Maestro Bernhardt conducts a tribute to the Boston Pops, Fiedler and Williams.
Arthur Fiedler and John Williams revolutionized the concept of pops concerts. When Fiedler became the conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra in 1930, nobody realized that under his 50 years of direction the Boston Pops would become the country’s best-known orchestra. During his tenure, the Boston Pops produced more recordings than any other orchestra in the world and became affectionately known as “America’s Orchestra.”
As Fiedler’s successor, Williams carried on many of Fiedler’s traditions, and, like Fiedler, worked to make symphonic music more accessible.
This Saturday, Oct. 25 at 7:30 p.m., the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera will honor these great conductors by performing “Boston Pops Tribute: A Salute to Arthur Fiedler and John Williams” under the direction of Bob Bernhardt, principal pops conductor of the CSO.
Before Fiedler, pops orchestras’ repertoire consisted of well-known light classical music. Fiedler brought the Boston Pops into the modern era by showcasing not only the work of young American composers and arrangers but also music by popular artists of the day.
Bernhardt notes that the standard format of a pops concert conducted by Fiedler included “some old music, some famous music, and some current music.” This inclusion of contemporary music was unprecedented, but it has come to dominate the format of today’s pops concerts.
John Williams succeeded Fiedler as the Boston Pops Orchestra’s principal conductor in 1980. Like Fiedler before him, Williams worked with some of the best arrangers in the world and included popular music in the Pops’ repertoire, but Williams also added a new element: film music.
Today, with 49 Academy Award nominations for his film scores, Williams is the most-nominated living person in Academy history. When he decided to boost the Boston Pops’ repertoire with film music—including not only his own compositions but also the music of his predecessors and contemporaries, Williams catapulted the Boston Pops into the 20th—and now 21st—century.
Like Fiedler, Williams has constantly worked to make symphonic music more accessible. “Williams brought movie music into our living rooms,” says Bernhardt, “and, in my opinion, he is the most important film composer in history.”
Bernhardt, who knows Williams personally, is more qualified than most to make that assessment. Not only is he music director emeritus and principal pops conductor of the CSO, he’s also the principal pops conductor of the Louisville Orchestra and artist-in-residence at Lee University. He makes frequent appearances as a guest conductor with orchestras across the country, including the Detroit Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Baltimore Symphony and the Boston Pops.
John Williams conducted two concerts of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra when Bernhardt was music director and conductor there from 1987-95, and that’s how the two met. Bernhardt reminisces, “We became friends and occasional golfing partners, and he trusted me enough to bring me up to Boston.” So, in 1992 at the invitation of Williams, Bernhardt made his debut with the Boston Pops, and he has been a frequent guest conductor with them ever since.
The upcoming CSO concert will follow the pops concert pattern established by Fiedler. Bernhardt has conducted this program in several other cities, but never in Chattanooga. As the show is one of his personal favorites, he is excited to bring it here for the first time.
The first half of the show will honor Fiedler’s love of patriotic and light orchestral music, including works by John Phillip Sousa, Leroy Anderson and Suppé, including Suppé’s “Light Cavalry Overture.” Of the latter Bernhardt explains, “You might not recognize the name, but everyone’s heard it.”
As a tribute to Fiedler’s inclusion of great classical music, pianist Michael Chertok, a featured guest with the Boston Pops for years, will play movements of Mozart and Rachmaninoff. “The Mozart is soft, elegant, and beautiful,” added Bernhardt, “and the Rachmaninoff is monumental and potent. It’s a delightful contrast.”
The second half of the concert will showcase the music of Williams. “That’s my fault,” Bernhardt jokes. “I adore his music, and it’s truly a part of society. No other composer is popular with 8-year-olds and 88-year-olds.” Concertmaster Holly Mulcahy will take a solo turn as well in the second half.
The show may be a tribute to the Boston Pops, Fiedler, and Williams, but Bernhardt insists, “The real star of the show is the orchestra itself. This program puts the CSO front and center.”
“Boston Pops Tribute: A Salute to Arthur Fiedler and John Williams”
Saturday, Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m.
Tivoli Theatre, 709 Broad St.