John Williams to Leave Boston Pops : Music: The Oscar-winning film composer and the ensemble’s conductor since 1980 wants to devote more time to serious compositions. His reign will end in 1993.


After 11 years at the helm of the Boston Pops, conductor and composer John Williams has announced that he will retire from the orchestra after the 1993 season. Williams turns 60 next year and wants to devote more time to composing concert hall concertos and symphonies, and less time on film scores, traveling and conducting.

Williams, who hasn’t taken a day off since late spring, wants to conserve his energy with special projects dear to his heart. In an interview with the Boston Globe, Williams said, “I am as keen about the Pops as I ever was, but now I want to work less, both as a conductor and a composer for films. I want to take the time to write some concert music, to travel less, and read, walk and spend time with my grandchildren.”

It’s no exaggeration that Williams has been one of the most prolific, working musicians on the scene today. Conducting is a relatively small part of his schedule; most of his efforts have been devoted to writing film scores--more than 60, his latest for “Hook” and “JFK.” He’s earned four Oscars from among 28 nominations for his film scores and more than a dozen Grammys.

Williams’ recordings with the Boston Pops have become lucrative for the combined Boston Symphony Orchestra and Pops entities. It’s estimated that the Pops brings in about 25% of the Orchestra/Pops gross revenue. Though it plays much fewer dates than the symphony, those concerts in combination with its 23 CDs (first for Philips classical and, more recently, Sony classical) have made the Pops more profitable on a per-concert basis than the symphony.


Williams feels he has neglected serious concert music.

Williams conducted the world premiere of his Clarinet Concerto, with soloist Michele Zukovsky and the Riverside County Philharmonic, in Riverside last April.

“Next spring I am writing a bassoon concerto for the New York Philharmonic and its principal player, and that is exactly the kind of thing I would like to do more of,” he told the Globe. “I want to devote more time to serious musical compositions--but don’t worry I will always remember the advice of Vaughan Williams to a younger composer who had presented him with pages of crab counterpoint: ‘Young man, if a tune should ever occur to you, don’t fail to write it down.’ ”

Williams’ resignation could affect the fortune of Los Angeles’ recently formed Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Largely staffed with local free-lancers, the Bowl orchestra led by John Mauceri was largely created as a commercial venture when Williams and the Pops jumped labels--from Philips to Sony Classical. So far neither the Pops management nor the recording companies have said whether Williams will continue conducting Pops recordings after he leaves as music director. If Williams discontinues work on Boston Pops recordings, Mauceri’s fledgling orchestra, whose recordings have been well received by some critics, may be able to compete on a stronger commercial footing with the 106-year-old Pops.


But not before the Boston Pops and its music director barnstorm across America and then Japan in 1992. (The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra leaves on its own Japan tour Dec. 29.)

Touring has traditionally pumped up sales of Pops albums, especially for the recently opened Japanese and Far Eastern market. Until its 1987 tour with Williams to Japan, there was little demand for the Pops repertoire in that part of the world.

Aside from Williams’ commercial accomplishments with the Boston Pops, he will be remembered for turning around a frayed and jaded ensemble left to him by Arthur Fiedler who led it for more than 50 years. Under Williams’ baton, the Pops has emerged as a far more artistically dynamic and disciplined ensemble than it had under Fiedler who, near the end of his tenure, felt he was never taken seriously as a conductor. Orchestra members thought the ensemble reduced to background noise by the Pops’ audience and that arrangements of Pops’ favorites were tired and outdated.

The situation came to a head in 1985 when Williams stormed off the podium during rehearsal after a Pops player maligned a score being played in front of its arranger, Syd Ramin, a close friend of Williams. It was a turning point for Williams and the orchestra. Reforms came, allowing members of the parent Boston Symphony to opt out of playing part of or even the entire Pops season, which runs about eight weeks (six in the spring two at Christmas Pops).


More challenging scores were given to the orchestra, and Williams took pains to encourage the audience to listen more carefully to performances.

In a bold gesture of esteem and gratitude the Boston Symphony Orchestra/Pops management announced that Williams would receive immediate, permanent tenure as an artist-in-residence at the summer home of the orchestra at the Tanglewood Music Center.