From the moment GRAMMY-winning Lucas Richman stepped into BMI’s Earle Hagen Film Scoring Workshop as a student in 1987, BMI’s Doreen Ringer-Ross knew he was destined for greatness, and she was right. What she didn’t know was that she would have the opportunity to work with him for 22 years to create BMI’s Conducting Workshop, which some of Hollywood’s hottest composers have participated in. Yet the stories Richman weaves into his own work as a composer are also truly compelling. From notes that reflect both the times and timelessness, Richman’s own music has been performed by more than 200 hundred orchestras across the U.S. Now, his newest work, Symphony: This Will Be Our Reply, will make its West Coast Premiere on August 17 at The Walt Disney Concert Hall, promising to once again share with audiences Richman’s innate sense of timing, delivery and complete immersion into musical storytelling.
BMI had the distinct honor to interview Richman, before his music commands yet another stage, to talk about his work as a composer, conductor, music director and teacher. Here, in his own words, is his story:
You’ve been Music Director for the Bangor Symphony Orchestra since 2010 and completed a 12-year tenure as Music Director for the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra from 2003-2015. Tell us about those positions and what was involved.
While I’ve conducted orchestras in just about every musical genre over the course of forty years, from the concert hall and ballet to film, TV and the theatre, being Music Director of an orchestra tests not only one’s musical abilities but also one’s leadership skills. A Music Director leads the organization from the podium as well as from behind the scenes, working on artistic planning, fundraising, community relations and personnel issues among many other things. I’m proud of the many achievements both organizations attained during my tenures, including the expansion of our music education programs and the creation of nationally-awarded programs in Music and Wellness.
Does serving as a Music Director and conducting, in general, affect your own composition process?
Having the opportunity to conduct orchestras has definitely impacted my composition process because I understand intimately the inner workings of this very complicated organism. As I write, I’m constantly keeping in mind the personalities of the musicians and the instruments they play; I think about the subtlety of balances, articulations and coloration, as well as the sense memory that orchestra members utilize when they recognize in my music certain stylistic influences with which they are already familiar. Composing music that encourages the investment of the players is a big part of properly conveying my creative intentions.
Your music has been performed by more than 200 orchestras, what projects are you most proud of and why?
Of the larger-scale works, I am honored to have had my “Concerto for Piano and Orchestra: In Truth” performed by several orchestras across the United States, as well as recording it with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. The piece seems to speak to people in many different ways, as we all go through life evaluating the things we believe to be true about ourselves and others. On a smaller scale, I have found it to be most profoundly moving to hear audiences sing my songs with an orchestra, ranging from the young audiences chiming in on “Music Can Make Your Life Complete” to audiences of breast cancer patients, survivors and co-survivors singing the song of healing and empowerment, “We Share a Bond.”
As a renowned conductor in your own right, what does it feel like to hear someone else conduct your music?
For a good portion of my formative years as a composer, I was involved as a performer in the world premieres of each of my own concert works. However, as I started being commissioned to write for ensembles for which I was not the conductor, the performances were suddenly out of my hands. At first, this was truly terrifying, but I have come to enjoy these performances immensely because I always learn something new about my music that I didn’t even realize may have been there. While other conductors and instrumental ensembles may interpret my music differently from my original conception, their trust and investment in the composition validates the work in nuanced manners simply unattainable when the composer is on the podium.
Tell us a bit about your newest work, Symphony: This Will Be Our Reply, which will make its West Coast Premiere on August 17 at The Walt Disney Concert Hall. What was your inspiration and what would you like the takeaway for audiences to be?
In celebration of the Leonard Bernstein Centenary, I received special permission from the Leonard Bernstein Office to create a new work for chorus and orchestra inspired by the speech Maestro Bernstein delivered to the United Jewish Fund two days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Known as “An Artist’s Response to Violence,” the speech addresses the manner in which musicians might best use their abilities in the aftermath of tragedy:
“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely,
more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”
- Leonard Bernstein
The three movements of my “Symphony: This Will Be Our Reply” expand upon these three directives, exploring the contrasts of great beauty and horrific violence that pervade our modern era. I wrote the final choral anthem, “Tikkun Olam (Heal the World)” in the hopes that it might inspire a coming-together of communities, despite the extreme divisions in our political and ideological differences, in order to work towards the betterment of the human experience.
2019 marks your 22nd year leading BMI’s conducting workshop. How have your students and/or your process changed over the years?
The rudiments of conducting are still the rudiments of conducting so, on the level of teaching technique, not much has really changed beyond my own better understanding as to how I might convey the principles of silently communicating the language and drama of a composition in a collaborative atmosphere. Every year, the classes have come together and forged their own group personalities; while there are structural parameters of the class that dictate the progression of the course, much of what I do in my teaching is intuitive and in the moment, with evolving instruction based on the individual needs of each student.
What are the most important skills a conductor must have?
In a way, I consider the vocation of conducting as being one of the best examples of leadership. Doing my job well on the podium is contingent on maintaining a balance between leading and following. The conductor provides direction that initiates the production of sound (tempo, dynamics, articulation, phrasing) and then he/she 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. A healthy collaboration engenders trust—while the conductor hopes that the musicians will trust his/her judgment, the musicians also hope that the conductor will trust them to do what they do well.
What are the most important skills a composer must have?
I consider composers to be musical storytellers. We convey emotions and evoke visceral responses through our assemblage of pitches, rhythms, timbres, dynamics, articulations and tempi. In each composition, I endeavor to weave the elements of these various parameters into a fabric of dramatic intent that leaves the listener changed after having experienced the music. While it is helpful to know and embrace the wealth of compositional techniques developed over the ages, “technique” in and of itself does not create a lasting impression—it is the utilization of those techniques that tell stories which affect the listener.
Past participants of the conducting workshop have included Nathan Barr (True Blood, The Americans), Jeff Beal (House of Cards, Blackfish), Laura Karpman (Underground, The Living Edens), Rolfe Kent (Sideways, Up in the Air), Christopher Lennertz (Ride Along, Supernatural), Cliff Martinez (Traffic, Contagion), Lolita Ritmanis (Batman Beyond, Teen Titans), and Fil Eisler (Empire). What’s it like knowing that you’ve mentored some of the most sought-after composers in Hollywood?
It has been such a delight for me to work with each and every one of the composers over the past twenty-one years of the BMI Conducting Workshop. I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to meet and work with such amazing talents! However, I always begin each class by thanking the composers for taking a leap of faith which finds them invariably pulling themselves out of their comfort zone; I liken it to the awkwardness we feel the first time we show up at yoga or an aerobics class. In a way, this allows the participants to check their ego at the door, despite their varying degrees of compositional notoriety and varying amounts of previous podium experience. Subsequently, in the years after each workshop, it’s been a real treat to watch previous workshop participants take their new conducting skills and employ them in the recording studios and in live concert situations.
You’ve also led orchestras for so many legendary composers, among them John Williams, who asked you to conduct the three-month summer tour of Star Wars in Concert. What is it like to conduct someone else’s work compared to your own?
I love interacting with living composers towards performances of their works. In addition to John Williams so graciously endorsing me for Star Wars, I’ve also had the thrill of consulting with him on performances I led of “The Reivers” in Knoxville and his “Essay for Strings” with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Hollywood Chamber Orchestra. When I’m conducting other composers’ music, as opposed to my own compositions, I’m more easily able to focus on the needs at hand, rather than jostling back and forth between my podium duties and the doubts/fears one inevitably brings to one’s own compositions. Over the years, I’ve really enjoyed conducting the music of several BMI Conducting Workshop participants in concert, including works by Mark McKenzie, Danny Pelfrey, Joseph Vitarelli, David Schwartz, Anthony Marinelli, Carlos Rodriguez and Christopher Tin, to name just a few! And on October 6, 2019, I’ll be leading the Bangor Symphony Orchestra in the world premiere of a new commission by Kathryn Bostic (class of ’07)—this follows the world premiere I led of her “August Wilson Symphony” with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in January, 2017.
You’ve had a long history with BMI starting back in the 80s with another BMI sponsored workshop in which you were a participant. Tell us how it all started.
Back in 1987, I participated in the first year of the BMI Film Composition Workshop led by venerated film and TV composer, Earle Hagen. He gave so much to us as up-and-coming composers that, when he wrapped up his final workshop ten years later, I wanted to see what I could do to give back to BMI after having had that extraordinary experience. I met with Doreen Ringer-Ross and, together, we designed the first session of that which would become the BMI Conducting Workshop. With over 170 participants so far, I’m so pleased our efforts have opened so many eyes, ears and minds as to the wondrous world of conducting and composing for the full symphony orchestra.
What’s next for you?
I am about to head into my tenth anniversary season as Music Director for the Bangor Symphony Orchestra, so we have a lot of wonderful music planned throughout the year. I’ll be going back to the Oslo Philharmonic in November for my 4th round of Star Wars concerts, after a busy summer guest-conducting with the Cleveland Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra. On the composition front, March, 2020, will bring the world premiere of a new composition, “The Warming Sea,” commissioned by the Maine Science Festival as an examination of how global warming is affecting the eastern seaboard; Fall, 2020, will see the premiere of a new double concerto for Violin and Cello in Atlanta. Additionally, work continues on our music publishing company, LeDor Publishing (www.ledorgroup.com), as we promote and distribute works by the fifteen composers on our roster.