The Princeton Symphony Orchestra — having successfully presented a movie music program in 2015 — has scheduled a sequel “Silver Screen Salute II” for its next Evening POPS! Series in Princeton’s Richardson Auditorium on Saturday, February 6, at 8 p.m.
Veteran movie-music conductor Lucas Richman directs the orchestra. Richman is also a well-established composer; more than 200 orchestras in the United States have performed his compositions, with the PSO program including his arrangements of a number of pieces.
As a conductor of music for movies, Richman knows how to seamlessly blend music with action on the big screen, and he knows the composers who write that music. Playing host for the PSO concert, Richman will supplement the music with anecdotes and personal stories.
In a telephone interview, he points out three instances in which his personal contacts enable him to add behind-the scenes information to the music: James Newton Howard’s music for “The Village,” with PSO concertmaster Basia Danilow soloing; Marvin Hamlisch’s “The Way We Were,” featuring guest vocalist Jessica Hendy; and John Williams’ “Shark” theme from “Jaws,” “Can You Read My Mind?” from “Superman,” and excerpts from “Star Wars.”
With a nod to PSO’s 2015-’16 theme of celebrating women, pieces by female-composers are included in the performance. Rachel Portman’s music for “Chocolat” and Kristen Anderson-Lopez’s music for “Frozen” are scheduled.
Despite his credits as a composer, conductor Richman has thought deeply about conducting. “In a way, I consider the vocation of conducting as being one of the best examples of leadership,” he writes on his blog. “The conductor provides direction that initiates the production of sound and must immediately listen to the feedback in order to assess whether that information was conveyed properly, in the first place, and if the information is subsequently being incorporated into the production of sound. Then, for the remaining duration of the musical work, that balance of leading and listening informs the basis of the collaboration.”
“I believe that the art of conducting is about being a bridge between creative and re-creative art,” he says. “The composer creates the music and the performers re-create the sound that the composer heard in his/her head. After gaining this understanding, the conductor then does his/her best to bring that music to life in collaboration with 100 other people: the orchestra members.
“An audience’s perception of the music, however, is unfortunately more often determined by the conductor’s podium manner than by the orchestra’s playing,” Richman continues. “Audiences tend to look to the maestro for clues about how to react to a particular passage because the conductor is the most visible representation of the music as it passes. This is a truly bizarre situation because the conductor is the only silent member of the musical collaboration. It is, therefore, the conductor’s obligation to not simply put on a choreographed show on the podium, but rather be a subtle guide for the music, leading with grace and strength but not stealing focus away from the music or the musicians who are actually creating the sounds.”
Richman’s observations paint conducting as a complicated task. The challenge grows when the conductor’s contribution serves a movie. While liberties in tempo and timing can go unnoticed in the concert hall, tiny discrepancies between music and action can destroy the impact of a film, he reveals.
For film and music to work together, precision is essential, Richman says. “Audiences become aware of things being wrong when music and film are out of sync. If they’re off by more than 1/12th of a second, it feels noticeably out of sync.”
Richman explains how music becomes an integral part of film, drawing on his experience as a conductor of movie music. Music, he explains, is absent until after a “rough cut” of the film is created. The “rough cut” is the first assemblage of the footage that was shot. It contains dialog, lighting, anything shot from the camera, and sound effects. Richman calls it “a full telling of the movie, but without the post-production aspects, such as corrections of sound or lighting.” Moreover, music is absent.
“The composer writes the music after the rough cut has been assembled,” Richman says. “The rough cut gives the composer a sense of how long the scenes are and how much music must be written.”
The composer takes several weeks to write the score. “At that point conductor and musicians come in,” Richman says. “It’s a tight time schedule.”
The arduous task of synchronizing music and film is the responsibility of the conductor of a movie score. The conductor depends on — Richman uses the word “gleans” — visual synchronization points, which have been digitally added to the rough cut. “Punches,” he says “are fast blips of light that indicate tempo. ‘Streamers’ are vertical lines that move across the screen, telling a conductor when a synchronization point is imminent. A ‘streamer’ normally moves from the left to the synchronization point on the right in two seconds.”
“As a conductor, I look at the punches and streamers while I’m conducting in order to ensure that music and film are synchronized,” Richman says. In addition, conductor and musicians also hear a “click track” through headphones. The “click track” monitors tempo by clicking as each frame of film goes by. The traditional rate is 24 frames per second. The click track functions as a metronome.
Segments of music normally last from five seconds to eight minutes, Richman says. Each segment is recorded separately. “You might spend an hour recording five minutes of music,” he says. “You can strive for absolute perfection or for something less. The sound of a helicopter might be drowning out the music anyway. As the conductor, I make these decisions in coordination with the composer, movie director, and recording engineer. The composer and director are the top decision makers in this context because the film is their baby.”
Born in 1954, Richman grew up in Los Angeles. His father is Peter Mark Richman, film, television, and stage actor. His mother, a stage actress, stayed home to raise a family of five children. “We’re an artsy family,” Richman says. “Everyone is involved in either music or acting.” Richman started piano, his first instrument, at age five. “That was a normal, expected thing to do in the family,” he says. “I knew at an early age that I wanted to be involved in music. I was already reading biographies of composers.”
“When I reached the end of books about Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and others,” he told Dahlan Robert Foah in an online interview, “I found out that they had passed away. So, being six, I thought that, in order to be a composer, one had to be dead! But when I reached the end of the book about Aaron Copland and found out that, at the time, he was still very much alive, I went to my father and told him that I wanted to write a letter to him.”
“Six weeks later, I received a postcard from Aaron Copland that has given me inspiration ever since. He wrote: ‘Dear Lucas, I received your letter and thought it was just fine. Good luck in your composing! Your friend, Aaron.’ [What he wrote] has remained with me as an important motivator for my own efforts in music and education.”
In seventh grade Richman started violin. “I joined an orchestra and developed a life-long fascination with orchestras.” At 14 he studied violin and conducting at a Boston University Institute program designed for high school students on the grounds of the Boston Symphony’s summer home in Tanglewood, Massachusetts.
In high school Richman was playing in youth orchestras, acting on stage, and serving as a rehearsal pianist for high school shows. “The choir director asked if I would take over the rehearsals,” he remembers. “I liked doing that.”
Richman earned a bachelor’s degree in violin performance from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a master’s degree in conducting from the University of Southern California.
“I still play piano,” Richman says, “from classical to musical theater and jazz.” He has played piano in public recently, as a chamber musician and as an accompanist for singers in pop shows. But he has not played violin publicly for several years.
Director of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra, Richman lives with his wife, Debbie, and his son, Max, in Bangor, Maine. Max, 17, produces electronic dance music (EDM) to be heard in clubs. Debbie runs what Richman calls “our music publishing company,” which publishes Richman’s music and facilitates its performance throughout the world.
Richman can be heard as both conductor and composer on “In Truth,” live recordings by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, released in September, 2015, on the Albany Label. The disc includes Richman’s 2006 concerto for oboe, “The Clearing”; his 2013 Three Pieces for Cello and Orchestra; and his 2013 concerto for piano and orchestra, “In Truth.”
Saturday Evening POPS!, Princeton Symphony Orchestra, Richardson Auditorium, Princeton University. Saturday, February 6, 8 p.m. $30 to $75. 609-497-0020 or utickets.princeton.edu.