John Williams And Anne-Sophie Mutter On 'Across The Stars' John Williams is an honored film composer, but he began as an arranger. Williams is now arranging again, this time with the acclaimed violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter on the album Across the Stars.

John Williams And Anne-Sophie Mutter, 2 Geniuses For The Price Of One

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The composer who has scored so much of our lives at the movies has a new album. John Williams, the five-time Oscar winner, teamed up with Anne-Sophie Mutter, the acclaimed violinist, for a collection of new performances of his classic movie themes. And as Tim Greiving reports, the album showcases not just Williams the composer but Williams the arranger.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOSTON POPS ORCHESTRA AND JOHN WILLIAMS' "A SALUTE TO FRED ASTAIRE")

TIM GREIVING, BYLINE: John Williams has more American cultural reminiscences than you can shake a baton at.

JOHN WILLIAMS: I once said to Fred Astaire, isn't it wonderful what the Gershwin brothers did for you at RKO? And he said, yes, but Irving Berlin did more.

GREIVING: At 87 years old, he was born before Elvis Presley, and he's worked with everyone from Astaire to Alfred Hitchcock to Yo-Yo Ma to, of course, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Those two gave Williams the canvases that made him a household name - "Star Wars," "Indiana Jones," "Schindler's List" - films that produced some of the most recognizable melodies of the 20th century.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN WILLIAMS' "THE IMPERIAL MARCH")

GREIVING: The "Star Wars" universe alone has given us dozens of earworms, and one super-fan of that music is Anne-Sophie Mutter.

ANNE-SOPHIE MUTTER: I grew up at the Black Forest where Germany, Switzerland and France meet, and it was gorgeous surroundings but really not much to do other than playing the instrument, playing some soccer and going into the meadows of the forests. But we also had a cinema - tiny, little cinema. And there, John kind of arrived in his music in 1978 "Star Wars."

GREIVING: That was a year after it opened in the U.S. Mutter met Williams at Tanglewood in Massachusetts a few years ago and politely begged him to write a piece for her. He did, and she premiered it in 2017. Then, Mutter suggested doing a whole album of new arrangements of his famous movie themes for solo violin and orchestra. The result is "Across The Stars."

(SOUNDBITE OF ANNE-SOPHIE MUTTER AND JOHN WILLIAMS' "HEDWIG'S THEME")

GREIVING: Before he was John Williams, he was Johnny Williams, a jazz piano fiend. His dad, Johnny Sr., was a session drummer who played on film and TV scores at CBS.

WILLIAMS: I would go have my piano study on Saturday morning and then go down to the CBS studio where he was playing. And I was fascinated with the orchestra, never dreaming I would write music for an orchestra.

GREIVING: And before he did, John Williams was an arranger. He formed a band in high school that would play school dances and eventually big-time nightclubs like the Cocoanut Grove. And he did his own arrangements, like pop tunes in the style of classical composers.

WILLIAMS: When I was, like, a teenager, maybe 14, 15, I was like a kind of a nerdy kid who would go into the book and look and say, how is this orchestration? Why is it there?

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHNNY WILLIAMS' "ANN AT LAWRENCEVILLE")

GREIVING: Williams' very first Academy Award nomination was for arranging the score for "Valley Of The Dolls" in 1968 from tunes written by Andre Previn. The first Oscar Williams won was also for arranging, adapting the score for "Fiddler On The Roof" in 1971. This skill of taking an existing piece of music and redesigning it for a different ensemble is a distinct art.

WILLIAMS: For me, it seemed like a very natural thing.

GREIVING: So when Anne-Sophie Mutter asked Williams to arrange new versions of his themes from hits like "Harry Potter" to deep cuts like "Cinderella Liberty," she was getting two geniuses for the price of one.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANNE-SOPHIE MUTTER AND JOHN WILLIAMS' "SAYURI'S THEME")

MUTTER: We can visit from "Geisha" to "Dracula" and "Cinderella" and, you know, "Star Wars" and "Harry Potter." Much of them are very different in style and also in cultural background.

GREIVING: For almost 40 years, no one has done more to bring film music into the concert hall than John Williams.

WILLIAMS: It's a long road. I feel like I've had already 10 lives - more than a cat, even - already.

GREIVING: From the Hollywood Bowl to Boston Symphony Hall, he has conducted new arrangements of his themes to huge audiences.

For NPR News, I'm Tim Greiving.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANNE-SOPHIE MUTTER AND JOHN WILLIAMS' "SAYURI'S THEME")

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