‘Orchestrating a New Pops Season’ (1982)

The Boston Globe, May 4th, 1982
Last week, just a week away from the opening night of Pops, John Williams was still in the Hollywood studios of 20th Century Fox finishing up recording his score for one of the big summer movies, Steven Spielberg’s “Extra- Terrestrial,” which everyone is already calling “E.T.” for short.
“I’ve spent the last three months on this,” Williams said over the the telephone after a screening. “It’s a picture about a visitor from another world, who joins us here, experiences some adventures, and then returns. It is very spectacular and also very touching, I think. We wanted to do the soundtrack album in Boston, with the Pops, but once again there was no way to fit it into the orchestra’s schedule.”
Not the type to give away any more secrets about the movie, Williams shifted the subject to what he called the “hot and heavy” planning for the Pops season that opens tonight.
The Pops requires “hot-and-heavy” planning, although for 97 seasons it has been one of the city’s most famous informal institutions. Symphony Hall gets a new paint job, the players of the Boston Symphony Orchestra change their penguin suits for blue blazers, and the music in the folders can range from Stravinsky to “Chariots of Fire.” Six nights a week for 12 weeks the public clamors to get in, to sit around the little triangular tables, order ham and cheese sandwiches, champagne, and the Pops Punch full of mystery ingredients.
But there cannot be mystery ingredients in the work that has to go into putting on 72 consecutive concerts of the Pops season.
The formula is always the same – after all Arthur Fiedler triumphed with it for 50 years. There is a group of lighter classics in the first third of the program. Then, in the middle a soloist; for the television evenings the soloist is famous and most other nights it is a member of the orchestra or a young artist on the way up. Finally at the end there are the fancy arrangements of popular favorites past and present and in the hands of these players the music goes from black and white into technicolor widescreen stereophonic sound. But someone has to engage the guest conductors, work on the repertory and diversify it, commission the arrangements, select the soloists. And that has been part of Williams’ work with members of the Boston Pops management over the last few months.
“The big change you will see this year,” Williams begins, “is that we will have some new guest conductors that we haven’t had before, and that some of them will lead more concerts than guest conductors usually have. This doesn’t represent any unhappiness on anyone’s part about the people we have had in the past. It is simply consistent with my wish to keep things as fresh as we can and as far away from the routine. Harry Ellis Dickson will be back with us again, of course, and I will continue to do the majority of the concerts myself. But I will conduct somewhat less often than I did last year – I think that will be good both for me, and for the orchestra. We’ve gotten on wonderfully well, but I see bringing in new people as a healthy kind of diversity. I’ll do the television programs and the recording and look after things.”
The principal guest conductors for the Pops season, in addition to Dickson, will be John Lanchbery, from the world of ballet, Henry Mancini, from the world of film, and Christopher Keene and Murry Sidlin, from the world of concert music. In addition there will be concerts led by Erich Kunzel, Victor Borge, and Lionel Newman; Leonard Bernstein is expected to lead half a program one night. “All of these are solid musicians,” Williams says, “and they will do something other than run-of-the-mil l Pops concerts.”
There will be 5 televised Evening-at-Pops programs. “I am not happy that there is only one American orchestra with a television contract,” Williams says, “but I’m pleased and proud that it’s us.” The guest stars for the television series will be Rich Little, who will narrate “Peter and the Wolf” on opening night, Tchaikovsky-competition-winning celist Nathaniel Rosen, the King’s Singers, the British male vocal sextet with a comprehensive repertory, blues singer Nell Carter, Bernadette Peters, and the Abyssinian Choir, a gospel choir from New York. “That will be a fabulous show. They have already sung with Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic, but this will be their Boston debut.”
Among the orchestra members who will be featured soloists in other Pops concerts this summer are Pops concertmaster Emanuel Borok, violinist Cecylia Arzewski, cellists Jonathan Miller and Luis Leguia, violist Marc Jeanneret, and Lois Schaefer, piccolo. There will be soloists from outside the orchestra as well; one of Christopher Keene’s programs, for example, has scenes from “Porgy and Bess” featuring two favorite artists from the Opera Company of Boston, soprano Sarah Reese and baritone David Arnold.
The new work commissioned for the Pops this summer is a “festival overture” by William Bolcom called “Ragomania.” “It is dedicated to Eubie Blake and the memory of George Gershwin, and it is a lot of fun,” Williams says. “We will give the premiere on opening night, and expect to play it a lot throughout the season. We have to have Chariots of Fire,’ of course. We have a new blues medley by Billy May that looks very good – The Birth of the Blues,’ Blues in the Night,’ The Basin Street Blues.’ John Morris has prepared a Tribute to Fred Astaire’ for us. It will have all those wonderful things in it – The Carioca,’ The Contintental,’ Cheek to Cheek,’ Dancing in the Dark,’ Let’s Face the Music and Dance.’
“On my desk right now I have the score of a Comedy Overture’ of my own – I hope to finish it in time to play it during June. No, it doesn’t go to any specific comedy – the audience will just have to invent one as it goes along. “Oh, I almost forgot. Billy Byers has a new arrangement of New York, New York.’ I hope it will go over in Boston, Boston!”
The Pops management also reports something Williams was too modest to mention – “someone” will sing “If We Were in Love,” the song Williams wrote for Luciano Pavarotti to sing in the forthcoming movie “Yes, Giorgio.”
Philips Records will record two additional Pops albums this season. The repertory for one of them hasn’t yet been decided on, but the other will be an album of movie music. “It will have a new arrangement of the Tara theme from Gone with the Wind,’ which is something the Pops hasn’t had before, and the original MGM arrangement of The Trolley Song.’ Jerome Rosen, from the orchestra, has made a medley of some of the newer movie tunes, and we will have something from E.T.’ of course.”
Williams will again be renting a house out in Weston for his months in Boston. “My wife Samantha likes it very much because there are so many wonderful places to run. She’s in training now for the San Francisco marathon in July. Her ultimate aim, of course, is to run in Boston. I used to run a little with her, but I don’t get very far, I’m afraid. I love it out west of the city – the air is wonderful, and the country is beautiful.”
After the Pops season ends in July Williams returns to California to do the score for a new movie about the church, “Monseigneur.”
“That has my young friend from Superman’ in it, Christopher Reeve, and Genevieve Bujold. Then, after November 1 I am committed to the third installment of the Star Wars’ saga, which is called The Revenge of the Jeddi.’ That I have to finish in time to record in London in January. I have no film plans beyond February of next year. Though, of course, I will be coming to Boston again in April. I live in the best of all possible worlds – California in the winter, and then I come to Boston along with all the great weather!”