The Chicago Symphony Orchestra presents "Raiders of The Lost Ark" Review- an epic film with an iconic score

On June 30, July 1 and July 2, 2016, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed the score from the film “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, while the movie was simultaneously shown on a gigantic screen at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan. Conductor Richard Kaufman, Principal Pops Conductor of Orange County California’s Pacific Symphony, "has devoted much of his musical life to conducting and supervising music for film and television productions, as well as performing film and classical music in concert halls and on recordings” . He led the CSO with a sure hand in the performance of composer John Williams beloved and exciting accompaniment to the first episode of Indiana Jones and friends, the saga that Roger Ebert referred to as “a catalog of adventure”.

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones

The movie directed by Steven Spielberg, which ultimately spun off three sequels with a fourth planned for 2019, takes one on a roller coaster travelogue ride of scholarship, love, Biblical retribution, vehicular chases, and most especially, Nazi payback. It’s a great good-guys triumphant epic, now dated but still thrilling- Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones is still and forever a heartthrob. And the music fits the bill.

John Williams is inarguably the most famous composer of film scores in history. His music for “Raiders”, originally released in 1981, has been described as “the most iconic theme of all time”. The performance by the CSO  opened  with “The Raiders March”, the full version,  not present in the film, pushing the main title (Main Title:“South America 1936”)  back into the second position. It was a chance for the audience to sit back and listen to the full-bodied theme without distraction from the action; for those who also saw “Temple of Doom” and “The Last Crusade”, that theme is instantly recalled.

Indiana confronts a golden idol

 In the first three pieces played with the film, “Main Title”, “In the Idol’s Temple” and “Flight From Peru”, it has been written that “the Peruvian mystique and deadly temple traps are captured…with screeching noises, gongs, and snake-like instrumentation”. Indeed, the most striking aspect of the entire score is how absolutely apropos it is of the action- how it’s almost impossible to imagine the movie without the music, while at the same time the music never intrudes upon or distracts from the action on the screen.

To Cairo” and “The Basket Game”, with their complex and sexy Arabic melodies combined with extremely vibrant percussion to enhance the action and it’s inherent humor- this is not simply an action movie-it’s filled with fun! In fact, the score embodies not just the film’s action, but even the relationships between the characters and the personalities of those characters. The female lead is no simpering languid goddess who has to be saved all the time (although she does require a lot of rescuing)- she’s a strong, smart, plucky and hard-drinking heroine, and Williams' ode to her, “Marions Theme”, portrays that feeling.

A fiery menace confronts Indiana Jones

Finally, as Robert Purvis brilliantly points out in his “mfiles” review of the DCC reissued soundtrack album, Williams masterfully introduces the theme of the Ark itself, and revisits it in “The Map Room”,Dawn” and “The Miracle of the Ark”- he calls it “a humble, solemn…piece of music that swells the heart”. Just like the film (and it’s sequels) use an object to introduce the story of that object, so Williams gives the most important object it’s own spectacular entrance, and returns to it, causing the emotions to soar.

The CSO did a sensational job playing this memorable score in perfect juxtaposition to the film, with a conductor brilliantly suited to bring about a season’s finale.

Harrison Ford about to engage in battle


For other great performances by the CSO, Special Concerts and attendant side series, go to the CSO website

All photos courtesy of Film Concerts Live




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