Conductor Bob Bernhardt. Photo: Louisville Orchestra


Irresistible John Williams

The Louisville Orchestra
Bob Bernhardt, conductor
Gabriel Lefkowitz, violin

A review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

Not many musicians in the world can boast a 40-year career, but Bob Bernhardt is not like most musicians. With his moan-worthy Dad jokes and charming charisma, Bob has parlayed his talents into an enviable career and lucky for us he’s been a staple of the music scene in Louisville for four decades. So, when the Louisville Orchestra asked Bob how he’d like to celebrate the milestone, I can only guess that a Cheshire Cat-like smile came across his face to which he happily replied, “…with the music of John Williams of course.” 

To say that Bob is a fan of Mr. Williams is an understatement. With a storied career of close to 70 years (the Maestro turns 90 the first week of February), Mr. Williams’ music has shaped the landscapes of several genres of music, including classical and movie soundtracks. In fact, Maestro Williams has written over 120 movie scores and continues writing to this day. While he is famous for his scores for movies like Jaws and Star Wars, his work is also found in lesser-known movies like Amistad and Heartbeeps.

Saturday’s celebration allowed us a dive into a variety of Williams’ compositions for movies and other works: some we know very well; some we know a little and some may have been a first-time listen even for the most devoted Williams connoisseur. 

Our fun-loving conductor took the stage in an Indiana Jones jacket to introduce the first selection, the Raider’s March from Raiders of Lost Ark. And if the jacket wasn’t enough, Bob, donned the iconic fedora in the same way that the actor Harrison Ford does in the movie. Bob loves a good sight gag.

The next piece was written after an interview that Williams had with Bryant Gumbel of NBC News fame. The composer was challenged with crafting a new introduction for the Nightly News, and viola!, The Mission was created. While most of us know the first 20 seconds or so of the arrangement, it is actually an effective and exciting orchestral piece that speaks to Mr. Williams’ writing style.

Did you know that the author of “Memoirs of a Geisha” has a Louisville tie? It seems that Arthur Golden, the author, and his family are friends with the Bingham family of Louisville and through that connection Mr. Golden and Mr. Bernhardt became friends. As a treat to the audience, Mr. Golden sent a video reading the last paragraph of his award-winning novel turned award-winning movie and congratulations to Bob on his anniversary before launching into a selection from Mr. Williams score for the film. Deeply rooted with an orchestral tone that is quintessentially Eastern, including beautiful flue work from Kathleen Karr, the piece is haunting and peaceful.

Another haunting movie score would be William’s work for Stephen Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. The selection chosen for the evening, titled Remembrances, features a stunning violin solo that was performed with ethereal emotion and dexterity by Concertmaster Gabriel Lefkowitz. With nods to the sounds of Jewish hymns and shadows of Klezmer styles, the music is simply exquisite.

Earlier I spoke of Mr. Williams and his ability to write music in a myriad of different styles and while he is known far and wide for this movie scores, he is also considered the foremost writer of fanfares and perhaps the best composer of marches since John Phillip Souza. Earlier we heard the Raiders march and later the program included an excellent example of his fanfares in Olympic Spirit.

Spirit is certainly an exposition of the American “go-getter” attitude and can certainly give the listener a shot of pride, honor, and patriotism. Mr. Bernhardt shared that shortly after the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, the orchestra was trying to decide whether to go ahead with community concerts that were already scheduled. Thinking that it was imperative to share music as a way to heal from our collective grief and show one another that when we are a community, we can overcome, Spirit would become a meaningful part of these concerts.

The second half of the evening we were treated to the Theme from Jurassic Park, which Bob joked that the wonderful score was never truly heard because of all of the screaming. We were also treated to Dartmoor, 1912 from the movie War Horse. While the movie wasn’t as successful as some of the others that Mr. Williams has written for, the evening’s selection was no less beautifully composed. With the use of several wood solos, the piece has a sweeping pastoral feel about it.

For those that may have worried that Harry Potter music wouldn’t be included, have no fear. We were treated to three selections: Fawkes the Phoenix, A Bridge to the Past, and Harry’s Wonderful World. Even for someone like myself, who has seen perhaps two of the films, the music is instantly recognizable and has become part of the canon of orchestral music.

In introducing With Malice Toward None from the movie Lincoln, Mr. Bernhardt shared part of President Lincoln’s second inauguration address from where the inspiration of the music came from. 150+ years later and on the anniversary of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., those words still resonate, as does the musical composition.

Speaking of marches, we couldn’t let the evening go by without a little Star Wars nod, could we? The Jedi Steps and Finale from Star Wars: The Force Awakens was full of excitement, terror, and, in the end, a nod to many of our young selves who grew up with Star Wars. There is no denying when you hear the Jedi March whose music is being played. While the orchestra performed the piece with lots of heart and talent, a shout out to the percussionist who gave us the big smile at the conclusion. 

Knowing that we can never get enough of the works of John Williams, Bob wanted to savor the evening a little longer, and so we were treated to one of the most recognizable movie scores in cinematic history as an encore piece. From the superman who wrote the music to the superman who has shared his talents with Louisville audiences in over 800 concerts atop the conductor’s podium, the evening concluded with the Theme from Superman.

During the evening, Lee Kirkwood and the Louisville Orchestra’s Interim Executive Director Graham Parker spoke to the compassion and talent of Mr. Bernhardt and to his approach to having the career that he has had: humility and a love of music. With a nod of agreement, Bob Bernhardt also shared that it is only because of the family that he has with the Louisville Orchestra, and the love of his wife, Nora, and family, that he has been blessed with such a long career.

In recognition of his 40th anniversary, the Louisville Orchestra gifted the good conductor with a symbol of one of his other great loves, a commemorative Louisville Slugger baseball bat. 

Bravi Tutti!

Irresistible John Williams

January 15, 2022

Louisville Orchestra
Kentucky Center
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202

Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.