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Soundtracks: Music and Film

If we play love music from Romeo and Juliet of Berlioz, why can't there be love music from Star Wars?

This past week, composer John Williams joined National Symphony Orchestra conductor Leonard Slatkin at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., to open a multi-concert series "Soundtracks: Music and Film." NPR's Liane Hansen visited with the two musicians.

Hansen says the bookshelves in Slatkin's Kennedy Center office hold quite a few classical music CDs, as you might expect. But the number of concert and symphony recordings are outnumbered by videotapes and DVDs. Slatkin's interest in Hollywood comes naturally. His father, Felix, was concertmaster of the 20th Century Fox Orchestra, and his mother, Eleanor, was a long-time studio musician.

Slatkin thinks highly of film music. "It's always been part of the very good stuff," he says. He hopes the Kennedy Center festival can establish "a different positioning of music for films among concert-goers... If we play love music from Romeo and Juliet of Berlioz, why can't there be love music from Star Wars?"

In fact, the score for Star Wars won composer Williams one of his five Academy Awards. (The others arrived for Fiddler on the Roof, Jaws, E.T. and Schindler's List.) He has a string of more than 30 Oscar nominations that stretch all the way back to Valley of the Dolls in 1968.

Oddly enough, early in his career, Williams played in the same studio orchestra with Slatkin's mother.

Williams acknowledges the computer technology that has transformed film and music, but says "the piano is my tool." He has a projection room in his studio, and moves back and forth between the film and the piano, establishing what he calls "an intimate relationship with the film."

The series, which touches on music in European films, a broad range of American classics, and the art of synchronization, also features live accompaniment for Fritz Lang's classic 1926 silent film Metropolis.

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Liane Hansen has been the host of NPR's award-winning Weekend Edition Sunday for 20 years. She brings to her position an extensive background in broadcast journalism, including work as a radio producer, reporter, and on-air host at both the local and national level. The program has covered such breaking news stories as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the capture of Saddam Hussein, the deaths of Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy, Jr., and the Columbia shuttle tragedy. In 2004, Liane was granted an exclusive interview with former weapons inspector David Kay prior to his report on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The show also won the James Beard award for best radio program on food for a report on SPAM.