Composers Datebook®

John Williams, musical tree-hugger?

John Williams (b. 1932) Treesongs Gil Shaham, violin; Boston Symphony; John Williams, cond. DG 471 326

Composers Datebook for July 8, 2017


July 08, 2017


On today's date in the year 2000, amid the greenery of the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts, violinist Gil Shaham gave the outdoor, open-air premiere of this new concerto at the Tanglewood Festival. The concerto is entitled—appropriately enough—"TreeSong." Accompanying Shaham was the Boston Symphony, conducted by the concerto's composer, John Williams. Williams says this music was inspired by one particular tree in Boston's Public Garden, a kind of redwood that Botanists would identify as "metasequoia glyptostroboides," but which John Williams identified simply as "my favorite tree."

"For years," said Williams, "I loved to take walks in the Public Gardens, and I grew infatuated with this Chinese tree, the dawn redwood... It not only looked lovely, but it seemed animate, even intelligent." By chance, Williams met the retired Harvard University botanist Dr. Siu-Ying Hu, who had actually planted his favorite tree back in the late 1940's.

She told Williams the dawn redwood was thought to be extinct until 1945, when some standing forests of these trees were discovered in the western part of China, near Tibet. "When Dr. Hu came to America," says Williams, "she brought a pound of seeds and the trees have flourished here."

Curiously enough, Dr. Hu also told Williams that the dawn redwood is a survivor from the very same Jurassic era that John Williams helped to make so familiar to filmgoers via the recent series of dinosaur movies.

Music Played in Today's Program

John Williams (b. 1932) Treesongs Gil Shaham, violin; Boston Symphony; John Williams, cond. DG 471 326

On This Day


  • 1882 - Australian-born American composer and pianist Percy Aldrich Grainger, in Melbourne; He became a USA citizen in 1919

  • 1900 - American composer George Antheil, in Trenton, N.J.


  • 1839 - Spanish composer Fernando Sor, age 61, in Paris


  • 1940 - Randall Thompson: "Allelujah" at the opening of the Berkshire Music Center in Lenox, Mass.

  • 1942 - Sir Lenox Berkeley: Symphony No. 1 in London, conducted by the composer

  • 1987 - Judith Weir: opera "A Night at the Chinese Opera" in Cheltenham, England

  • 1988 - Philip Glass: opera "The Making of the Representative for Planet 8" (after a sci-fi novel by Doris Lessing), by Houston Grand Opera

  • 2000 - John Williams: "TreeSong" for Violin and Orchestra, at Tanglewood with Gil Shaham and the Boston Symphony, composer conducting


  • 1588 - English composer and lutenist John Dowland receives B. Mus. Degree from Christ Church, Oxford