Monster of a movie: Kaufman and Pacific take on ‘Jurassic Park’

By TIMOTHY MANGAN

Richard Kaufman, Principal Pops Conductor of Pacific Symphony, answered the door of his classic Encino ranch house the other day in his bare feet and khaki shorts. When he’s not conducting symphony orchestras around the world in live performances of film scores with the movie screened synchronously, Kaufman, 69, works in a home office equipped with a large desk, on which sits a giant computer monitor to watch the film he’s working on and the score to same.

The room is filled with papers and scores and mementos, including a framed photograph of Kaufman, a veteran of the Hollywood studios, coaching Jack Nicholson on the violin for his starring role in “The Witches of Eastwick.” (Those are Kaufman’s hands you see playing the piano in the scene in which Susan Sarandon’s cello bursts into flames.)

His current project is “Jurassic Park,” which he’ll conduct for the first time Saturday (Aug. 19) with Pacific Symphony at Pacific Amphitheatre. To demonstrate his duties, he flips on the movie to the scene where a T-Rex is chasing a jeep — pure mayhem — and conducts the score, which he has marked up with brightly colored highlighters. Meters and tempos change suddenly. A click track sets the pace. Both he and the orchestra will listen to it on headphones during the performance.

Continue reading

Not just a walk in the park: The multi-layered life of Pacific Symphony cellist Bob Vos

By JAYCE KEANE

Like many of Pacific Symphony’s musicians, cellist Bob Vos is married (to Vivian, a pianist) and has a child (a 3-year-old boy, Wesley). And while many musicians in the orchestra have additional music gigs, Bob is a bit unique; so far as he knows, he is the only one who also has a non-music job. And he’s not just flinging newspapers in the morning—Bob is an assistant professor of Spatial Sciences at USC. And, yes, there is only one of him handling all of this (although he does have a twin brother).

“I work mostly on issues of environmental sustainability,” he explains. “So, I have to balance that with my music. Fortunately, the schedule at USC is pretty flexible and I just work a lot of late nights at my home office—after Wesley has gone to bed. I’m gone many weeknights and weekends, so I try to make up for it by sneaking away to the park in the afternoon with him!”

The music part is easy to figure. Both of Bob’s parents were musicologists (PhDs in music history and theory). His father played piano, organ and harpsichord, and was the associate dean at DePaul University’s School of Music. His mother sang and played flute, and founded a youth orchestra and community music school. With music running rampant in his DNA, it’s no wonder Bob became a musician. At age 4, he started cello. He says: “One might think this means I didn’t choose the cello, but I remember making a conscious choice. My twin brother was already playing violin, but I didn’t take to it when my parents tried to start me on it when I was 2!”

Continue reading

Word: ‘Crescendo’

(One in an occasional series)

Let us now consider an oft-misused and misunderstood word: Crescendo. Musicians get it, of course, but others don’t. Take this recent example:

“After seven years of political fireworks over the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a vote on the Senate’s bill to repeal and replace key elements of the law could be the prelude to a grand finale – or at least a crescendo – this week.” — Anne Phelps, Health Care Current, June 27, 2017.

Or this, a few years ago, in The Los Angeles Times:

“Rumors about the impending exit have swirled for months, reaching a crescendo in recent days.”

A musician will cringe when reading either of these examples. Some music critics, especially in general circulation publications, try to avoid using technical terms in their writing. But my own feeling was always that if the term was in Webster’s (and not just a music dictionary) then it was fair to use it. Crescendo is in Webster’s and it seemed easy enough for most readers to understand anyway.

Not so fast. Along comes Kingsley Amis. In his “The King’s English: A Guide to Modern Usage,” he has this typically curmudgeonly thing to say on the word:

“Once a musical term meaning ‘(passage played) with increasing volume’ and a derived figurative term meaning ‘progress towards a climax’. For many years now taken to be a fancy synonym for ‘climax’ as in ‘the gunfire reached a crescendo’ or ‘the chorus of vilification rose to a crescendo’ and rendered useable only by the unwary or vulgar. Outside of a strictly musical context, that is.”

Yes. The important distinction to remember is that a crescendo is not a particular point in a musical composition — such as the climax — but a process therein, i.e. a process of getting louder. The musical marking for it is quite simple and illustrative, consisting of an elongated “lesser than” sign (as used in mathematics) placed directly under the passage for which the composer wants a gradual (or fairly sudden, but never instantaneous) increase in volume. A crescendo sign varies in length, depending upon the length of the crescendo desired.

The definition, however, is complicated, I now see, by Webster’s. The second definition of the word in my old collegiate edition says it’s synonymous with “climax,” which is entirely wrong from a musical point of view.

The longest crescendo in music is probably Ravel’s “Bolero,” which is, in fact, one long crescendo. Another very long crescendo occurs in the first movement of Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” Symphony. I’m not sure how long it is, exactly, but it’s something around 10 minutes. “Rossini crescendos” are much shorter but quite effective. The one in the Overture to “La Cenerentola” is a particular delight. — TIMOTHY MANGAN