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John Williams Celebration: Performance & Interview

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In addition to being frequent collaborators, John Williams and Gustavo Dudamel have become close friends who admire each other’s work. As part of the LA Phil’s free digital concert series Sound/Stage, Dudamel interviewed Williams about his legacy and the many places each of them finds inspiration—from family and cooking to contemplating nature. The following is an excerpt of that interview, which has been edited for length.

GUSTAVO DUDAMEL: It’s always such a privilege to have a conversation with you, to have the chance to share life. I feel that it is a gift for me to have you as a friend and as a model. You [turned 90 this year]. If you look back, what do you think is your legacy?

JOHN WILLIAMS: Well, first of all, Gustavo, being 90 is a new experience, but I can tell you it’s no different than 70 or 80. If you feel good—mental wholeness, physical health—you know you can work. I am very lucky in that respect. Many people my age don’t have music to be intoxicated by all the time. I always say that it is our oxygen. It’s how we live and breathe. I’m very lucky. Whatever legacy I have in the film world probably has to do with my career overlapping the change from analog recording to digital recording, from the acoustic orchestra sound to electronics and computers creating a sound world for contemporary films. I think my legacy probably has to do with sitting on the top of this transition. I don’t know where it’s going, but I look forward to it.

GD: What goals do you have?

JW: One of my goals is to continue to work with people that I derive such inspiration from. I just worked with Anne-Sophie Mutter, the German violinist, and that was a fantastic dream. She’s a muse. I’m also thinking of writing a piano concerto … I don’t know exactly for whom. There are many great piano concertos in the repertoire, so already it’s a bit of an impertinence to think that I can contribute to that repertoire, but it certainly can be a goal. Gustavo, I’d be very interested in what goals you have… perhaps to conduct The Ring… this kind of thing?

GD: I think there are some simple things in life that you think are simple but are very important—cooking, for example, is something that inspires me. I love it. It’s like [conducting to make] a balance of flavors. If you ask me [about] a goal, I would love to really cook better and better and better. JW: That’s fantastic! Now I have a goal—to be your guest. When you cook, I will come!

GD: But this is not about me. This is about you. And 50 years ago, you received your first Academy Award.

JW: I think there are always people who do as well as we do, and maybe even better, and I don’t know how much justice there is in the process of giving awards. But I think as a species we want to win, and that can be a very good impulse if it’s directed in the right way. It sets up a series of goals for us, and sometimes, we actually can accomplish such goals. Even or an old person like me, if you give me an Oscar, I’m happy, and maybe I will try to do better. GD: You have created the soundtrack of our lives. I know that you told me that music is our inspiration, of course, but what keeps you inspired to keep writing this beautiful music?

JW: Inspiration is very difficult to grab, but I think the biggest one is nature. You know, I have written a lot of pieces about trees because I find them to be dignified witnesses to our crazy lives and to our follies. They look at us and smile, and they’re at peace, and they give us shelter and fuel. One of the things about becoming older is that you see not so much man’s work, but God’s work in a way: a butterfly, a leaf, a sky. It is inspiring to be here.

GD: What you are saying is very powerful, too, because it’s about contemplation. Having the chance to contemplate nature. Sometimes, in the world that we live [in], we don’t have the chance to sit in a garden and to really contemplate.

JW: Yes, we need that. I think inspiration can be found in your children, in your parents, and, in our case, in the work of Beethoven. For example, E.T.—Steven’s film about children—the film is now 40 years old, and the children in it are all grown up to be parents themselves. But their performances are so pure. And whenever you see the film and you look at these kids, their faces are exactly what you want to see for that moment. Scoring a film like that is a great inspiration. I was on a high the whole time.

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