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Boston Pops 'Stars' as an era begins

It took John Williams, the Boston Pops's new conductor, just a few sparkling numbers to persuade an opening-night audience who had paid up to $100 for a pair of tickets that he clearly would make his mark in Boston.

And when "The Stars and Stripes Forever" began ringing out in Symphony Hall, the welcoming roar was defeaning from the audience that used to cheer the late Arthur Fiedler in the encore that was his signature tune.

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With that, Williams the conqueror closed his first full-length Boston Pops concert since assuming the post of music director. The ovations, carried on amidst cascading balloons, were loud and prolonged.

It is in orchestrations that the Williams difference will be most telling. The results have an orchestral richness rarely heard in past years. And Williams also plans to tap the vast resources of American film music and the world of American popular song.

Williams is a "charmer." One can sense it in his podium manner, and in his way with the press corps who grilled him after his stirring concert. He exudes integrity, dedication, and the security of a master craftsman.

His relative newness to public conducting (he conducts his scores in studio recordings) shows in the occasional fleeting confusion of the orchestra, the odd momentary hestitation. But he demonstrates at this early point in his new career such good instincts, such an unflashy, unself-serving podium manner, that one knows these minor problems stem only from inexperience.

Williams the conductor possesses a richly orchestral ear, that he exploits with this exceptional orchestra, which he considers one of the four or five finest in the world.

Clearly, Williams will be no copy of Fiedler, who led the Pops for 50 years (right up to opening night, 1979). But he believes in, and will sustain and nurture, the quality framework Fiedler worked so hard to establish and maintain.

As a nationwide PBS-TV audience could see, Williams staked his claim in a bold way at this 95th Pops opening night -- first with his own "Cowboy" Overture , then with two prestigious soloists (Isaac Stern; and Burgess Meredith, who read the William Faulkner text for Williams's superb setting of "The Reivers"), and finally with handsome orchestrations of the popular-music section of the program.

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There was even a surprise appearance from "Star Wars'" C3PO who made his Pops conducting debut, with solo cadenzas performed with style by R2D2.

From the moment that Williams -- known primarily as a composer of such Oscar-winning film scores as "Star Wars" -- was was appointed to succeed Fiedler , it was clear that management had gone for quality, integrity, and someone who could continue the tradition of excellence Fiedler represented, without mere imitation.

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