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John Towner Williams
(born February 8, 1932) is an American composer, conductor and pianist.
In a career that spans six decades, Williams has composed many of the
most famous film scores in history, including those for Jaws, Star
Wars, Superman, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Raiders of the Lost Ark,
Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, Hook, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Harry
Potter. In addition, he has composed theme music for four Olympic
Games, numerous television series and concert pieces. He served as the
principal conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra from 1980 to 1993, and
is now the orchestra's laureate conductor. Williams is a five-time
winner of the Academy Award. With 45 Academy Award nominations,
Williams and Alfred Newman are the second-most nominated individuals
after Walt Disney. He was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in
John Williams was born on February 8, 1932, in Floral Park, New York. In 1948, He moved with his family to Los Angeles, where he attended North Hollywood High School. He later attended the University of California, Los Angeles and Los Angeles City College, and studied privately with composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. In 1952, Williams was drafted into the United States Air Force, where he conducted and arranged music for the Air Force Band as part of his duties. After his service ended in 1954, Williams moved to New York City and entered Juilliard School, where he studied piano with Rosina Lhévinne. During this time he also worked as a jazz pianist at New York's many studios and clubs. He had played with composer Henry Mancini, and performed on the recording of the Peter Gunn theme. He was known as "Johnny" Williams in the early 1960s, and served as arranger and bandleader on a series of popular albums with singer Frankie Laine. Williams was married to actress Barbara Ruick from 1956 until her death on March 3, 1974. They had three children together. One of those children is Joseph Williams, former lead singer for the band Toto. He married for a second time on June 9, 1980 to his current wife, Samantha Winslow. Williams is a member of Kappa Kappa Psi, the national honorary fraternity for college band members.
After his studies at Juilliard, Williams returned to Los Angeles and began working as an orchestrator in film studios. Among others, he had worked with composers Franz Waxman, Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Newman. He was also a studio pianist, performing in scores by composers such as Jerry Goldsmith and Elmer Bernstein. Williams began to compose scores for television series in the late 1950s, eventually leading to Lost in Space and The Time Tunnel. Williams's first major film composition was for the B-movie Daddy-O in 1958, and his first screen credit came two years later in Because They're Young. He soon gained notice in Hollywood for his versatility in composing jazz, piano and symphonic music. He received his first Academy Award nomination for his score to the 1967 film Valley of the Dolls, and was nominated again in 1969 for Goodbye, Mr. Chips. He won his first Academy Award for his adapted score to the 1971 film Fiddler on the Roof. By the early 1970s, Williams had established himself as a composer for large-scale disaster films, with scores for The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake and The Towering Inferno (the last two films, scored in 1974, borrowing musical cues from each other). In 1974, Williams was approached by Steven Spielberg to write the music for his feature directorial debut, The Sugarland Express. The young director was impressed by Williams's score to the 1969 film The Reivers, and was convinced the composer could provide the sound he desired for his films. They re-teamed a year later for the director's second film, Jaws. Widely considered a classic suspense piece, the score's ominous two-note motif has become nearly synonymous with sharks and approaching danger. The score earned Williams a second Academy Award, his first for an original composition. Shortly afterwards, Williams and Spielberg began preparing for their next feature film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Unusual for a Hollywood production, Spielberg's script and Williams's musical concepts were developed at the same time and were closely linked. During the two-year creative collaboration, they settled on a distinctive five-note motif that functioned both as background music and the communication signal of the film's alien mothership. Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released in 1977.
In the same period, Spielberg recommended Williams to his friend and fellow director George Lucas, who needed a composer to score his ambitious space epic, Star Wars. Williams produced a grand symphonic score in the fashion of Richard Strauss and Golden Age Hollywood composers Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Max Steiner. Its main theme is among the most widely-recognized in motion picture history, and the Force Theme and Princess Leia's Theme are also well-known examples of leitmotif. The film and its soundtrack were both immensely successful, and Williams won another Academy Award for Best Original Score. In 1980, Williams returned to score The Empire Strikes Back, where he famously introduces The Imperial March as the theme for Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire. The original Star Wars trilogy concluded with the 1983 film Return of the Jedi, for which Williams's score provides the Emperor's Theme.
Williams worked with director Richard Donner to score the 1978 film Superman. The score's heroic and romantic themes, particularly the main march, the Superman fanfare and the love theme (known as "Can You Read My Mind"), would appear in the four subsequent sequel films. For the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark, Williams wrote a rousing main theme known as The Raiders' March to accompany the film's hero, Indiana Jones. He also composed separate themes to represent the Ark of the Covenant, the character Marion and the Nazi villains of the story. Additional themes were featured in his scores to the sequel films Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Williams composed an emotional and sensitive score to Spielberg's 1982 fantasy film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The music conveys the film's benign, child-like sense of innocence, particularly with a spirited theme for the freedom of flight, and a soft string-based theme for the friendship between characters E.T. and Elliott. The film's final chase and farewell sequence marks a rare instance in film history, in which the on-screen action is edited to conform to the composer's musical interpretation. Williams was awarded a fourth Academy Award for this score.
The 1985 film The Color Purple is the only feature film directed by
Steven Spielberg for which John Williams did not serve as composer. The
film's producer, Quincy Jones, wanted to personally arrange and compose
the music for the project. Williams also did not score Twilight Zone:
The Movie, but Spielberg had directed only one of the four segments in
that film. The film's music was written by another veteran Hollywood
composer, Jerry Goldsmith. The Williams-Spielberg collaboration resumed
with the director's 1987 film Empire of the Sun. Steven Spielberg even
admits, "I call it an honorable privilege to regard John Williams as a
friend". While skilled in a variety of twentieth-century compositional
idioms, his most familiar style may be described as a form of
neoromanticism, inspired by the large-scale orchestral music of the
late 19th century, especially Wagnerian music and leitmotif, and that
of Williams's film-composing predecessors. He was inducted to the
Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame. In the new millennium, he was asked
to score the film adaptation of the widely successful young adult's
book series, Harry Potter. He went on to score the first three
installments of the franchise. The future for John Williams, despite
his age, is still bright and ripe with opportunities to leave his
already very established mark in the world of film and classical music.
In 2008 he will score Indiana Jones 4 and will most likely be scoring
Steven Spielberg's future projects Lincoln and Interstellar.
From 1980 to 1993, Williams succeeded the legendary Arthur Fiedler as Principal Conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra. His arrival as the new leader of the Pops in the spring of 1980 allowed him to devote part of the Pops' first PBS broadcast of the season to presenting his new compositions for The Empire Strikes Back, in addition to conducting many Fiedler audience favorites. He is now the Laureate Conductor of the Pops, thus maintaining his affiliation with its parent, the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO), resident of Symphony Hall in the Massachusetts capital. Williams leads the Pops on several occasions each year, particularly during their Holiday Pops season and typically for a week of concerts in May. He also frequently enlists the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, official chorus of the BSO, to provide a choral accompaniment to films (such as Saving Private Ryan). He is an accomplished pianist, as can be heard in various scores in which he provides solos, as well as a handful of European classical music recordings. Williams has written many concert pieces, including a symphony, Concerto for Horn written for Dale Clevenger, principal hornist of the Chicago Symphony, Concerto for Clarinet written for Michele Zukovsky (Principal Clarinetist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic) in 1991 Concerto for Clarinet , a sinfonietta for wind ensemble, a cello concerto premiered by Yo-Yo Ma and the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in 1994, concertos for the flute and violin recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra, tuba, and a trumpet concerto, which was premiered by the Cleveland Orchestra and their principal trumpet Michael Sachs in September 1996. His bassoon concerto, The Five Sacred Trees, which was premiered by the New York Philharmonic and principal bassoon player Judith LeClair in 1995, was recorded for Sony Classical by Williams with LeClair and the London Symphony Orchestra. In addition, Williams composed the well-known NBC News theme "The Mission" (which he has occasionally performed in concert for surprised audiences), "Liberty Fanfare" for the re-dedication of the Statue of Liberty, "We're Lookin' Good!," for the Special Olympics in celebration of the 1987 International Summer Games, and themes for the 1984, 1988, 1996, and 2002 Olympic games. His most recent concert work "Seven for Luck", for soprano and orchestra, is a seven-piece song cycle based on the texts of former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove. "Seven for Luck" was given its world premiere by the Boston Symphony under Williams with soprano Cynthia Haymon. Recently he conducted the series entitled Film Night at Boston Symphony Hall. He led the Boston Pops in a program featuring the music of Bernard Herrmann, as well as his own scores, with a spotlight on his Harry Potter scores.
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