Today, we’re happy to spotlight the work of composer Dan Redfeld, whose current projects include his first classical CD, A Hopeful Place. The recording, with music composed by Dan Redfeld and text by John Gabriel Koladziej, was performed by The Hollywood Studio Symphony, conducted by the composer, and features soprano Kristi Holden, to whom the work is dedicated.
History & background
I grew up in a musical household. My mother had trained as a classical pianist and continued to play during my early years while my father was a jazz pianist in San Diego. I was drawn to Ravel, Debussy, Beethoven and particularly the Russian school – Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev and Shostakovich.
My mother would play all of these composers (amongst others) and I found the Russian music mesmerizing. I began piano lessons at 5 and started composing at 6. By 10, I had a private teacher in counterpoint and harmony. The funny thing is, it all came so naturally that I never thought I’d become a musician. Instead, I made movies all through middle and high school – all the while playing and writing music. I was seriously competing as a concert pianist at that point but I found that I didn’t enjoy the pressure of having to prepare everything from memory. During high school, I began playing in the musicals and was drawn to jazz and the American songbook. It was in my junior year that I decided to pursue composition with the pursuit of working in film, theatre and the concert hall. I applied as a composer to all the major conservatories on the east coast and got in everywhere – except Curits! I had narrowed my choices to Eastman, Julliard and New England Conservatory when I received a packet from NEC about composer William Thomas McKinley. His background in jazz and love of the American songbook instantly steered me to NEC and the rest is history.
Tom was brilliant and I feel a lot of my sound or voice was found under his tutelage. After two and a half years, I transferred back to UCLA and received my degree in composition with an emphasis in orchestral conducting. Upon graduation, I was accepted into the ASCAP/Fred Karlin workshop and spent the last year of Irwin Kostal’s life studying orchestration and arranging with him. I feel lucky to have had the experience of getting a structured, classical background as well as working under film composers like Kostal, David Raksin and a few others which links me to the Silver Age of Hollywood. I’m fortunate to have had fantastic instruction with gave me a sound foundation which now allows me to work as a composer, conductor, pianist, arranger, orchestrator and vocal coach.
What do you do with your limited free time?
My wife and I love to travel and are enormous wine collectors. We’re very much into California wines but are slowly making the move into the old world vintners. Although that’s dangerous because the price skyrockets! We also love to cook and host an annual Christmas dinner for orphans (friends without anywhere to go). I’m also an avid toy collector, particularly Star Wars figures and vehicles. And we’re both voracious readers. I’m always looking for inspiration from literature.
If you could travel to any period based on the music, when would you go?
Probably the 1920’s because of the dawning of the Jazz Age. Hearing how Tin Pan Alley collides with contemporary classical music of the period is amazing. The photo taken of the various composers at the premier of Rhapsody in Blue captures this cross-pollinating of styles. To be around all those great musical minds, experience that inspiration and sense of competition to outdo one another and breathe those winds of change in the air must have been pretty magical.
My musical tastes and tastes are rather eclectic. In terms of the concert hall, I would say Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Britten, Walton, Bernstein, Copland, Ravel, Bartok and Puccini are composers whose music I regularly study and know intimately. In the theatre, Stephen Sondheim, Cole Porter, Alan Menken, Jerome Kern, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Flaherty are huge influences. I’ve conducted and music directed close to 40 musicals, so I’m constantly looking at older and new shows. In film music, John WIlliams, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, John Barry, Bruce Broughton and Miklós Rosza are my musical fathers, so to speak. As a pianist and pop music lover, I’d have to say Paul McCartney, Billy Joel and Joni Mitchell are my favorite songwriters whose material I love to plunk through regularly. I’m also heavily drawn to orchestrator and arrangers. Major influences on me include Conrad Salinger, Billy May, Billy Byers, Nelson Riddle, Jonathan Tunick, Larry Blank and a lot of the theatre guys whose work I’ve conducted.
As for contemporary concert composers, I’m repeatedly taken with John Corgliano, Andre Previn, Richard Danielpour, Kenneth Fuchs, Mark Carlson and a few others. I find their music challenging but always accessible, primarily because they write with a strong sense of musical structure. As my wife will tell you, I’m always listening to music. I adore pulling it apart and understanding the mechanism which makes good music work.
Best scored movie you’ve ever seen?
I have 6 which tie for first – North By Northwest, Ben Hur, Empire Strikes Back, Dances With Wolves, Braveheart and Poltergeist. Although Superman the Movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Cocoon, Psycho, Jaws, Time After Time and a few others are in the same area! This is hard to pick a favorite!!
What’s your composing method?
I work with pencil and paper at the piano. The piano is my most trusted friend in music and I find the whole process of sitting at the piano monastic and comforting. I’m really fast with a pencil. One of the things John Williams and Irv Kostal suggested to me when working on a film is don’t be slavish to the picture. You can look at it periodically throughout the day to make sure your sync points are lining up but walk away and try to think about musical line and creating something with an arc which can stand away from the picture. So I rely heavily on my timing sheets and am thinking about key structure, counterlines, etc. When working on concert music, there’s a lot of drafting of the structure on legal pads and in my sketch book. In almost every case, I create a fully orchestrated score. I don’t use an orchestrator and my sketches are as complete as a Williams sketch. If a piano score needs to be created, as in the case of A Hopeful Place (my song cycle), I created that off the full score and did it at the computer. I have had to orchestrated several West End and lives theatre shows under the gun, so I turn to the computer and Finale in those circumstances. But when it comes to composing or arranging, I prefer working on paper if time permits. For me, the voice leading and counterpoint rules start to dissipate at the computer because the process of note entry is so tactile and keyboard-oriented. When I work I at the piano, I only use it as a tool.
But I do have to say, the idea of working at a sequencer doesn’t thrill me as I hear everything in my head and the sample libraries have yet to reach the nimble or balletic response of an orchestra.
What do you do to get away from it all? What do you like doing outside of the studio?
Lots of PlayStation 4, long walks and yoga (when there’s time). And of course, I always fancy martini-time! We also hit about 45 to 50 movies a year in the theatre. A good film really transports me and allows me to escape.
What written work would you most like to compose music for?
I would love to adapt Les Liaison Dangereuses – particularly the Christopher Hampton version – for the stage. I did an adaptation of it in college and would love to go back to that and rework it. Hoping to also adapt a minor John Galsworthy novella, The Apple Tree, into a chamber opera. A beautiful work which explores class divisions in society. And, of course, there’s another massive, concept piece in the same mold as my song cycle, A Hopeful Place – but I can’t talk about it yet! That’s on the horizon.