‘Getting Ready for a Big Date’ (1986)

GETTING READY FOR A BIG DATE By Richard Dyer, Globe Staff
The Boston Globe, page 15, April 22nd, 1986
“I’ve only seen the Statue of Liberty from the water,” says John Williams, speaking from his office at 20th Century Fox in Hollywood. “From the deck of the S.S. France, in fact. I’ve never been on the island or up inside the statue. I imagine the Fourth of July won’t be the time to try that!”
Instead, Williams will be beneath the statue, conducting the Pops Esplanade Orchestra in a nationally televised concert. “Clamma Dale and Simon Estes will be with us to sing excerpts from ‘Porgy and Bess,’ ” he said. “Bernadette Peters and Joel Grey will participate in a tribute to George M. Cohan. And John Denver will be with us too. There will also be a chorus and some other guests that I hope to be able to announce by the time I get to Boston to open the Pops season on May 6.”
Williams’ own contribution to the festivities will be a piece called ”Liberty Fanfare” that will open the concert. “It’s about five minutes long, and it has a one-minute detachable frontpiece that will be the signature music for all of the ABC presentations connected with the Fourth of July. I’ve tried to create a group of American airs and tunes of my own invention that I hope will give some sense of the event and the occasion. It will certainly show off the great brass that we have developed in Boston. The show will end with a fireworks display by Tommy Walker, who did the great show at the ’84 Olympics in Los Angeles. He’s got 30 or 40 barges that will light up the whole New York harbor. It ought to look great on television.”
The Pops has already announced the soloists for its television season — Richard Stoltzman, Joe Williams, Johnny Mathis, Natalie Cole, Dame Kiri te Kanawa, Mel Torme, George Shearing, and Victor Borge. “There’s one other program that we’ve already done,” Williams adds; “our Christmas program with the Vienna Boy Choir. We will also have some nice new things this season. For the opening of the season we have commissioned an overture by William Thomas McKinley; later in the season we will repeat Peter Maxwell Davies’ ‘An Orkney Wedding: With Sunrise’ which we will do for television. We were able to persuade Irwin Kostal to do a nice collection of Kurt Weill, both Berlin and Broadway material. And Sid Raymond has contributed a new medley of Jerome Kern material from his Hollywood period. Lee Holdridge is doing a couple of contemporary things I am anxious to see and hear — a song of Burt Bacharach’s, for example, called ‘Friends at the Moment.’ Another sweet thing is Gershwin’s ‘Love is Sweeping the Country.’ I’m surprised that we didn’t have that in the Pops library. This year’s hit film title is from ‘Out of Africa,’ which has a lovely tune.”
Members of the Boston Symphony will be playing Pops for only the first five weeks of the season this year. This means all the television activity will be crowded into five weeks, and that there will be time for only two recordings. “We are going to do Holst’s ‘The Planets,’ and a compilation of some of my own things, including the Olympic Fanfare, the new ‘Liberty Fanfare,’ some of the music I wrote for NBC, and the memorial I wrote for Arthur Fiedler, ‘Pops on the March.’ ”
The rest of the season will be played by the free-lance Pops Esplanade Orchestra, whose increasing role in Pops activity is one of the tough negotiating points in the BSO’s contract renewal talks. “This is an issue we need to come to grips with,” Williams said. “There’s enough public demand for the Pops to function 52 weeks a year, though no one is suggesting that we do this. The Esplanade Orchestra is a wonderful group, and any city in the country would be proud to have it as a resident orchestra. Everything it does is under the aegis of the BSO, and aids and abets the purposes of the BSO. I continue to stand on my soapbox and say that Pops activity is good for American orchestral musicians; this is our own great heritage. As long as everything we do in either orchestra supports the activities of the Boston Symphony, then for me, that’s enough of a rationalization to go ahead with it.”
Williams made a spectacularly successful cross-country tour with the Esplanade Orchestra last summer. “That was a wonderful experience. It reaffirmed the idea that the Pops belongs to the whole country. I’d never toured with the orchestra before, apart from some single dates, so I was astonished not only at the attendance and the reception but also at the warm affection of the public that we found everywhere. We’ve been talking about a Japanese tour and about another American tour, and I think they ought to be done. They ought to be built into the life of the Pops just like they are built into the life of the BSO.”
Williams has had a busy but frustrating year in Hollywood. He spent several months working on songs for a film of “Peter Pan” that Steven Spielberg has decided not to make. “I don’t mind saying that was a disappointment. It’s very charming music, I think. But technically it would be a very difficult picture, with all that flying and those other special effects. I can’t speak for Steven’s personal life, but he has just had a baby and wants to have another, and he just doesn’t want to invest 2 1/2 years of his life in this picture right now.”
Next Williams went on to compose the score for a film called “Space Camp” that is supposed to open this summer. “It’s a terrifically good and effective film, but there is a serious complication. It’s about a space shuttle launch, and the principal character is a young female teacher who is on board. Though it was written more than two years ago, obviously no one is going to respond to it in quite the same way today. The way we watch the film is colored by the tragedy. But we’ve had some previews, and the response has been so positive that I believe the public will embrace the film in the right way. The audience stands and applauds at the end because it has such a strong emotional resonance.”
Williams has several other film projects in the works, but won’t be free to talk about them until June. “Given continuing good health, I should start a film after the Pops season that will be ready for Christmas release. I’m feeling good, and my wife Samantha is vigorous and strong and off and running. She came home from Santa Monica last week with a third-place medal from a 10K race she had run. She was very disappointed, and I couldn’t imagine why. Then I remembered — last year she was first!”