Santa Barbara Symphony members share their experience with the iconic composer in advance of tonight’s and Sunday’s concerts
Jessica Guideri was playing the violin with an orchestra on a Sony Studios recording stage when none other than Indiana Jones stopped by.
Harrison Ford visited the Culver City sound stage, and Ms. Guideri, who grew up with “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars,” went up to the movie star — aka Indiana Jones, aka Han Solo — during a break. She persuaded him to pose with her for a photo.
It was part of the thrill that Ms. Guideri felt that day as she played in an orchestra conducted by none other than John Williams.
Yes, the John Williams, the iconic composer behind the music of “Indiana Jones,” “Star Wars,” “E.T.” and more. And tonight and Sunday, Ms. Guideri, the concertmaster of the Santa Barbara Symphony, will perform the violin solo from Mr. Williams’ theme for “Schindler’s list.”
“I’m excited about doing that,” Ms. Guideri told the News-Press. “It’s a great piece!”
Ms. Guideri and six other Santa Barbara Symphony members have played in orchestras conducted by Mr. Williams, and they will be there this weekend when the entire orchestra devotes its concert to “John Williams: A Cinematic Celebration.”
Guest conductor Rei Hotoda will lead the orchestra during the concerts at 7:30 tonight and 3 p.m Sunday at The Granada, 1214 State St., Santa Barbara.
There won’t be any movie clips or stills up on a screen. There’s no need for that. If fans hear a John Williams theme, they know instantly they’re hearing the themes from “Superman,” “Jurassic Park” and “Star Wars,” etc.
Mr. Williams, who also wrote the theme for “Jaws,” is the composer whom Steven Spielberg has turned to frequently, for everything from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” to “Lincoln.”
Ms. Guideri and Jon Lewis, the symphony’s principal trumpeter, have played with Mr. Williams for orchestral soundtracks for the last three “Star Wars” movies (episodes seven, eight and nine) and the new “Indiana Jones” movie coming out on June 30.
“When you show up at a John Williams session, everybody is really on their A game,” Mr. Lewis, 63, told the News-Press. “When I say everybody is on their A game, they have to be. He writes with such intricacy and complexity. From the very first time you read it to the very last time you play it, it has to be perfect. You play it exactly as he wrote it, every time.
“The level of playing with John is the highest that I have noted,” said Mr. Lewis, who, like Ms. Guideri, lives in Los angeles.
Ms. Guideri remembers playing for the first time with the orchestra that Mr. Williams led on “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
There they were, in the Sony Studios recording stage that Mr. Williams likes to use in Culver City. It’s an iconic stage, known for its great acoustics and for being the place where an orchestra recorded the score for “The Wizard of Oz” (1939).
And there he was, Mr. Williams at the podium.
“It was just incredibly exciting,” Ms. Guideri said about playing the violin that day. “The buzz in the room was palpable.”
She said she teared up that day.
“It was so beautiful to hear Princess Leia’s theme, to be played for the actual movie. It was so cool,” said Ms. Guideri, a New York City native who earned her bachelor’s and master’s in music at The Juilliard School. “We’ve all played the theme of ‘Star Wars’ for pops concert after pops concert, but to actually play it for the actual movie was an exhilarating experience.
“I probably saw ‘Return of the Jedi’ eight times in the movie theater when I was a little kid. I was a big fan,” Ms. Guideri said.
She stressed she enjoys the experience of playing in an orchestra led by Mr. Williams.
“I loved that he calls the orchestra, ‘friend.’ He says, “OK now, friend.’ You feel like everyone’s making music together,” Ms. Guideri said. “We’re all on a team producing this great piece of art.
“It’s really lovely when there’s this feeling of team work,” Ms. Guideri said. “I feel like he creates that during his sessions.”
She noted actors in “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” movies like to visit the recording stage when Mr. Williams is conducting the orchestra.
“I approached Harrison Ford in the middle of the break and asked him for a picture,” Ms. Guideri said. “He turned into Indiana Jones and said, ‘OK, get over here for a picture.’ It was so great.”
Daisy Ridley, who played Rey in the last three “Star Wars” movies, also visited the recording stage, and Ms. Guideri recalled that Luke Skywalker himself — movie star Mark Hamill — also dropped by. “I was able to get a picture with him.”
When asked about the violin parts in Mr. Williams’ music, Ms. Guideri said, “Let’s put it this way. When you get called for a John Williams session, you try your best not to miss it. It’s just gorgeous music. He writes fantastic music.”
She added that Mr. Williams’ music is “spot on” for adventures by Luke Skywalker and Indiana Jones.
Speaking of the latter, Ms. Guideri watched when James Mangold — the director of “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” coming out in June — came by the recording stage to discuss making changes in the music with Mr. Williams.
“Most of the time, directors make their comments to the composer behind the scenes. But in this case, the director was not shy about coming and telling all of us about it,” Ms. Guideri said. “It was interesting to see how John changed the music to accommodate the director’s request.”
She noted musicians are very respectful and quiet when Mr. Williams leads the recording sessions. “There’s always a buzz that maybe doesn’t exist on other sessions.
“For some composers and conductors, it takes a long time to figure out what’s not working,” she said. “He knows when something is not working and where it is in the orchestra and how to fix it. Things move really quickly.”
Mr. Lewis, a Gainesville, Fla. native who earned his bachelor’s in trumpet performance in 1981 at the University of Kansas, started playing with Mr. Williams in 1991. The first time he played in Mr. Williams’ orchestra was for the movie “Hook,” and he was the principal trumpeter for the last three “Star Wars” movies.
He noted that Mr. Williams’ music is good for brass sections, pointing to the dramatic high C on the trumpet that starts the iconic “Star Wars” theme.
“Some of my favorites include the music for ‘Patriot’ and ‘War of the Worlds,’” Mr. Lewis said. “ ‘Patriot’ really stands out to me for its all-encompassing, thematic music, tension. It’s just amazing. That still remains one of my favorite scores, and of course, ‘Star Wars’ is amazing to play on.”
In addition to Mr. Lewis and Ms. Guideri, other Santa Barbara Symphony members who have played with Mr. Williams are Erik Rynearson, principal viola; Trevor Handy, principal cello; Lara Wickes, principal oboe; Don Foster, principal clarinet; and Teag Reaves, principal horn.
Mr. Williams, 91, sat in the Dolby Theater in Hollywood Sunday to learn whether he would win an Oscar for his music to “The Fabelmans,” directed by Mr. Spielberg and based on the director’s life. Mr. Williams didn’t win, but he’s no stranger to Oscars.
He has won five Oscars and earned 52 Oscar nominations.