‘The Williams Whirlwind’ (1993)


By Richard Dyer, Globe Staff
The Boston Globe, page B1, May 9th, 1993
John Williams, still at home in California last week, called in to talk about the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and about his final season as conductor of the Boston Pops, which opens Wednesday evening with a gala concert featuring Jessye Norman and Aretha Franklin.
Williams didn’t want to do an “exit interview” because he won’t be exiting until after the Christmas Pops, and there’s a lot of work to do between now and then. It’s also true that the retrospective mode doesn’t suit him much — at 61, he’s still much more interested in talking about what comes next.
Williams wasn’t in a position to say very much about the opening night
because he doesn’t know much about it, though the suspicion was beginning to
dawn on him that TV producer William Cosel has been busy cooking up some surprises.
But he sounded eager to get to work on some of the other Pops specials, particularly the concert featuring Linda Ronstadt and Rosemary Clooney on May 22. “I didn’t know that Linda and Rosie were musical pals. Every time I run into Linda, I ask her when she’s going to come to the Pops, and this year I saw her at the Skywalker Ranch when she was recording that ‘Faust’ musical that Randy Newman was doing. She was once again very shy about coming to the Pops, but then I got word she would come if she could sing with Rosie, and I was delighted. I love Rosemary Clooney. The first time I heard her was opposite Bing Crosby, and I know he was crazy about her — in addition to the musicianship, the pitch, she has that swing rhythm, that jazz feel that was the basis of Crosby’s own art.”
Williams also sounded tickled by the idea of the program with jazz singer Shirley Horn and jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. “Between Arturo and Pops principal trumpet Tim Morrison, we’ve got the two greatest trumpeters under one roof the same night. I don’t know whether we’re going to cook up some kind of two matadors thing for the two of them or not, but there’s certainly going to be a lot of talent on that stage, and it will be a fabulous night. I’m also looking forward to working with James Taylor on May 25; I’ve never met him but I’m a fan. It’s going to be a very busy time — I’ll be in Boston for four weeks doing all these television shows and concerts, and then we’re going to Japan — my second tour of Japan.”
Williams found performing Pops concerts in Japan “a thrilling experience.” “The thing that struck me most,” he said, “was the quietude that came across the audience. When the musicians turned the pages of their music it sounded like a hurricane! In a normal concert back home, you don’t even notice it, but with those audiences in Japan, every sound can be heard. It has a marvelous effect on the orchestra and on me — the players begin to listen to themselves more carefully, and to their stand partners; concentration is heightened and enhanced. And touring is always exciting, visiting new cities, meeting new audiences.”
In the middle of all this activity, Williams and the Pops will be recording a new CD for Sony Classical. Plans for a collaboration with one of the great celebrities of the classical musical world have had to be postponed because of the artist’s schedule, so instead, the Pops will record an album of music associated with Frank Sinatra, a prospect that delights Williams, especially when he learned that Arthur Fiedler’s participation in a Sinatra concert 45 years ago led to a notorious fight with BSO music director Serge Koussevitzky.
“Things were different in that generation, God bless them. Back then, Frank Sinatra was a juvenile delinquent; now he’s an elder statesman. I’ve known him for quite some time, and I composed the score to the only film he
himself personally directed, ‘None But the Brave,’ a Second World War story, a good action film. He couldn’t have been nicer, more considerate, more appreciative. Since then, I’ve seen him from time to time and even conducted for him, most recently at a fund-raising gala for Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. I know you can hear that he has a reputation for being difficult, but you can also hear what I can say, which is that I never had anything but the most wonderful and gracious connection with him. I think Frank is good with musicians; he appreciates people who do music. Our Pops programs were already set when this project came up, so what I want to do is put the new arrangements in as encores, and say a word or two about Frank. It was a real treat to pick these tunes; we had a list of 50 or 60, each title better than the other.”
Another addition to the Pops repertory will be selections from Williams’ score to “Jurassic Park.” “I’ve just finished with it, and I hope everyone’s going to like it. You get caught up in the moment of creativity, with the chauvinistic spirit of everyone working on the film, but you can never really know what the public’s going to do. Still, when I saw ‘Home Alone’ I thought there would be a huge public for that film, and there was, and it didn’t take a genius to know it. I can’t believe that ‘Jurassic Park’ won’t be a great success. The computer graphics of the dinosaurs are so beautiful — never in your life have you seen what you’re about to see. These creatures are so enormous, the texture and lighting of their skin, their movements, the integration with the live action — it is a staggering achievement. And to know that they aren’t models but numbers in a computer blows my mind, which is a pre-computer mind!”
Williams scared a nation out of its wits with his music for “Jaws” and there will be lots of scary music in “Jurassic Park.” “On the CD, you can hear all kinds of wild orchestral and choral things, the raptor attacks and chases and things; the idea was to shake the floor and scare everybody. The Pops isn’t going to play those parts. Instead we’ll play the music that accompanies the first appearance of these benign creatures, some gentle religioso cantilena lines, music that tries to capture the awesome beauty and sublimity of the dinosaurs in nature. The Pops will play the material that is very sonorous, tonal, straightfoward, string oriented. There’s also a kind of adventure theme, high-spirited and brassy, that accompanies the flight to the island where the experiment takes place; it’s very thrilling and upbeat musically, very positive, and the Pops will be playing that, too.”
Williams’ next film project is Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust drama, ”Schindler’s List,” which is currently being filmed in Krakow, Poland. ”This is a very heart-rending, uplifting story about people who were saved
from the Holocaust. There is a violinist in the story and violin music has a part to play in the live action part of the film, so I want to pick up on that texture, that voice, at the beginning and end, a kind of Hebraic lullaby for
violin and strings. Nobody in the world could play it better than Itzhak Perlman, and I am very pleased that he has agreed to participate in recording the music for the film. Steven plans to be back in the middle of June, and I should be able to see an edit of the film sometime in July.”
By then, Williams will be back from Japan and settled into a “fabulous” house he has rented in the Berkshires, near Tanglewood. “I have some concerts with the Pops at Tanglewood, and I am also conducting a BSO concert with Yo-Yo Ma in the Elgar Cello Concerto. That piece is close to me, and being up in the woods with it and Yo-Yo is a very spiritual thing for me. And I also plan to get to work on ‘Schindler’s List.’ Steven will be working on it in the Hamptons, so possibly he can bring it up to show to me in the Berkshires. I’ll finish the score in California in September, and record it in October. Beyond that there are some exciting things in store, but I think it is a bit precipitous to talk about them yet.”
At the time he announced his forthcoming retirement from the Pops, Williams said he wanted to have more time to compose his own music for the concert hall. Since that announcement, he has completed his Bassoon Concerto for the New York Philharmonic. Orchestras don’t have the quick turnaround that the film studios do, so he will have to wait until October 1994 to hear his concerto. His next concert work will be a Cello Concerto for Yo-Yo Ma. “Yo- Yo and I have talked about this for a long time, and I have been a bit reluctant because the line to write music for Yo-Yo is one of the longest in music — everyone alive wants to write for this great man, and it is a challenge to think one could add anything to what has already been said and done. But I feel such affection for him and for his spirit that I’m going to try; the inner self of his that he reveals when he plays resonates with me, so I am going to make time to work on a piece for him. That’s the main reason I wanted to reduce the conducting and the traveling. I need quietude, and the combination of Hollywood and life in Boston has made that difficult — in fact between now and Christmas there is barely time to take a quiet breath. But even that is something to be grateful for; how fortunate I have been to have so many wonderful opportunities to do what I love!”