Review: Cleveland POPS with Carl Topilow, The Genius of John Williams

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[image-1]By Daniel Hathaway

Cleveland POPS music director Carl Topilow called in extra forces to celebrate the genius of composer John Williams in Severance Hall on Saturday evening, January 30. To his excellent POPS Orchestra, he added the 50-voice Cleveland Orchestra Children’s Chorus, more than 40 members of the Contemporary Youth Orchestra, and three local heroes — Howie Smith, Franklin Cohen, and Steven Greenman — who made cameo appearances during the celebration. Oh, and Princess Leia, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, C3PO, R2D2, and a few storm troopers made a surprise visit during the concluding Star Wars set.

If that sounds like a logistical nightmare, Topilow and his forces pulled off all the stage business with admirable efficiency, allowing the capacity audience to immerse itself in the full glory of Williams’s chameleon-like music. That ranges from the terrifying (the theme from Jaws) though the poignant (the theme from Schindler’s List) to the ceremonial (music from the 1988 Seoul Olympics) and the triumphant (Star Wars, both old and new).

Topilow bounded onstage at the beginning, giving the downbeat to the Mission Theme for the NBC Nightly News with only one foot on the podium. Keeping up a running commentary, he turned to the Jaws theme (“the two notes that changed music forever”) and then to selections from Amistad and Empire of the Sun, beautifully sung by the Cleveland Orchestra Children’s Chorus, prepared by Ann Usher.

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