How John Williams became a conductor

How John Williams became a conductor


norman lebrecht

August 18, 2022

The Berkshire Eagle has the inside story of how the Hollywood composer succeeded the everlasting Arthur Fiedler as chief conductor of the Boston Pops.


… As (Tom) Morris recollected, (Andre) Previn told him that Williams “is the consummate pro — he knows the instrument of the symphony orchestra better than anyone Previn had ever met, he knows how it works, how it sounds, how to work with it and conduct it” based on extensive experience with movie studio orchestras.

Williams seemed the ideal choice, but in view of his busy Hollywood career: Was he interested in taking on the Boston Pops? After a Boston Globe article in late 1979 listed him among the candidates, Morris received a letter from Williams stating that he had seen the article and was flattered to be considered.

After he agreed to guest-conduct a 50th anniversary Boston Pops gala at New York’s Carnegie Hall in early 1980, he was interviewed secretly by search committee members and by Music Director Seiji Ozawa. “Everyone was impressed with him,” said Morris, but his level of interest remained uncertain….

Red on here.


  • music lover says:

    Fantastic all round musician,like Andre,who recommended him.And a wonderful,humble,kind person.

  • drummerman says:

    HIs hiring was certainly a risk but it obviously worked out well.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I think the Boston Pops was vastly more interesting under Arthur Fiedler and Keith Lockhart.

  • Midge says:

    Trivia Note: John Williams is the son of drummer Johnny Williams of the Raymond Scott Quintette.

  • chris says:

    John Williams appearance on the PBS
    television program ” Previn and the
    Pittsburgh ” in 1978 conducting the PSO
    in selections from ” Star Wars ” “Close
    Encounters ” and ” Superman ” let
    television audiences know for the first
    time what a charismatic and wonderful
    conductor he really was …and is !

  • Gustavo says:

    But didn’t Williams once run off in a huff because some musicians of the Boston Pops/Symphony were not taking his sound ideas seriously enough?

    • MacroV says:

      Yes. I heard – albeit from someone nowhere near a firsthand source – that it was when they were reading “America, the Dream Goes on.” I like John Williams’ music, but this was incredibly cheezy, so if that’s the piece they were hissing, they were right.

  • Anonymous says:

    A wonderful composer, and by most accounts a wonderful human being. Not a conductor. I wish people would stop confusing the two. John has no business in front of an orchestra.

    • MacroV says:

      If he were out there conducting Mahler and Schumann, you might have an argument. He’s this era’s pre-eminent film composer, and apparently knows how to conduct his own music – which is primarily what he conducts. A great musician and a decent human being. Taken together, most orchestras are happy to work with him professionally, everyone understanding the terms.

    • Gustavo says:

      John Williams is a composer and a conductor. He knows exactly what the orchestra is doing.

      Many great composers had the ability to conduct (e.g. Mahler, Strauss). Leading an orchestra taught them a lot about the potential and limits of the orchestral sound.

      Most “great” conductors of our time, however, are poor composers or are unable/unwilling to compose.

      In a recent interview, John Williams argued that conductors should attempt to spend some time composing in order to become more insightful conductors.