Williams: new energy, style
Boston — ``We must encourage new pieces to be written . . . and we must continue to search for the best new composing and performing talents among our young people,'' says John Williams of the directions he intends to take at the outset of the second hundred years of the Pops. Expected words, perhaps, from the most sought-after composer of film music in the world, who wrote his first piano sonata at age 19. Described as modest, soft-spoken, and gentlemanly, Mr. Williams has turned out such film-score successes as ``E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,'' ``Jaws,'' ``Return of the Jedi,'' and ``Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,'' en route to 19 Oscar nominations and 14 Grammy Awards.
Since taking the helm at the Pops in January of 1980, Mr. Williams has infused the orchestra with new energy and style based on a broad background as a jazz pianist with classical and composition training.
``He knows the orchestra from the point of view of the man with the pencil, and that means intimately,'' said conductor Andr'e Previn, when Mr. Williams's appointment was announced. ``He can make superlative arrangements of pop materials, and he can edit, fix, handle anything that comes up in someone else's arrangement, make it better, and all in a matter of minutes.''
Born in New York in 1932, Williams studied music at both UCLA and the Juilliard School under the Russian pedagogue Rosina Lhevinne -- whose methods have produced some of the great piano virtuosos of the day. Active as a jazz pianist in both clubs and recordings, he left New York for California and went to work for film studios -- performing the piano tracks for such musicals as ``South Pacific'' and ``West Side Story.''
He arranged for such pop singers as Vic Damone, then met and worked for such giants of the film music business as Alfred Newman and Jerry Goldstein. ``He has taught us to use the full orchestra,'' said Lionel Newman of 20th Century-Fox. ``In the old days, 50-60 men on a picture was considered a large orchestra. Now because of him, you can't think of a big movie without thinking of using a full symphony orchestra.''
Interviews with members of the Pops show that the difference between the styles of Fiedler and Williams is like night and day. ``Arthur Fiedler was a tough cookie who enjoyed controversy. He loved to fight with people. He would constantly say, `I don't care if you like this music or not. You're here to play it, and play it!' '' says Harry Ellis Dickson, associate conductor of the Pops. ``John, on the other hand, is terribly sensitive to the likes and dislikes of the musicians. If he feels the musicians don't like something, it hurts him very badly.''
Both musicians and audiences did everything they could to persuade Williams to return to his post after he resigned last June over ``artistic and creative differences.'' Some musicians had hissed at his music in rehearsal. ``About 98 percent of us went knocking on his door after the incident to get him to change his mind,'' says tuba player Chester Schmitz. ``The whole thing was blown way out of proportion.''
Now in contract at least through the centennial year, the bonds forged between Williams and the musicians over five years appear to be intact.
``Williams is taking over an orchestra at the height of its popularity,'' writes Dickson in a 1981 tribute to the Pops. ``However, all indications are that [he] will bring the Boston Pops to even greater heights.''