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Tributes! For Seiji

About the Work

John Williams
Quick Look Composer: John Williams
© Richard Freed
Completed early in 1999, this brief work was first performed under the abbreviated title For Seiji! on April 22 of that year by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with Seiji Ozawa conducting. The composer himself conducted the National Symphony Orchestra's first performance of the work, still under the shortened title, on January 23, 2003, in a program of his own works, and Leonard Slatkin conducted it again, as part of the same program, nine days later. The first performance under the work's full title took place in a concert of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with Mr. Williams conducting, in November 2003.

The score calls for 3 flutes and piccolo; 3 oboes and English horn; 3 clarinets, E-flat clarinet and bass clarinet; 3 bassoons and contrabassoon; 5 horns, 3 trumpets, 4 trombones, tuba, timpani, 4 pitched drums, bass drum, bell tree, chimes, crash cymbals, suspended cymbal, glockenspiel, tam tam, triangle, vibraphone, xylophone, marimba, celesta, piano, harp, and strings. Duration, 10 minutes.

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While even John Williams himself may have lost count of the numerous awards he has received for his distinguished film scores, those scores represent only one facet of his remarkably productive career: it was for the exceptional breadth of his contributions to our musical life that he was among those who received the Kennedy Center Honors last December. Mr. Williams was composing chamber music and concert works before he began writing for the movies, and he continues to do so, receiving as many commissions as he can handle from major orchestras, outstanding soloists, and other sources. When he settled in Los Angeles he became active as a pianist in chamber music and song recitals, and for years now he has been a frequent guest conductor of major orchestras in our country and abroad. He was chosen to take over the Boston Pops following the death of the legendary Arthur Fiedler, who presided over that institution for fifty seasons, and in his own considerable tenure—from January 1980 to December 1993—he put his own stamp on the Pops as effectively as Fiedler before him. As Laureate Conductor of the Pops and artist-in-residence at Tanglewood, Mr. Williams still returns regularly to both Symphony Hall and Tanglewood, and it is not at all surprising that several of his concert works relate to the Pops, to its parent orchestra the Boston Symphony, and to Boston itself—as do two of the four on the present program.

One of these is the opening piece, which was composed as a gift for Seiji Ozawa, on the occasion of his 25th anniversary as music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Following the premiere (and three additional performances) in April 1999, the work was performed by the Bostonians at Tanglewood that summer, with the composer conducting. Mr. Ozawa then conducted the piece again in a subscription week in Boston and a Carnegie Hall concert in April 2001, and Mr. Williams conducted it again at Tanglewood on July 13, 2002, in a concert honoring Mr. Ozawa on the completion of his tenure with the BSO.

The note the composer provided for the work at the time of its premiere describes the music's substance and character as well as its motivation.

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[ Tributes!] For Seiji is a collection of musical thoughts and jottings that form a kind of Festschrift for orchestra, written for Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra asthey celebrated 25 years of artistic collaboration. These jottings also form little portraits of just a few of the great soloists in the orchestra's ranks, and at other moments sketches of entire sectional groups. I've attempted to “freeze-frame” some of the wonderful sonorities the orchestra produces that are among my personal favorites.

The piece is based on the interval of a major second, which, like its sister interval the seventh, has to be constantly tuned and retuned in performance, according to its modal and harmonic context. Musicians make adjustments intuitively, and the tuning of this small interval is one of the great secrets of good orchestral intonation, which is in turn a major prerequisite to making a beautiful sound.

The piece opens with a sonorous brass intoning a low D, which in my mind is a kind of signature pitch level of the Boston Symphony as its sound resonates with the empathetic and all-knowing walls of Symphony Hall. The strings then sound the secundal E and we proceed from there, as a five-note melodic idée fixe carries us along.

I've dedicated all of this to Seiji, who has not only led the orchestra but has tended and nourished it through these many years, thus preserving and invigorating a great tradition. These few notes are but a small tribute to Seiji and the great Boston heritage we all so rightly treasure.

John Williams