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Leslie Kandell's Tanglewood notes
by Leslie Kandell

Tanglewood notes

A Daily Gazette arts blog
Leslie Kandell covers music in the Berkshires

Slouching toward Pops events

Tanglewood's average Boston Pops concert draws a larger crowd than its Boston Symphony ones--no matter how grand those concerts can be.

As years pass, I find myself drifting in to Pops with the crowds. Their audience is becoming more civilized over time, and not reviewing is relaxing for me.

Film Night has become special among Pops concerts, even though conductor laureate John Williams -- who just donated a bust of Aaron Copland to Tanglewood, and was described in print as a "titan" -- uses them as infomercials for his own work.

So he's allowed. Look at his scores. Blockbusters of a generation: Jaws, E.T., Close Encounters, Raiders, Star Wars, and on and on. If he indulges himself by also playing his non-hits, we cut him major slack and wait for the indelible tunes. He always delivers.

Various-sized screens let everyone see movie clips while Williams leads the Pops in live performance. He pays tribute to other composers too, in speedy medleys under mega-famous clips of films everyone can name and smile at.

There's always a famous guest: Williams modestly introduces his "good friend" Steven Spielberg or Robert DeNiro -- like that.

Last Saturday's Film Night featured the renowned actor Morgan Freeman narrating Williams's suite from "The Reivers" (which means thieves). It's William Faulkner's autumnal tale of three boys' shenanigans with a yellow Winton Flyer and a horse named Lightning.

Freeman was on "The Electric Company," a grade-school version of "Sesame Street." That was before his other iconic roles, but he was great there too, lanky and laconic. (The series is available on DVD.)

Seeing him live, up close, what a resonant voice: a wise, dignified gent, dressed to the nines in respect for the story and the concert.

Gil Shaham was an ideal choice to perform violin excerpts and Williams arrangements of themes from "Cinema Paradiso," "Fiddler on the Roof," and Williams's elegaic medley of film clips of Audrey Hepburn (whom he "had the pleasure to know"). (What eyes on that girl.) Shaham, grinning, had a terrific time and made gestures of obeisance to Williams, who is also a hell of an arranger.

American movie spectaculars are as much a gift to the world as are Broadway musicals. Williams has a huge talent for making people feel that they can sing, that they know something, that being American is a good thing they can agree on.

OK, I'll pay obeisance too, and stroll out humming. See you next Pops night.

PHOTO BY HILARY SCOTT -- Members of the Boston Pops, with conductor John Williams, standing at left, applaud actor Morgan Freeman, who was the narrator for the concert on Sunday at Tanglewood.

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