TAMPA — The Florida Orchestra can't go wrong with movie music by John Williams. Star Wars, Superman, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark — to hear the instantly recognizable music from these beloved movies not in a theater or on television, but in concert is a rich pleasure.
The orchestra has an all-Williams program this weekend under principal pops conductor Richard Kaufman. He brings great expertise to the music, having played on Williams scores as a violinist in the Hollywood studios. Since putting down the violin, he has specialized in conducting movie music, and the orchestra played well for him Friday in Ferguson Hall of Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center.
It can seem odd to listen to movie music when the most important elements in the experience — visuals and dialogue — are lacking. But Williams' music and the memories it creates is so strong it almost doesn't matter. About a minute into the theme from Jurassic Park, when lower strings play an ominous melody, the image of birds flying low over the ocean that opens the film felt more vivid than when seen onscreen.
As a studio violinist, Kaufman played on six Williams soundtracks, and the most memorable, he said, was the first one, Jaws, in 1975. The orchestra's performance of the choppy, tension-filled music was so realistic you half-expected to see a shark's fin cutting through the string section. Who needs pictures?
For the most part, this weekend's program is made up of Williams' greatest hits, but a few less familiar works are included. A brass choir glowed with patriotic fervor in the Coplandesque Liberty Fanfare, which Williams wrote for the rededication of the Statue of Liberty during the 1976 Bicentennial.
One of the best pieces was a suite from Far and Away, an Irish immigrant saga starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Irish folk styles were gorgeously rendered at one point by pennywhistle, tambourine and a swirling oboe trio.
Movie music can be kind of predictable — a soaring climax in the brass section is never far away — but Williams does it so brilliantly that it rarely gets monotonous. He and his orchestrators are consummate craftsman, and that was on display in all sorts of deft touches, such as the spooky little solo by contrabassoonist John Kehayas to end a section of the suite from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
It was terrific fun to come across previously unheard details in famous works, like the exquisite piccolo and harp that lead into the big finish of a theme from E.T.
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716.