‘Williams Talks of Pops’ Past, Future’ (1990)

By Richard Dyer, Globe Staff
The Boston Globe, page 76, July 19th, 1990
LENOX — John Williams had a Pops concert to conduct at Tanglewood on Tuesday, but for the last two weeks he says he’s mostly been a “civilian, checking out the golf courses in the Berkshires.”
But he settled down on Monday afternoon for a late-afternoon drink and a little talk about the Pops season that just ended, the recent tour of Japan and some plans for the future.
“That trip to Japan was an experience beyond my capacity to describe. At one of the concerts the prime minister was present, so we played both the Japanese and the American national anthems. The audience listened to their own national anthem in silence, but there was warm, generous and spirited applause for ours — they have a vey positive feeling about American things. I had been hesitant about including ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever’ on the program, but then I learned that the inventor of the Walkman had conducted it on the concert Sony gave him in honor of his birthday. So I put it in, despite my trepidation, and when it came to the part where the audience in Boston always starts clapping, the Japanese audience started clapping right on cue. The American film music also seemed to be very popular, ‘E.T.’ especially. And I particularly appreciated the audience’s willingness to listen — that is something we miss sometimes in the garden-party atmosphere of the Pops at home with all the bottles and tables and talking.”
Williams said the audiences seemed very familiar with the Pops repertory. Japan is a major market for Boston Pops recordings, and every concert was sold out. And now, of course, the Pops record exclusively for the Sony label. The first Sony CD, “Music of the Night,” is out now, and Williams is very happy with it. “I think Sony has given us a sleeker sound. Symphony Hall has fabulous acoustics for several kinds of music, but not for all — sometimes the Pops arrangements can sound too overwhelming.”
Forthcoming recording projects for Sony will include an album of marches to be called “I Love a Parade,” an album about the romance of train travel to be called “All Aboard,” and an album of film music, including Copland’s ”The Red Pony,” and two pieces of his own Williams is particularly anxious to record, “The Reivers” and “Born on the 4th of July.” “Tim Morrison Pops principal trumpet, who plays so beautifully in ‘Born on the 4th of July,’ is an unbelievable artist and asset to the Pops. What will be different this year is that for the first time we will be doing some recording away from the regular Pops season, which is always such a crunch. We will have recording dates in February and in October, and I think that will help the recordings to emerge in a stronger way.”
Williams has a well-documented tendency to stay to his hotel rooms during tours; he knows how to focus and conserve his energies. But he enjoyed getting out and about in Japan this time, and found himself particularly fascinated by the ancient temples in Kyoto. “I am absolutely convinced that ghosts reside in those woods; it was absolute magic. At first the conformity of so much we saw was a little off-putting, but then I began to understand the beauty of it too — it was like watching flocks of doves.”
Williams’ most recent composition was a short fanfare he has called ”Celebrate America,” which had its premiere on the Esplanade on the Fourth of July. This is a kind of preview for a major event of 1992, the anniversary of Columbus’ voyage to America. “Governor Dukakis also asked me to write a pop song about this, but I didn’t really think I was the man for the job, so I asked my friends Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil to do it, and it was fantastic; we had a choral/pop arrangement on the Esplanade and the audience adored it. The Tanglewood Festival Chorus had other responsibilities, so Beverly Taylor from Radcliffe did a wonderful job of getting a chorus together and prepared. Our next move is to make a good commerical recording of the song in the fall to use in the television promotions for the big celebration, and our hope is to have another network television show again, like the one we did for the restoration of the Statue of Liberty. There is also talk of a tour to Europe and to Spain in particular in 1992, and the Japanese have already invited us back as well.”
The most recent film Williams has scored is “Presumed Innocent,” which opens this summer. He says he will probably do another in the fall, but he’s not sure what, yet. “I’ve passed on a couple of things; I’m still looking for the right project at the right time. The next film I’m committed to is the new Steven Spielberg film, ‘Schindler’s List,’ which is about the Holocaust. The script is wonderful, but the film hasn’t been cast yet.”
Spielberg, incidentally, is such a fan of Williams’ that he likes to tease him by singing the principal themes from movies Williams scored so long ago that the composer himself has forgotten them; Spielberg can sing the main title from “Diamond Head.” “I have all my pencil sketches bound in leather, and they stretch across a whole wall in my house in California. But Steven actually knows what’s in them!”