OC’s Music Man

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By Roger Bloom | NB Indy


When Richard Kaufman took to the podium at the Performing Arts Center last week to conduct a program of Broadway hits, he did so as something of a local treasure.

In taking up the baton that night, Kaufman officially began his 20th season as Principal Pops Conductor for the Pacific Symphony, a position that has seen him and the orchestra entertain hundreds of thousands with favorite melodies from not only Broadway, but also from film and the popular and classical music catalogues.

“I’ve loved every minute,” Kaufman said last week. “It’s a great orchestra. In the pops area, there is such a wide range of musical styles, and this orchestra is a musical chameleon.”

As is Kaufman himself, whose career has been nothing if not varied and colorful, and he has worked with some of the biggest names in film, TV and popular music.

Raised in Los Angeles, his Pony League baseball coach was Burt Lancaster – a precursor of things to ome. He took up violin at age 7, played in a couple of prestigious youth orchestras (one of which worked with Jack Benny), got his degree in music from CSU Northridge and landed his first conducting job at age 23 with the touring production of “Sweet Charity” starring Juliet Prowse.

In 1984, he became music coordinator for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and for 18 years supervised the music for all of MGM’s TV projects (he was nominated for two Emmys) as well as participating in many film projects.

In 1993, he won the Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance for a recording he conducted with the Nuremberg Symphony.

He as worked with performers from Ray Charles to Martin Short, the Beach Boys and Andy Williams. It was as Williams’ conductor, Kaufman recalls, that he first worked with the Pacific Symphony. And Kaufman, Williams and the symphony will be reunited next month for a series of Christmas concerts at the Performing Arts Center.

As a violinist, he performed on the scores of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Saturday Night Fever” and others. He has coached actors in musical roles, including working with Jack Nicholson and Susan Sarandon on a scene in “The Witches of Eastwick” that had Sarandon playing cello and Nicholson playing violin and piano.

As a guest conductor, he has performed with orchestras from Cleveland to Calgary to Malaysia, and next year will be conducting the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra.

Through it all, for the past 20 years, Kaufman has kept coming back to Orange County and the Pacific Symphony.

“I consider the Pacific Symphony to be my home,” Kaufman says, adding, “I think Orange County is an incredibly exciting place when it comes to the arts. Just look at the things going on at the Performing Arts Center, in both halls. And then you’ve got South Coast Repertory. It’s world-class.”

Asked what he wants to accomplish in the next 20 years, Kaufman says, “Well, odds are I’ll never play professional baseball, so I’m looking forward to more of the same. In music, there’s always new opportunities, new things.”

He noted he’s being invited to guest conduct by more orchestras and he thinks he’ll be doing more international work.

But the bottom line, he says, is “I feel blessed to be able to conduct any orchestra. Really, how many people get to do that?”


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