An L.A. Film Conducting Intensive fellow conducts an orchestra featuring USC Thornton students on the Eastwood Stage of Warner Bros Studios.
Thornton students, cellist Allan Hon, violist Cameron Audras, and cellist Jared Blajian.
Thornton senior John Mietus.
A conducting fellow leads the orchestra in excerpts from John Williams’ 1982 score to “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.”
USC Thornton flutists Cecily Lan and Emma McCartney, in the foreground, and clarinetist Micah Wright behind, as instructor Conrad Pope directs from the back.
Thornton horn players Malik Taylor, Jason Chilson, Melia Badalian, and Weston McCall.
The Eastwood Stage of Warner Bros Studios. All photos courtesy of Angel Velez.
There’s a bit of a vicious cycle for composers who want to lead orchestras in their own works: You can’t successfully lead an orchestra without experience, and you can’t get experience without leading an orchestra. The need for time on the podium is particularly salient for film composers who work under the quick turnaround of the studio system, many of whom spend careers writing works they rarely, if ever, lead themselves.
Alumnus Angel Velez (MA ’14, Music Education) cited the main issue: “As a composer, you work so hard to find the right melody or the right harmony, orchestration, mock-ups, ensemble, and at the very last second of your creativity, you relinquish that to someone else.”
Enter the Los Angeles Film Conducting Intensive, an annual workshop created by Velez and David Newman (MM ’82, Violin) to help train media composers in the art of conducting. Over four days in January, a group of professional composers met in the Warner Bros Studios to focus on the craft.
Newman is an award-winning composer and conductor who has scored over 100 films in his 25-year career, and Velez is an experienced and busy conductor in the Hollywood studio system. They’re also committed USC alums, and when it came time to select an orchestra for the workshop, Thornton students and recent alumni stepped in to perform with exacting finesse.
In addition to Velez, the workshop featured veteran studio conductors Conrad Pope and William Ross as well as celebrated conductor Jorge Mester. USC Thornton musicians were the first to perform John Williams’ latest suite from music publisher Hal Leonard, Tribute to the Film Composer, and played under two guest concertmasters, Bruce Dukov, a legend in the studio world, and Nathan Cole, first associate concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Both workshop participants and USC students got practical experience while learning the ins and outs of the fast-paced world of studio recording.
Velez, who wrote the Family Guy Suite for Orchestra, cites a joke he heard during the recording sessions for Fox’s animated hit show. “On Family Guy, the joke always was, ‘let’s record first and rehearse later.’”
“We thoroughly enjoyed working with the students,” he added. “As an alumnus, I was especially delighted that we were able to provide them with a taste of what it is like to perform in a wonderful studio like the Eastwood Stage and share the experience of the demands of recording.”