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John Williams

John Williams in Tokyo


30 years after his last visit to Japan, John Williams returned for two special concerts – one in Matsumoto and one in Tokyo – marking his debut with the world-famous Saito Kinen Orchestra, with selections from his beloved film scores, and reuniting with his longtime friend, world-renowned conductor Seiji Ozawa. The second of these concerts was captured live on record at Suntory Hall last year and the resulting recording, John Williams In Tokyo, is set to be released on 3 May, following his acclaimed concert albums, The Berlin Concert and John Williams in Vienna, which topped charts around the globe. The first single, ‘Superman March’ is out now along with a music video of the performance. The digital album is available for pre-order from today, with details of the physical editions to follow – including a deluxe limited edition vinyl box set to include Williams’ recordings from Vienna, Berlin, Boston and Tokyo for release later in the year.

It was a long-held dream of Seiji Ozawa’s to see John Williams and the Saito Kinen Orchestra perform together in Japan, so the performances – and their reunion last year – held great meaning for both artists.  Months in the planning, the announcement of this live recording was originally scheduled for the week of John Williams’ birthday (8 February). However, following the news of Seiji Ozawa ‘s passing, it was decided to announce the recording today after close discussion with his family and management.

Williams was invited to Japan by his good friend Ozawa to conduct the Saito Kinen Orchestra – Ozawa’s “musical family” – so the realisation of the two concerts in Matsumoto and Tokyo was a landmark moment – not only for the pair, but for music fans around the world. Ozawa said of the occasion: “This special collaboration between them in Matsumoto and Tokyo was a joy that genuinely defies expression – my longstanding dream has finally come true!” The feeling was reciprocated by John Williams: “It was a joy to return to Japan after 30 years to visit my dear friend and longtime musical colleague Seiji Ozawa and to conduct his brilliant Saito Kinen Orchestra for the very first time.”

Williams was a close friend of Ozawa ever since the latter was Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and took part in the Tanglewood Music Festival in western Massachusetts. As Ozawa recounted in January of this year, “I’ve consistently encouraged John to experience the unique essence of the Saito Kinen Orchestra, confident that he would love it”. Ozawa was in Matsumoto to witness the concert and was delighted to be reunited with his friend.

The concerts took place in September 2023, following Williams’ recent performances with the Berlin Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the Recording Arts Orchestra of Los Angeles. He conducted the Saito Kinen Orchestra at the Seiji Ozawa Matsumoto Festival, a music festival directed by Seiji Ozawa, and a gala concert at Suntory Hall in Tokyo celebrating the 125th anniversary of Deutsche Grammophon. Both concerts had sold out in minutes.

The long-awaited collaboration consisted of an all-Williams programme, including ‘Superman March’, ‘Theme from Schindler’s List’ and ‘The Imperial March’ from Star Wars. For both concerts, John Williams shared the podium with acclaimed conductor and friend, Stéphane Denève – Music Director of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the New World Symphony, and Principal Guest Conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic.

After the first half of the programme (conducted by Denève), Williams appeared on the Tokyo stage and introduced his ‘Superman March’ in honour of Ozawa. He said, “If you translate ‘Superman’ from English back into Japanese, ‘Superman’ means Seiji Ozawa.” The audience was moved by his words indicating their deep friendship and the Saito Kinen Orchestra responded to their enthusiasm with a riveting performance.

Captured live at the concert in Tokyo, the long-awaited release of this musical celebration of friendship is planned for 3 May, the day before so-called Star Wars Day (‘May the Fourth’). The album includes 11 pieces conducted by Williams and a bonus track, ‘Tributes! (for Seiji), conducted by Denève. The work was composed by Williams in 1999 to honour Ozawa’s 25th anniversary as Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and is now being released for the first time worldwide.

Later in the year, Deutsche Grammophon will continue to celebrate the art of John Williams with the release of John Williams in Concert, a deluxe and very limited 7LP vinyl box set featuring his latest DG recordings alongside exclusive fan content. The release, available to pre-order on 4 May, will include his historic Vienna, Berlin and Boston concerts as well as the newest addition, John Williams in Tokyo. Parallel to this release, a week-long John Williams celebration will take over STAGE+ featuring selected concerts, both new and from the archive.

For more than half a century, John Williams has shaped the history and sound of film music, his instantly memorable themes and consummate orchestrations gracing some of the finest movies of modern times. His extensive catalogue also includes other symphonic and chamber works, as well as innovative adaptations of his own cinematic themes.

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