‘A New Recording Contract for Pops’ (1989)

By Richard Dyer, Globe Staff
The Boston Globe, page 110, December 14th, 1989
John Williams and the Boston Pops signed a new recording contract with Sony Classical, a division of CBS records, on Monday. The long-term, exclusive, multi-record contract ends the Pops’s 10-year association with Philips Records that resulted in 15 best-selling CDs with two more awaiting release.
Next week Williams and the Pops will make the first recording under its new contract, an album of contemporary show tunes from Broadway and London’s West End, including songs by Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, Jerry Herman and Andrew Lloyd Webber and songs from Claude-Michel Schonberg’s ”Miss Saigon.” The producer of the album will be Thomas Z. Shepard, long associated with CBS’ celebrated series of original-cast albums.
Boston Symphony Orchestra general manager Kenneth Haas is on tour with the orchestra in Japan and could not be reached for comment yesterday; Williams, flying to Boston from California to rehearse for the opening of Christmas Pops, also could not be reached.
Joseph S. Dash, senior vice president of Sony Classical, declined to spell out details of the new Pops contract (“long-term” in the record business means three or four years, for example), but he sounded jubilant at the label’s new acquisition. “Let’s face it. CBS Masterworks is the pre-eminent crossover label in the world; in effect we created the genre. That’s why we feel so strongly about this new relationship — we have the combination of the preeminent Pops orchestra in the world, a great composer-conductor in John Williams, who is a prince of a person to work with, our know-how when it comes to this kind of repertory, and our powerful world-wide distribution.”
Discussions with CBS have been under way since before the last Pops season. With the infusion of new capital resulting from Sony’s acquisition of CBS, the label has been signing artists previously associated with other labels. The final recording of the late Vladimir Horowitz, reportedly part of a $1 million contract, was made for CBS, and the company has added such artists as Midori to its roster as well as acquiring the video legacy of the late Herbert von Karajan, and performances by two of today’s most reclusive conductors, Sergiu Celibidache and Carlos Kleiber.
Dash said yesterday, “This contract has been in the works for quite some time — good things take a little bit of time to gestate. The important thing at the end of the day is that the answer is ‘yes,’ and now that we have that ‘yes’ we are wasting no time before we make our first recording.”
Naturally we can look for the Pops to work in collaboration with major CBS artists in various fields, such as Barbra Streisand, Placido Domingo and Yo-Yo Ma, just as the Pops collaborated with Jessye Norman during the Philips period. But Dash downplayed this dimension yesterday. “Of course we will always look for opportunities to present the Pops with our other artists, but it will be icing on the cake. The raison d’etre for our coming together is the talent of Williams and the Pops, and even if we didn’t have a great roster to fall back on, we would still want to do this deal.”
Philips plans to issue an album called “Pops a la Russe” in the spring and an all-Gershwin album featuring pianist Misha Dichter in the fall of 1990. The last Pops records of the legendary half-century tenure of Arthur Fiedler as conductor did not invariably adhere to the standards of taste that characterized his earlier work, but over the last 10 years Williams has been resistant to some strictly commercial propositions.
Some of CBS’s crossover ventures, such as the projected “Goya” musical with Placido Domingo, have not been of high artistic quality, and some industry observers have wondered how far CBS will try to push Williams and the Pops into a more commercial direction. Dash downplayed these concerns by characterizing Williams as “a superb musician with a great deal of taste.”