Han Soloists feel the force at the Proms

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Jess GillamImage source, Mark Allan / BBC
Image caption,
The concert saw three young musicians make their Proms debut

It was Oboe-Wan Kenobi and Violindiana Jones at the Royal Albert Hall on Thursday, as the Proms paid tribute to film composer John Williams.

Music from Jaws, Harry Potter and ET (Extra Trombone) all featured at the show, led by the BBC Concert Orchestra.

"No other living composer has done more to preserve the orchestra's starring role in the movies," said presenter Katie Derham.

Williams has won five Oscars for his work on films like Schindler's List.

He is also the Academy's most-nominated composer and second most-nominated individual of all time, after Walt Disney.

The 85-year-old was unable to attend the Prom, but sent a message of gratitude to the audience.

"I send my fond regards to everyone gathered in the Royal Albert Hall, along with my best wishes for a joyous evening of music."

Image source, REX/Shutterstock
Image caption,
John Williams (right) has previously conducted performances of his Star Wars themes at the Royal Albert Hall

The concert was conducted by Keith Lockhart, who took over from Williams as the principal conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra in 1995.

"Everybody has their favourite John Williams movie score," he said, "and so many of us tend towards the big action adventure things: Jurassic Park, Star Wars or Indiana Jones.

"But I think John is at his best when he is in a fantasy world, especially when he inhabits the mind and the imagination of a child. To me, his most evocative scores have a flight of fancy - like ET and The BFG.

"Those are the movies he enjoys scoring the most."

As well as the orchestral movements, the Prom included three (Han) solos - all from Proms newcomers.

Ahead of the concert, which will be screened on BBC Four on Friday, we spoke to the musicians about the impact of Williams music, and what it felt like to make their Proms debut.

Jess Gillam

Media caption,

Jess Gillam rehearses Escapades, from the film Catch Me If You Can, for the John Williams Prom on 20 July.

Eighteen-year-old saxophonist Jess Gillam was a finalist in last year's BBC Young Musician competition and has played with the likes of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Jools Holland's Rhythm and Blues Orchestra.

She is currently studying at the Royal Northern College of Music.

What does it feel like to perform your first solo at the proms?

It's extremely exciting but it does feel like a big responsibility. The amount of preparation and practice that's gone into it has been immense. I want to make the most of the opportunity.

Tell me about the piece you're playing?

I'm playing Escapades, which is from the Stephen Spielberg film Catch Me If You Can. It's a great film and the music is full of joy and character.

How different is it from your normal repertoire?

I love playing this kind of music because John Williams has used jazz inspirations throughout the score.

When he started writing film music he was inspired by music from the 50s and 60s and then he started to develop his own sound and his own voice; and this is like he's come full circle.

Image source, Mark Allan / BBC
Image caption,
Keith Lockhart conducted the concert

Is there another piece you'd love to perform at the Proms?

I'm performing on Sunday as well, at the Ten Pieces Prom, and I'm playing Island Songs by Peter Sculthorpe - but I would love to commission a saxophone piece for The Proms because, with the instrument being so young, there aren't a huge number of concertos and orchestral pieces to choose from.

I love Michael Nyman and minimalist music, the music of Philip Glass. So to have a new piece at the Proms would be incredible.

If you were to recommend a piece for beginners on the saxophone, what would it be?

I always used to like playing Beatles tunes. I think tunes that you know and you recognise are usually easier to play and enjoy.

I used to teach a lad who would play Danny Boy every single lesson, because he'd play it to his grandparents and they'd cry.

Annelien Van Wauwe

Image source, Annelien Van Wauwe

Belgian clarinettist Annelien Van Wauwe has been championed by the BBC New Generation scheme, which supports talented musicians to reach the next stages of their careers.

The 30-year-old is renowned for her performances on both modern and period clarinets, and is in demand as a soloist throughout Europe.

How does it feel to be playing at the Royal Albert Hall?

I've played here once before in the Mahler Youth Orchestra, all the way at the back on the solo clarinet! So I recognise the stage - but it's extremely exciting to be up at the front.

Were you aware of the Proms as you grew up in Belgium?

Yes, absolutely, we used to watch it on television. So I'm very excited and proud to be here as well.

You don't get to play The Proms without years of practice. How much work have you put in?

I started playing when I was eight [so] I guess it would probably be half of my life if I counted up the hours. The thing is that I never ever experienced it as work. For me, it's just a wonderful hobby.

Image source, Mark Allan / BBC

Tell me about the piece you're playing.

It's from The Terminal [Steven Spielberg's film about an Eastern European immigrant who becomes stranded at JFK airport]. I remember the day I saw it, I said to myself, "Finally, somebody has written a really good soundtrack for clarinet!"

The tune has many Klezmer influences and Jewish melodies in it, so it's wonderful. I love that music. When I started playing clarinet, that's the type of thing I used to play.

How different is it from your normal repertoire?

I would normally play Mozart or more classical repertoire, so this is very different kind of tune to play. But it's perfect to do it at the Proms.

Orchestras are going through a huge period of adaptation and change. What sort of perspective do you have on that, as someone from the up-and-coming generation of musicians?

I think it's our task to make classical music more attractive to younger people. Classical music shouldn't be serious or boring. That's the most important thing - that we try to drag those people into concert halls.

Jamal Aliyev

Image source, Talent Unlimited

Currently a student at the Royal College of Music, 23-year-old Jamal Aliyev is one of the most promising cellists of his generation.

He is one of the first classical musicians to emerge through the BBC Introducing scheme, which is better known for championing pop musicians like The 1975, Jake Bugg and Florence + The Machine.

How does it feel to be making your Proms debut?

It's every musician's dream to play the Royal Albert Hall at the Proms. It's the peak. The day I found out, I couldn't believe it!

Tell me about the piece you're playing.

I'm playing Sayuri's Theme from the movie Memoirs of a Geisha, which was originally recorded by Yo-Yo Ma. The music is a bit hard for me to play because, of course, it's in a very Japanese style, so I had to watch the movie quite a few times to really get used to it.

Trying to replicate Yo-Yo Ma is a pretty big task!

It's very challenging because, of course, everyone's so used to hearing his performance of it. There's no way I can be anywhere near his playing, but I'll try to communicate the best way I can.

Image source, Mark Allan / BBC

You're one of the first classical musicians to be discovered through BBC Introducing. How did that come about?

There's a charity that helps young musicians called Talent Unlimited and they emailed me saying there's this new scheme on the BBC and I should send a recording.

I'd never heard of this but I read about it and I thought I should take a chance. So I sent in a recording and first they played my track on BBC [Radio 3's] In Tune, and then I got invited quite a lot of times over the past two years to perform there.

What was the track you uploaded?

I chose Pezzo Capriccioso by Tchaikovsky and In the Style of Albeniz by Rodion Schedrin. They only allow 10 minutes for each piece, so I didn't want to send a movement of a sonata or concerto.

Aside from Memoirs of a Geisha, is there a film score you'd like to perform at the Proms in the future?

My favourite is John Williams again - because he wrote the music for Schindler's List. If you know it, it's for the violin and Itzhak Perlman recorded it originally.

I made an arrangement of it for the cello and I would, of course, love to come and play that piece here.

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