Composer John Williams has been writing music for the movies for more than six decades, most famously for the "Star Wars" franchise. Along the way Williams also served as conductor of the venerable Boston Pops Orchestra in the 1980s and early '90s. Now the Pops is honoring its former leader with an all-Williams tour that stops this Thursday at the Mondavi Center in Davis.
Current conductor Keith Lockhart was just 35 when he took the baton from Williams at the Boston Pops in 1995. Williams had replaced the legendary and long-tenured Arthur Fiedler. Here's the advice Williams gave Lockhart:
“He said, you know you’re going to be really tempted to try as hard as you can to make this your orchestra as soon as possible," explains Lockhart. "He said resist that temptation. He said they’ve existed well over a hundred years not thanks to either of us and that thing will be there when we go, so just be a good steward of the tradition and eventually the things you care about and repertoire and all those things will begin to reflect your tenure. And he was right.”
As leader of the Boston Pops, Lockhart has expanded its repertoire, collaborating with everyone from jazz legend Chick Corea to Broadway star Audra McDonald to rock icon Steven Tyler.
The orchestra’s current tour, however, is all about John Williams and his profound impact on popular music. Ironically, until Williams became conductor of the Boston Pops, he didn’t get a lot of support as a composer from his predecessor Arthur Fiedler.
“Outside of maybe the main title from Star Wars and Superman March, Arthur never did any of John’s material," relates Lockhart. "John brought it in and it became, along with other cinematic music, [it] became an important and really vital part of the Pops' repertory.”
During their tour stop in Davis, Lockhart will lead his orchestra through selections from 14 film scores composed by John Williams.
“There will be everybody’s favorites — music from 'Harry Potter' and from 'E.T.' and from the 'Star Wars' franchise and 'Raiders of the Lost Ark,'" Lockhart says. "But there is also music from movies like The Towering Inferno, which he was the composer of record for. A great score, a great overture, and a movie that people know but I imagine that not one out of ten people knows that John Williams wrote the score to it.”
As Lockhart explains, some of the lesser known works by Williams were included in a tour the Pops conducted last year in celebration of his 85th birthday. That music also appears on a collection the orchestra recently recorded called "Lights, Camera, Music. Six Decades of John Williams."
"Some of the pieces needed some restoration or needed his approval to bring them back out. We didn’t want to bring out a piece back to life that he really wished had stayed dead," Lockhart says with a laugh.
"But he was of course very, very helpful and opened his library to us, wrote a couple of new endings, concert-type endings to pieces and you know it turned out to be a real collaborative thing and a real love letter from all of us at the Boston Pops to John.”
Lockhart says he’s thrilled to be bringing his orchestra to California, home to his Pops predecessor and the man he’ll be celebrating this week in Davis.
“We love coming to the West Coast. We love playing to our extended audience. And this music is near and dear to our hearts and I think this orchestra plays it pretty much like no one else does."
The Boston Pops Orchestra, under the direction of Maestro Keith Lockhart, will perform a tribute to John Williams on Thursday, April 19th at the Mondavi Center in Davis.