Composers Datebook®

John Williams' Cello Concerto

Composers Datebook - July 7, 2024


You might say that if anyone can claim credit for having written the “soundtrack of our times,” that person would be American composer and conductor John Williams. Somehow, between writing dozens and dozens of film scores for movies ranging from Star Wars to Schindler’s List, and as conductor of the Boston Pops or the Hollywood Bowl, Williams has also found time to conduct other composers’ concert works — and occasionally a few of his own.

For example, Williams conducted the premiere performance of his own Cello Concerto, a work composed for Yo-Yo Ma, on today’s date in 1994 at a gala concert opening the new Seiji Ozawa Hall at the Boston’s Symphony summer home in Tanglewood, Massachusetts. Williams recalls:

“[It] resulted from a suggestion by Seiji that I write a piece for cello and orchestra expressly with Yo-Yo Ma in mind. I had known him for quite a few years before this event. Together we had performed concertos of Elgar, Dvorak, and Haydn, among others, and on several occasions I had accompanied him at the piano. Over the years we’ve become close friends.  Given the broad technical and expressive arsenal available in Yo-Yo’s work, planning the concerto was a joy.”

Music Played in Today's Program

John Williams (b. 1932): Cello Concerto; Yo Yo Ma, cello; Los Angeles Recording Arts Orchestra; John Williams, conductor; Sony 89670

On This Day


  • 1860 - Austrian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler, in Kalischt, Bohemia

  • 1911 - Italian-born American composer and conductor Gian Carlo Menotti, in Cadegliano

  • 1940 - Drummer and songwriter Ringo Starr (of the Beatles), in Liverpool, England


  • 1968 - American organist and composer Leo Sowerby, 73, in Port Clinton, Ohio


  • 1713 - Handel: Utrecht Te Deum, at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London (Gregorian Date: July 18)

  • 1956 - Moore: opera The Ballade of Baby Doe, in Center City, Colorado. According to Opera America, this is one of the most frequently-produced American operas during the past decade.

  • 1994 - John Williams: Cello Concerto, at the opening of Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood, Massachusetts, by the Boston Symphony, with the composer conducting and Yo-Yo Ma the soloist

  • 2001 - David Ward-Steinman: Dublin Down, for two pianos, during the College Music Society International Conference in Limerick, Ireland, by the composer and Patrice Madura Ward-Steinman


  • 1720 - Funeral of J.S. Bach’s first wife, Maria Barbara. The cause of her death is unknown, and Bach’s son Carl Philip Emmanuel reported that his father was at Carlsbad when she died: “The news that she had been ill and died reached him only when he entered his own house”

  • 1747 - J.S. Bach dedicates his Musical Offering to Frederich the Great of Prussia

  • 1791 - Haydn conducts his Symphony No. 92 (Oxford) at the Sheldonian Theater ofOxford University, where he was awarded an honorary degree.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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