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Classically Trained: 'Walking encyclopedia' pops conductor celebrates 20 years

October 28, 2010|By Bradley Zint

The series needed music from a bar jukebox. Kaufman was called up to write some. Today he laughs that from his creative mind — as a violinist from west Los Angeles — came such county western tunes as "My Love Gave You a Reason to Live; Your Love Gave Me a Reason to Die" and "I Love My Truck."

Kaufman even gave the stars some makeshift music lessons. Sometimes actors like Tom Hanks have to pretend to be musicians.

"Tom would come to my house every day for about three months to learn to look like a violinist for a movie called 'The Man with One Red Shoe,'" Kaufman said, adding that he also taught Jack Nicholson to look like a violinist and pianist for "The Witches of Eastwick."

His long tenure with the Costa Mesa-based Pacific Symphony started with a letter. After his work with the orchestra and pop singer Andy Williams, he wrote the symphony asking to be considered as the pops conductor. It worked.


"For any conductor to have the opportunity to work with a great orchestra, it's an amazing experience," he said. "To be able to work with this orchestra, with these musicians, is really extraordinary, both personally and professionally."

Kaufman said he loves the group's versatility.

"You give them classical music, film music, Broadway — whatever it is — they're just fantastic. They were then, and they always have been. And they get better and better, which is a tribute to Carl St. Clair. He's the visionary, the point of the arrow in all this. Carl has made this orchestra what it is."

St. Clair called his colleague and friend a "walking encyclopedia of popular music."

"As difficult as it is, Richard has crafted season after season of creative, exciting, brilliant pops concerts … there is no one I know who has a broader and deeper knowledge of pops repertoire and composers than Richard," St. Clair said. "Plus, he has the uncanny ability to bring it all together with imagination, flair, wit, humor and just plain fun."

Kaufman — who also works nationally and worldwide as a guest conductor for ensembles like the Chicago Symphony, London Symphony and even the Malaysian Philharmonic — said one of his most memorable moments these past 20 years brought him to a standstill.

On his birthday, no less.

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