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Interview Wed Nov 26 2014

Richard Kaufman Discusses the CSO's Pixar in Concert


The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is known for many elements that comprise its exceptional caliber, from its renowned group of musicians, to their exceptional schedule of performances and their many, many accolades. A pinnacle element of the Orchestra's high achievement, of course, is the presence of their distinguished conductors.

Richard Kaufman, the guest conductor for this weekend's performance of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's first installment of its CSO at the Movies Series, has done it all. Studying music with a classical background, he began his instruction learning the violin at age seven. Kaufman then forayed into a melange of ventures, from being MGM's music coordinator, to coaching notable actors in musical roles, to conducting famed pieces for the world's top orchestras. His work earned him a Grammy award in 2003, and he has conducted orchestras alongside musical greats, from John Denver, to The Beach Boys, to Art Garfunkel. This holiday weekend brings him to Chicago, where he will conduct the CSO's presentation of Pixar in Concert. I spoke with Richard about this musical event, his influences and his unique history as a musician.


Pixar in Concert is the first of three performances in the CSO at the Movies series. What do you hope the audience will gain and even learn from this first performance, and how does it allow for audience interaction and connection?

The whole world seems to have embraced the Pixar films, and my hope is that when our Chicago Symphony audiences hear the music played live, that they will not only continue to appreciate the visual wonder and the terrific storytelling of these animated films, but that they will acquire an even greater appreciation for the role that the music plays in bringing the characters and their stories to life.

14 iconic Pixar films were chosen to be a part of this experience. How are they curated with one another, and how are they linked? Is it purely chronological to showcase the development of the brand's films, or are further themes interconnecting them?

The films that will be presented on the Pixar in Concert programs are basically selected from the entire history of Pixar. It's interesting to note that while the animation quality has improved over the years, the brilliant "voice" of the music heard in each film has remained the same from the first film all the way up to the latest.

Pixar films are so wonderful to me because they appeal to both children and adults. What do you think each age group will be able to love about this performance?

As with any film, either animated or with live action, each member of the audience (no matter how young or old they might be) will have his or her own feelings about what they are hearing and seeing. I think it's safe to say that no matter what each person might feel about a certain Pixar film, they have made it clear that they love these movies.

What is your favorite piece to conduct out of this showcase?

l'm a true sentimentalist, and therefore I absolutely love the story and music in UP. It's such a touching story that when you're watching the film, you find yourself forgetting the characters are indeed animated and not real people.

What's amazing about this performance is that it will not just be shown here, but also in Darlinghurst, Australia, and St. Petersburg, Florida, as well. Does each orchestra perform the same fluid piece or is it reworked in each area by the conductor?

The music for Pixar in Concert is exactly the same musically for every performance, as are the visuals. Of course, every orchestra plays at their own level of quality, but without a doubt, there is no better orchestra on the planet to hear play these scores than the amazing Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

You have a vast amount of experience as a conductor, in general and with the CSO. What path did you take to bring you here, and what are your favorite types of pieces to conduct and why?

I have been blessed in so many ways in my life: first with Christian faith and my family and friends, and most certainly by the education I've been afforded both in music, and in general. I began violin at age 7, and it just kept getting better and better (although during the first few years, I'm not sure it really sounded like a violin). My parents made sure I was exposed to all kinds of music, but not just to hear it; they wanted me to respect it for the creativity that was being displayed by composers and musicians alike. Forgive me for sounding a bit simplistic, but when it comes to the music I like most, the music I like most is music itself!

Your focus as a conductor has been on mainly film and television conducting and supervision. What inspires you to particularly foray into this segment of the industry, and what do you think can be learned and gained from the marriage between music and film?

My musical background is actually quite classical. My work in film and television music was a result of my education in classical music, and my appreciation for the great masters. As I moved out of college into a career, I found myself with opportunities to work in various areas of music, which happily included music from the classical world, as well as in film, television, recording, and musical theater. But it's no secret that I love the music that accompanies the visuals on the screen, and this may just have begun with my love of opera and ballet, for which music is used to accompany, and even tell a story just as in film and television.

Your experience in the film industry is absolutely impressive, from time at MGM, to coaching notable film actors in their musical roles, and more. How have these experiences impacted your conducting style and your current role in the music industry?

I began as a violinist, and have always approached my work as a conductor with that in mind. The incredible opportunity to work with musicians in various areas of the musical world has given me a great appreciation of the role they play in the life of a conductor. After all, no one has ever heard one note of music from a conductor, right? It's only when the musicians add their talents and passion to what you are doing as a conductor that the music comes to life. What a blessing to be able to stand up in front of an orchestra the likes of the Chicago Symphony and wave my arms. So often when I'm standing on the podium at Orchestra Hall, I actually feel like a member of the audience! That's as good as it gets for a conductor!

Just for fun, what are the three film scores that have impacted your life and career, and why?

I couldn't even begin to name three film scores that have made more of an impact than others. Like anyone, I have my favorite films and film music, but it's like asking a parent "who's your favorite child"? I will say that, as a violinist playing in the studios in Hollywood for nine years, I did have some pretty extraordinary experiences. For example, I played on five of John Williams' scores, including "Jaws." That was one of those experiences that you never forget. At the other end of the emotional scale, there is a film that I played on which shall I say...very cool. Yes, I played on "Animal House" with a wonderful score by the superb film composer Elmer Bernstein. Just as these two films are about as varied as it gets, so my career has been varied and blessed beyond what I ever could have imagined.


Pixar in Concert will be held at the Symphony Center on November 27, 28, and 29, with the first two shows starting at 8pm, and the last show a 3pm matinee. Tickets are available in varying tiers online, or at (312) 294-3000. The Symphony Center is located at 220 S. Michigan Avenue.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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