Berlin Philharmonic captures John Williams from Vienna

Berlin Philharmonic captures John Williams from Vienna


norman lebrecht

November 19, 2021

The Hollywood composer made his classical record debut with the Vienna Philharmonic and Anne-Sophie Mutter.

Now Berlin have got in on the act.

See press release below.

John Williams – The Berlin Concert, captured live by Deutsche Grammophon during a series of sold-out concerts, presents some of the world’s best-known film music performed by one of the world’s greatest orchestras. The DG album is set for release on 4 February 2022, in time for the renowned composer’s 90th birthday just four days later. “John Williams doesn’t need the films, the films need him,” wrote Rolling Stone after the concert, while Berlin’s Der Tagesspiegel summed up the event as simply “one of those great evenings”. Fans can catch a sneak preview of the concert on 2 January 2022, when it will be streamed in full on DG Stage.


  • Gareth Jones says:

    So it’s fun – but kitsch. Fair enough

    • SMH says:

      How exactly is John Williams kitsch?

      • John Borstlap says:

        Where this has to be explained, is a hopeless task.

        • Ellingtonia says:

          I think kitsch is what may be applied to your music Mr Borstlap, that is if ever anyone played it. Whereas, Mr Williams writes eminently memorable music, has done so for years, and will still be being played in 50 and a 100 years time. There is no substitute for quality……….as you have no doubt found out!!

  • John Borstlap says:

    Why need classical music if you can get film music? Why invest in classical music performances if you can get quick cash with kitsch? Why making an effort to get Alladdin’s cave open to you if you can get immediate satisfaction?

    • PeterB says:

      Yeah, sure, the Berlin Philharmonic doesn’t invest in classical music performances and needs kitsch to get quick cash. I could say much, much more but neither this comment nor its author are worth it.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Just what I thought! I object, on principle, to these attempts to denigrate something so beautiful and moving as film music. It’s the only music that’s clearly explained by visuals, and the other way around. Compare that with those dusty long symphonies which are so tiring on the mind.


        • David Weisberg says:

          That you find music clear only with visuals is not a deficiency in the music.

          • BRUCEB says:

            Have you met Mr. Borstlap’s amanuensis Sally before? She’s lovely. Sometimes she puts a little “sleepy-time medicine” in his afternoon tea and sneaks onto his computer while he’s resting.

    • Gustavo says:

      Why bother the public with misleading headlines about the best orchestra in the World?

      • Tamino says:

        Are you working for Berlin Phil? I heard both orchestras over the last decade several times, and as pointless as these comparisons can be, Vienna is better. Not because their style is better, there is room for different orchestra personalities and musical identities for sure.
        But Vienna has that unmistaken strong individual identity. Berlin comes across as a collective of many excellent individuals, but they don‘t form one organism like Vienna does.

    • Tamino says:

      I rub a lamp and I can play piano like Trifonov? I want that lamp.

    • True North says:

      Why not “John Borstlap – The Berlin Concert”?

      (No points for the right answer).

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      I don’t think film music is kitsch as many fine composers have written for the screen. If you make an across-the-board damnation be prepared to include Prokofiev, Copland, Shostakovich, Bernstein, Vaughn Williams, Virgil Thomson, Philip Glass and many others in that unhappy alliance.

      John Williams wrote a simply brilliant score for ‘Catch Me if You Can”. It was composed in line with traditional classical principles, but with a sharp, jazzy edge. I don’t admire all of Williams’s work, but I don’t have to; it speaks for itself.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Those classical composers wrote for the film, that is: often, in a way which did not need visuals to be musically convincing. It was in a time when quite some composers thought that film was a serious art form and would offer a Gesamtkunstwerk-combination like opera, only more modern. Later-on it became a commercial thing, and the exceptions merely confirm the rule. Music as part of a commercial undertaking can never achieve what music as an art form can achieve. Really, it is not so difficult.

        Where we speak of truly excellent film music, that is in the context of a film, i.e. the visuals are part of the evaluation. And musical standards are very different, because the reception framework is so different. We don’t expect the same things from film music as we would expect from concert music.

        WIlliams’ serious music (concert music) is very different from his film music, and many times better – but that is not the type of music which people expect from him. They want the kitsch, not early 20C Viennese expressionism.

    • Alan says:

      Why not?

    • EagleArts says:

      John Williams is NOT kitsch. Get off your high horse……

    • John Borstlap says:

      The many thumbs-down show
      the level of quite some SD readers. What are they doing here? This site is about classical music – they should look elsewhere for their infomusement.

    • David Weisberg says:

      A magnificent display of the misunderstanding of both, and of unnecessary and ubiquitous polemics in music.

  • MacroV says:

    The show on the Digital Concert Hall was great; he was clearly thrilled to be there and the orchestra – those who showed up, anyway (no principal flute, oboe, or bassoon, despite great solos for all of them) – seemed to treat him with the awe he deserves; most of them grew up with his films – they’re fans as much as anyone else. And the music sounds great when played so expertly. I was just sorry there was no Sarah Willis interview.

    Get over yourselves, people; he knows how to write music. He knows how to write for films, he knows how to write “serious” music. He’s been conducting the great American orchestras (and the LSO) for decades. He’s one of the major musical figures of our time.

    • williams fan says:

      I’m looking forward to that recording, but is that an official Deutshe Gramophon clip? Sounds like woooh wooh wooh, boomy, some strange low resonance or artificial room sound.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Thanks – that entirely proves my point.

  • Bet says:

    Future generations will revere these recordings and videos as if Wagner had conducted his own Ring.

    You didn’t think you needed 5 versions of the Imperial March conducted by Williams, eh? Well, you didn’t think you needed 5 versions of the Ring conducted by Furtwangler either.

    • John Borstlap says:

      WIlliams’ kitsch is for the simpletons who don’t understand classical music but may, in the course of time, find a way into that territory. Wagner is for sophisticated ears, used to deep listening. Confusing the two, is like thinking that comics and Renaissance paintings are the same because they both use visuals we can recognize.

      • Tamino says:

        Sorry but that‘s polemic nonsense to compare them like comics and Renaissance paintings. Certainly Williams is no Wagner, but he is still a very good and versatile composer.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Since the obvious appears to be so hard to understand, the posychology of a comparison makes sense. When we have two different versions of a thing which have only a very superficial aspect in common, the aspect that is immediately seen or heard on a first simple impression, the mistake to think they are therefore the same and should be judged as being similar, does not show understanding but the opposite. Underdeveloped reception frameworks make this confusion continuously, like people thinking that comics and literature are the same because they both use narrative. Thinking that film music is the same as concert music is on the same level of misunderstanding, and one of the reasons of the erosion of classical music as a whole – new generations who cannot hear any difference between Mahler or Wagner and film music kitsch, will throw away the inheritance of which they are the lucky beneficiaries.

          That such obvious thing has to be pointed out on a website dedicated to classical music, proves my point.

          • Tamino says:

            Thanks for the unnecessary and pointless lecture.
            I have meticulously studied scores of Williams just like Wagners and many other composers‘, and while nobody claims that a Williams score reaches the genius of a Wagner score like e.g. Tristan, it certainly is from initial creative idea to final orchestration on the highest level.
            Your mistake is to confuse two things.
            The mastership that is apparent in a composer‘s best scores on one side, and the trivialities that are introduced by the quantitative approach of „Gebrauchsmusik“ like film music as the target format on the other side.
            One is about ability.
            The other is about making choices how to make money.
            Williams excelled at both.
            Is that maybe, why you spit sour grapes?
            I see no reason to be so bitter about the subject.

            It‘s only hypocritical by Berlin Phil to first not want him, but then, seeing Vienna Phil‘s success and enthusiasm of the audience, trying to cash in on the idea as well. That‘s hardly John Williams fault.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    NL you are mistaken, and more than once you have suggested that in some ways John Williams is wandering on foreign turf where he does not belong when he conducts a major orchestra in something other than movie music. He made his classical record debut well before — 40 years before — recording with Mutter or for DG. With the Boston Pops, certainly a major orchestra based on the personnel, from 1980 to 2002 he made many purely classical discs for a variety of labels, including a disc of the standard overtures, Holst’s The Planets, Nutcracker Suite and Peter and the Wolf, a disc of Russian short classics by Borodin, Rimsky Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, and the other usual suspects, and the list goes on. He also of course made many discs of the usual Boston Pops ditties and music from screen and stage, but his purely classical discography does back many decades and includes many discs.

    And if for some reason based on snobbery or ignorance the Boston Pops is disqualified as classical, with Gil Shaham on DG he recorded his Violin Concerto and “Tree Song” with the full Boston Symphony, a genuinely classical recording.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    So DG uses a blurb from Rolling Stone. What, is it the new authority on orchestral music?

  • caranome says:

    It’s albums like these that enable DG n other labels to fund 10 others “of people of color and other oppressed categories against the historical injustices done to them and climate change…” So depending on your political view, this album is either evil or blessed.

  • Peter Owen says:

    Whilst the audience was left happy, if still waiting for the main course, I hope the VPO coined it. Personally I find pastiche a bit trying after a short while.

  • PFmus says:

    SO the Berlin Phil also has recordings of Johann and Josef Strauss, Franz Lehar and the like. What’s the difference?

    • John Borstlap says:

      O, but the kitsch of Williams is much worse that the light stuff of Strauss & Co, which always has musical qualities. In fact, the Strausses are classical.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Enough already. There were a great many previous film score composers worthy of public attention. Just to name one, Jerry Goldsmith, who was much more versatile with his output. This is just silly.

  • Paul Capon says:

    Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Khachaturian, Vaughan Williams, Arnold, Gershwin, Honegger, Auric, Korngold …. are not bad company to keep. All composed for the screen and shaped what we hear today. It is its own medium, with constraints, and many composers have risen to its challenge. A bigger question might be, where would classical music be, without film music…

  • Billy says:

    The first sentence is incorrect; Vienna was not his classical record debut…

    What about 1997 “The Five Sacred Trees” with the LSO on Sony Classical? Or 2001 “Treesong” with the Boston Symphony Orchestra on DG? Not to mention plenty of previous releases conducting the Boston Pops, including their rendition of Holst’s Planets.

    Really not sure why some people think the Vienna recording is basically his first-ever non-soundtrack album.

  • Tichy1988 says:

    Classical record debut? What do you mean by that? DG has published Williams decades ago with the avant-garde sinfonia for winds. Then there are the 1. violin concerto with Gil Shaham and multiple other releases since. Or do you mean William’s debut in Vienna/Berlin?

    By the way, I was there in Berlin…never before have I seen the orchestra smile and enjoying themselves that much. Pure joy 🙂
    And I go there a lot for concerts or watch online. But this night? So many fantastic sounds, colours and emotions.

  • Max Raimi says:

    There was a wonderful and genuinely funny man who played oboe in the Chicago Symphony for decades, Richard Kanter. We first played a concert of Williams’ music perhaps a quarter century ago. Kanter remarked, “All I hear my colleagues saying is, ‘How demeaning that we have to play this kitsch–it is so beneath us!’ And then ‘Can I get some tickets for my family tonight?'”

  • Gustavo says:

    Don’t forget that Williams saved the LSO in the 70ties.

    Also, such bestselling light-music albums by DG can be helpful in subsidising boring anthologies of Furtwängler.

    Norman’s no star wars against VPO, BPO and Williams is luckily having no effect at all.

  • Patrick Vienna says:

    So sad that the best musicians of the world are forced to play that Mozak.