A Tribute To John Williams – Musikverein, Vienna

By Leo Mayr

February 23, 2019

On Saturday, the 18th of January, history was made in Vienna.

Or so I’ve been told.

I wasn’t actually at Saturday’s concert, when John Williams made his debut at the Musikverein Vienna, conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in an evening filled with some of his most acclaimed compositions.

I got to experience it all on Sunday the 19th, when Williams took to the podium for a second time.

John Williams has had his eye on the Musikverein for quite some time now. Back in October of 2018, Williams was set to conduct his music with the London Symphony Orchestra at London’s Royal Albert Hall, an event which was to be followed by two performances with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the Musikverein. Unfortunately, owing to a last-minute illness, Williams had to cancel his appearance at these sought-after events. The concert in London went ahead under conductor Dirk Brossé, while the concerts scheduled for Vienna were cancelled and, a year later, rescheduled to take place in January of 2020.

It had been long years since John Williams last conducted his music in Europe, so it was no surprise to see people from all over the world flocking to Vienna to witness arguably one of the greatest film composers of our time in person. Williams’s most impressive resumé alone would be incentive enough to warrant the trip, but a chance to see the man himself meant the concerts selling out almost instantly. Those lucky enough to attend were treated to an event unlike any other.

Williams made an effort to balance his most well-known music with a couple of lesser known pieces all throughout the concert which encompassed music from over four decades. From the delightful and adventurous “The Flight to Neverland” from Hook, to the subtle and suspenseful “Excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, the programme made for a diverse overview over Williams’s vast catalogue of compositions.

A particular highlight proved to be the involvement of violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter for whom Williams has arranged several of his compositions. Their collaboration has led to an album featuring some of Williams’s most well-known music, rearranged by Williams himself for Anne-Sophie Mutter. Throughout the concert, several of these pieces, including “Hedwig’s Theme” from Harry Potter and “The Duel” from The Adventures of Tintin, were performed by Mutter and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

The lengthy concert left nothing to be desired. From Jaws to the fantastic “Star Wars Main Title”, E.T. to Schindler’s List, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra delivered one breath-taking performance after the other. One moment, the brass section filled he hall with a loud fanfare, the next a subtle melody moved a certain film music journalist to tears.

The official programme concluded with the “Main Title” from Star Wars, but Williams was far from done. A staggering five encores followed, with Williams capping off the event with “The Imperial March”.

John Williams has been one of the most acclaimed and sought-after film composers for quite some time now. Hearing music from all over his astonishing career performed by the exceptional Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the Musikverein would be remarkable on its own, but having Williams conduct the orchestra in person made the event truly special. Everything about the concert, the stunning interior of the Musikverein, the stellar performance by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the visible joy with which Williams conducted his music at this remarkable venue came together in what will arguably be one of my most cherished memories for years to come.


“The Flight to Neverland” – Hook

“Excerpts from Close Encounters of the Third Kind” – Close Encounters of the Third Kind

“Hedwig’s Theme” (arrangement for Anne-Sophie Mutter) – Harry Potter

“Theme from Sabrina” (arrangement for Anne-Sophie Mutter) – Sabrina

“Donnybrook Fair” (arrangement for Anne-Sophie Mutter) – Far and Away

“Devil’s Dance” (arrangement for Anne-Sophie Mutter) – The Witches of Eastwick

“Adventures on Earth” – E.T.

“Theme from Jurassic Park” – Jurassic Park

“Dartmoor, 1912” – War Horse

“Out to Sea / Shark Cage Fugue” – Jaws

“Marion’s Theme” – Raiders of the Lost Ark

“The Rebellion is Reborn” – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

“Luke & Leia” – Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

“Star Wars Main Title” – Star Wars

“Theme from Cinderella Liberty” (arrangement for Anne-Sophie Mutter) – Cinderella Liberty

“The Duel” (arrangement for Anne-Sophie Mutter) – The Adventures of Tintin

“Remembrances” – Schindler’s List

“The Raiders March” – Raiders of the Lost Ark

“The Imperial March” – Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

All photos by Dieter Nagl