Following the huge success of John Williams – The Berlin Concert, which topped the German pop charts earlier this year, Deutsche Grammophon is now proud to present the world premiere recording of John Williams’ Violin Concerto No. 2. The work was written for and recorded by the venerated composer’s friend and frequent collaborator Anne-Sophie Mutter. Her impassioned performance was given with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Williams, who celebrated his 90th birthday on 8 February.
The new album also includes three film themes newly arranged for the violinist by their composer – the Theme from The Long Goodbye, “Han Solo and the Princess” from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and “Marion’s Theme” from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Williams: Violin Concerto No. 2 & Selected Film Themes is out now on CD, Vinyl and digitally. Blu-ray and eVideo formats will be released on 19 August, together with an exclusive 10-inch Vinyl available on the DG Store.
Williams and Mutter have worked together often since she gave the first performance of his Markings in Boston almost five years ago, and have co-starred on two previous hugely successful Deutsche Grammophon albums: Across the Stars (2019) and John Williams in Vienna (2020). Williams’ second violin concerto reflects his deep admiration for the lyrical warmth and dynamism of Mutter’s playing and for her sense of musical adventure.
John Williams recalls: “When Anne-Sophie invited me to compose a concerto for her, I thought it was a wonderful opportunity to write for one of the world’s greatest artists. It was also a challenge, of course, because there are so many great violin concertos in the repertoire.”
Scheduled for release on 19 August, a special single-disc Blu-ray edition of the album will feature all tracks in Pure Audio – also available in Surround and Dolby Atmos – along with films of last summer’s world premiere of the second violin concerto at Tanglewood, together with the artists’ encore performance of “Across the Stars” (from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones); the three film themes in concert from Boston; and a 25‑minute interview with John Williams and Anne-Sophie Mutter at Tanglewood. A 10-inch vinyl version of the three film themes will be released on the same day, available exclusively online from the DG Store.
Full of stylistic contrast, Williams’ Violin Concerto No. 2 begins with the rhapsodic “Prologue”. This is followed by the atmospheric, Debussyesque “Rounds”, and then by the tense, jazzy “Dactyls”, which includes a brief cadenza for violin, harp and timpani. Violin and harp duet again in the “Epilogue”, which concludes the work with what the composer describes as “a gentle resolution in A major that might suggest both healing and renewal”.
“I knew from the recording we made together for DG of my theme from Cinderella Liberty of her remarkable feeling for jazz,” Williams adds. “So I wrote a quasi-improvisation for solo violin at the start of the concerto’s ‘Prologue’ and she was completely at home with it. I can only think of this piece as being about Anne-Sophie. This is a truly personal album for me, because of the rapport I have with her and because of my long relationship with the wonderful musicians of the Boston Symphony.”
“The idea for the piece formed when we worked together on Markings,” says Mutter. “I had no idea then that it would grow into such a gigantic composition, so rich in material and with such enormous emotional and expressive scope. I’ve always loved jazz, so it was a particular joy to discover that the violin’s first entry has the freedom of jazz. It’s the ‘stem cell’ of the whole piece, a terrific starting point for such a complex work. I was overwhelmed by the piece and its technical difficulties at first. But it became a very dear friend as I worked on it every day during lockdown. It was precious to have time to explore this incredible music in depth and feel part of the creative process, to speak to John as he composed and revised the score and discover just how much he loves violin.”
Mutter and Williams gave the world premiere of the concerto on 24 July 2021 at the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home in Tanglewood. “Mutter carried the solo like an old friend, shaping each phrase with intention and panache,” observed the Boston Globe. The musicians all reconvened in the autumn to record the concerto and the three film themes at Boston’s Symphony Hall.
Back in March, violinist and composer gave the European premiere of the concerto in Vienna with the Wiener Philharmoniker, where in a private ceremony both artists were presented with a Gold Disc in recognition of the success of John Williams in Vienna. This month Mutter joins the all-star line-up (with Yo-Yo Ma and Steven Spielberg, among others) at Washington’s Kennedy Center on 23 June for John Williams: The 90th-Birthday Gala Concert. Tanglewood will host its own birthday event on 20 August, with special guests including Yo-Yo Ma, James Taylor and Branford Marsalis. These and the many other celebrations marking Williams’ 90th birthday year are evidence of the enormous affection and admiration felt worldwide for a composer and conductor who has been delighting audiences for well over six decades with magical film soundtracks and dazzling concert works such as his Violin Concerto No. 2.