Watch Kapellmeister John Williams conduct the Vienna Philharmonic

Watch Kapellmeister John Williams conduct the Vienna Philharmonic


norman lebrecht

May 04, 2020

It’s just a short clip but he’s clearly been taught by an old-school German Kapellmeister how to handle a baton.

The players seems to be having a good time.


  • A.L. says:

    The VPO is suffering under a stream of conductors incapable of drawing out its fabled sound. This review of Thielemann’s new recording of “Die Frau ohne Schatten” alludes to it.

    • Pedro says:

      I haven’nt heard the CDs yet but I was at one of the performances last season and found Thielemann’s conducting exemplary, as it was a few years before in Salzburg. Look forward
      to Yannick at the Met in April 2021.

    • Alan says:

      Stemme! Ouch.

  • Amos says:

    He’s had over 40 years of practice with the BSO and Pops so hardly surprising he can communicate with a first-rate orchestra.

  • V.Lind says:

    I suspect someone who conducted the Boston Pops for years, and has also conducted the NY Phil and the LA Phil, among other orchestras, has long since learned how to handle a baton.

    Like him or not, John Williams is a real musician.

    • Brian v says:

      Wonderful. Also it is good to see an orchestra dressed normally without having
      To wear those the penguin suits.

      • David says:

        That just means it was a daytime concert. For evening concerts they’d usually still wear tails (though mostly not at the Opera), like most orchestras.

      • Ken says:

        The VPO’s morning suits are just as much a long-standing tradition — and uniforms — as tuxes elsewhere.

      • Brian v says:

        Barenboim always has a nice suit no tie. Sensible man. Always smart

        • Bruce says:

          Unlike an orchestral musician, a conductor gets to choose what he wears.

        • stanley cohen says:

          Yes but he plays a grand piano with his own name emblazoned on it. How’s that for dedicated conceit?

          • Brian says:

            Stanly you are right I never liked the guy full of his own importance.
            Also we do not wish to hear about his politics

          • Brian 1 says:

            Like solti he can be rude in rehearsal which I have seen on tv.
            When Solti arrived in Switzerland he complained about the
            People supposing he remained in hungary he would not of

        • Edgar says:

          Smart maybe, but very much in need of a good tailor.

  • batonbaton says:

    I defy anyone to say that John Williams’ music (and particularly that music) doesn’t immediately take you back to the time and place you first heard it. He’s a great film composer and knows his metier as well as anyone alive, but please let’s not belittle film music – there are some really great scores by Bernard Herrmann, etc. Williams has as good (if not clearer) stick technique than many podium peacocks that have, until recently, incessantly traversed the globe. He’s secured a date with the Vienna Phil – why not play to your strengths and have fun (yes, fun – remember what that is you old bantam-bashers) with it? Good on him.

    • Bruce says:

      My main peeve with movie music is that, as good as it might be, it always ties you down to a particular set of images — you don’t get to imagine anything for yourself. Even with a very programmatic piece like “Don Juan,” you aren’t told the color of his horse or what he’s wearing when he dies. (Yes, the countess famously has red hair; but you and I don’t have to “imagine” the same actress.) Or the opening of Bruckner’s 4th: not a tone poem, but very evocative. Each of us still gets to decide what it evokes for us. In contrast, the imperial storm troopers will always look exactly the same, no matter who watches the movie, and Luke Skywalker will always, always look like Mark Hamill.

      It would be interesting to see, if the movies he wrote for are eventually forgotten, if the music manages to stand on its own. After all, there are popular overtures from neglected operas (Nicolai’s “Merry Wives of Windsor,” for example), and popular suites from neglected ballets. So… it could happen.

      • stanley cohen says:

        No-one is telling you what to think, Bruce! You are the one telling you what to think.

      • M2N2K says:

        It is only true if you saw the movie before hearing the music. For example, I have never seen many of the movies to which JW wrote scores and so when I hear the music I enjoy it for what it is without any particular pictures in my head. None of it is great art, but some of the pieces are truly good enough to stand on their own in concert performances.

  • Tamino says:

    It’s the old school conducting style of complete efficiency in the service of music and only as much control as needed, giving the musicians the freedom to play. No vanity. It’s how conductors, who listen, conduct.
    It reminds me of Richard Strauss conducting. (not sure Richard Strauss smiled though on stage) Vienna Phil plays glorious here. What an orchestra.

    • John Kelly says:

      Quite right Tamino! And they seem to all be enjoying themselves. The horn sound is quite magnificent. Wish I’d been there……….

      • Petros Linardos says:

        Indeed it’s not hard to spot smiles among the orchestral musicians.

      • AstoriaEd says:

        Indeed…I live in NYC and have seen the NY Phil many times. The Phil’s horn section has never, ever sounded like that.

        • Bruce says:

          LOL. They’re kind of famous for, as you say, not sounding like that.

          • Edgar says:

            They need to play lots of Haydn. Plenty of wonderfully challenging music for horns in his symphonies. Always effective when some repair and improvement is warranted. 🙂

    • David says:

      Strauss instantly popped into my mind as well. Those horns! And, it was nice to see the piccolo enjoying the spectacular flute playing.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Agreed, Tamino. A clear, unambiguous beat, no showboating, and no “playing to the audience”.
      The result? An excellent musical performance!

    • Brian v says:

      My grandmother could conduct this orchestra they would still sound great

      • M2N2K says:

        Nothing against your grandma who may be a hugely talented musician for all I know, but I have seen lots of examples of poor conducting ruining the playing quality of even some of the finest orchestras.

      • Petros Linardos says:

        I don’t know about your grandma’s conducting skills, but as a student in the 80s I had sometimes heard the VPO sound unremarkable under famous conductors. On a good day, of course, they were fully up to their reputation.

  • perturbo says:

    Ironic that he is conducting an Austrian orchestra in a piece called March of the Storm Troopers.

  • M McAlpine says:

    Do I detect a hint of envy in your comment Norman?

  • Ron Swanson says:

    When Spielberg showed Williams a rough cut of Schindler’s List, Williams said “you are going to need a better composer”
    To which Spielberg replied “I know but they are all dead”

    • FrauGeigerin says:

      Spielberg’s comment shows that he is a genius for film, but when it comes to music he is quite ignorant.

    • Stuart says:

      Here is the interview quote from 2005:

      Williams: Spielberg showed me the film … I couldn’t speak to him. I was so devastated. Do you remember, the end of the film was the burial scene in Israel — Schindler — it’s hard to speak about. I said to Steven, “You need a better composer than I am for this film.” He said to me, “I know. But they’re all dead!”

  • NotHolst says:

    In addition to his appearances mentioned above, it should be considered that his primary tutelage as a conductor undoubtedly came at the studios, where he had to conduct (admittedly outstanding) players who were sight-reading his music–surely the reason his style is so clear and unadorned.

  • Save the MET says:

    For those of us who watched Arthur Fielder for years, this is literally an homage in stick handling. If you don’t believe me, watch a few Youtube videos.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Ten points, Ron Swanson.

  • Gustavo says:

    Strange – no clapping on DG’s non-visual mp3 single of the Imperial March.

    The force is strong with this one.

  • As the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s photographer during the 80’s, I became well acquainted with John Williams, and he’s as wonderful as he is famous.

    His music is probably more widely known than Beethoven.

    Vienna sounded great, and the audience loved it. D’uh!

    I’m sure the musicians loved playing his music under his direction, and will remember it as a career highlight.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Not sure they will remember it as “a career highlight” but I have no doubt they will remember it since it is the kind of thing they very rarely do.

  • Gustavo says:

    Well, it’s an old-school German label.

    Looking forward to comparing with Shawn Murphy”s Boston sound.

    • Tamino says:

      Going by the recent Boston Shostakovich sound with Nelsons on the yellow label, I very much prefer the sound as it is recorded here by the legendary Tonmeisters of DG. The Boston recordings sound a bit artificial to me, there is no perception of depth there, also a certain lack of blend, and the famous Boston Symphony hall not really integrated into the sonic stage. It can kill the goosebumps. But all on a high technical level no doubt. It’s also always a matter of personal taste, but I suppose Shostakovich and also Williams prefer the sound as it is recorded here in Musikverein. But let’s wait and hear the full recording. Sounds very promising so far.

      • Gustavo says:

        This is what I’m used to. I grew up in the 90ties with the Chandos sound, so maybe that’s why I prefer it.

      • Gustavo says:

        And here’s one from the yellow label:

        Will be interesting to see how Vienna compares.

        • Tamino says:

          Agree, that LA Phil one is a bit dull and some funny balances. But maybe as much a problem with what happened live before the microphones? And a quick and dirty live recording job, no time and money for a proper recording like in the old days? Sounds very much like Disney Hall though. Boring. Agree with you that today there is no consistency with even the major labels. Some excellent results, some mediocre ones. Maybe they use different people all the time? Who produced the L.A. Phil recording?

  • R. Brite says:

    According to Rolling Stone, the Imperial March at first wasn’t included in the all-Williams programme in January, but the Philharmonic’s brass lobbied for it.

  • Rob says:

    Here he is conducting one of Nelson Riddle’s arrangements with the Boston Pops

  • Pacer1 says:

    Did anyone notice that after the last note he turned to the Concertmaster and said “Wow”?

  • Not an Ivory Towerite says:

    Is Henry Mancini an old school Kapellmeister? Because that’s who Williams learned conducting from. He studied piano with Rosina Lhévinne.

  • Chris says:

    Anyone else catch a slight resemblance of John Williams with Sir Charles Groves?

    • David K. Nelson says:

      And even a bit of a resemblance to the film of Sir Edward Elgar conducting. My wife often played under Sir David Wilcocks’s baton and he described performing (singing in his case) under Elgar’s direction. What was he like? “Stoic.”

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Besides conducting Boston Pops, J.W. has primarily been a ‘studio’ conductor. Under such conditions, there’s no need for a conductor to ‘put on a show’ for the audience. Everything is efficient and business like. Personally – and I’m just speaking for myself- I didn’t find his work with the Boston Pops to be terribly interesting. I like the old Fiedler stuff better, and I even prefer the Keith Lochhart recordings that came after J.W. I even prefer some of the Eric Kunzel/Cincinnati Pops recordings (empahasis on “some”). It’s not a put down of John Williams I’m aiming for – he’s obviously a talented film composer. I just don’t find him interesting conducting other people’s music.

    One odd thing I find to be true about the V.P.O.: the timpani are excellent, but the bass drum is often times too light sounding and underplayed. However, the whole band sounds good here.

    I’ve played my fair share of J.W. and the piece I’ve enjoyed most is the march to the 1970’s movie “Midway”. It’s just the right length and fully captures his style.

  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    He used to conduct Boston Pops after Arthur Fiedler died.

  • Damn. He’s 88 years old.

  • Tichy says:

    You are talking about style, technique and conducting efficiency. Williams is 88 years old, give him some credit. This was the last of 6 encores (!) after a 2 hours + concert. Of course he had to manage his energy for that.

  • Willem Philips says:

    This is the reiteration of Karl Bohm’s dyskinetic downbeat.

  • wasteland says:

    Anyone notice that there were countless close ups of the musicians, but not a single one of a woman. Even in the long shots I see only one woman.

    And among the 54 comments here, almost all had male names or pseudonyms. Only one commentator used a feminine signifier, “Frau”

    Makes classical music look like a bunch of misogynistic perverts….

    • Gustavo says:

      It’s because the “Imperial March” represents the masculine, bad and evil.

      All eyes will be on Anne Sophie during “Sabrina” and “Cinderella Liberty”, I suppose.

  • Gustavo says:

    One day later, Lockhart unlocks the Boston Pops with Williams out of lockdown – watch!

  • Edgar Self says:

    Boulez’s remark worth repeating: “The Vienna Philharmonic is the easiest orchestra to conduct, as long as I do nothing to disturb them.”

  • Gustavo says:

    More from the Kapellmeister in pre-COVID-19 Vienna here:

  • Gustavo says:

    Kapellmeister Williams is completing Violin Concerto No. 2 dedicated to A-S Mutter and planned to be performed at Tanglewood 2021.

    He also reports of having had fun composing a new piece for the opening of the Vienna Philharmonic Ball commissioned by the VPO – follwing in the footsteps of Richard Strauss!


    Hear here: