”
The concert on March 24 marks his Moonlight debut and he looks forward to being in an outdoor setting.
“It’s a different audience; it’s relaxed and more casual,” said Patel, who was born in Michigan. “It’s one of the luxuries of living in Southern California and I can’t wait. We are excited to come and share the great music.”