Close Encounters of the Concert Kind

Oct 5, 2015

When can music composed for a film stand on its own? WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports on how John Williams’ suite from Close Encounters of the Third Kind translates to the concert stage.


Tune in on Sunday, October 11 at 1 pm as Stéphane Denève conducts The Philadelphia Orchestra in a re-broadcast from earlier this year featuring excerpts of the music from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as well as music by Lindberg and Prokofiev.

Susan Lewis: There are two types of movie music, believes Philadelphia Orchestra Principal Guest Conductor Stéphane Denève; one is purely functional, serving only the film’s imagery and story.

Stephane Deneve

Stéphane Denève: The other type is music that actually has so much structure, and so much flavor and substance, that actually it can live without the picture. 

SL: That, he says, is the case for John Williams’ score for Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

SD: He finds a way to really build a piece, which becomes a symphonic tone poem. And that’s why I think this piece, particularly, has a chance to have its own life without any images, without any reference.

SL: While the music familiar to movie fans may bring to mind the story about contact with life from outer space, Denève says it can also conjure other ideas.

SD: I really feel that you can invent your own scenario, listening to it. You don’t need to know the film—of course if you do, it will help you have some images. But I think a great masterwork should have ambiguity and can have many meanings.

The music to Close Encounters of the Third Kind was nominated for an Academy Award for best original score in 1977. It lost to the music from Star Wars—also by John Williams.