Earlier this season the Houston Symphony returned from it first major European tour in two decades. There had been triumphant performances in such cities as Brussels, Warsaw, Vienna, Berlin, Munich and numerous others. Not long after returning to Houston from that sensational tour, the orchestra gave new meaning to the word triumphant with the dazzling Houston Symphony Pops performance of “The Best of John Williams,” under the baton of conductor, Michael Krajewski. Presented at Jones Hall, the recent concert was a very comprehensive sampling of the vast musical cinematic repertoire of the brilliant composer. The always good-humored Mr. Krajewski, who just last year had retired from his 16 years of service as the orchestra’s Principal Pops Conductor, arrived on stage with a flourish as the orchestra played the powerful theme from the motion picture, “Rocky.” He joked with the audience about returning for his “Second Annual Farewell Concert,” but then it was time to take the podium for what would be an absolutely thrilling program.
Under ruby-colored lighting that surrounded the orchestra, the program opened with the soothing, enchanting and majestic sweep of a selection from the Suite of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Then followed the chilling, spooky and pounding pulsations of the “Shark Theme,” from the Oscar-winning film score of JAWS. Next, the audience was transported to the awakening dawn of a lush and tropical world via the “Theme from Jurassic Park.” The orchestra’s use of high-screen, close-up projections of the various soloists was particularly effective here. There would be a splendid air of mystery in the performance of “Excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and then came the warm, embracing magic of the “Flying Theme” from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, that accompanies the iconic scene of bicycling youngsters soaring skyward in silhouette across the full moon. If that wasn’t enough excitement, this first part of the program concluded with the thrilling “March” from Superman, but not before Krajewski could tease the audience a bit in musing about his amazement that “mild mannered reporter, Clark Kent,” was so easily rendered unrecognizable to his fellow journalists by simply removing his eyeglasses.
The second part of the program was focused on Mr. Willliams’ music from the many films in the Star Wars series. First up were two selections from “Star Wars,” beginning with the sweeping, spatial quality of the “Main Title: Maestoso.” Then, when introducing the delicate, “Leia’s Theme: Andante,” maestro Krajewski reflected on the recent passing of actress, Carrie Fisher, who had played the role of Princess Leia in several films of the Star Wars series. During that piece, the stunning solo moments on flute from Aralee Dorough were a particular delight. Another favorite from the Star Wars Saga was the “Parade of the Ewoks: À la Marcia.” From The Phantom Menace, the orchestra performed the thrilling, “Flag Parade: Maestoso,” that seemed somehow reminiscent of “The March of the Charioteers” from Ben-Hur. “Across the Stars,” from The Attack of the Clones, had an intensely romantic quality that seemed to wrap its arms around the audience before ending in a gentle whisper. For pure, thunderous power there was the “Imperial March,” perhaps better known as “Darth Vader’s Theme.” The shimmering conclusion of, “The Jedi Steps and Finale,” seemed a closing overture as it reprised many of the themes in the films. Finally, the much-anticipated encore of the “Theme” from Raiders of the Lost Ark, was no less thrilling than all that had gone before it. Clearly, it was a night to remember in Jones Hall. We all eagerly await Krajewski’s next “Annual Farewell Concert.”