Lucas Richman, Composer and Conductor
An interview after the World Premiere of his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra: In Truth
"My works have a deeper meaning than notes, notes, notes, notes, notes." — Maestro Lucas Richman
INTERVIEW BY DAHLAN ROBERT FOAH
I’ve known Lucas Richman for about twenty years, and his parents for a good bit longer. Lucas has always appeared to me to be an extraordinarily serious professional musician — conductor and composer. Recently he conducted the World Premiere of his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra: In Truth. I felt it was time to ask him about the underlying reasons for his works. DRF: What is your earliest memory of your love of music?
LR: [After a long, thoughtful pause]: “My mother singing lullabies to me.” There is also a recording, “It’s Nice to be Nice.” It is a whole album of songs about etiquette. We would sing the lullabies and the songs from this album all the time. “Good morning, good morning, My face is shining bright; Good morning, good morning My teeth are gleaming white.”
This is the music I heard at a young age. My mother didn’t have a trained voice, but she sang with love, and that is what I incorporated into much of the things that I have written, both music and my prose, about music for young people. The lullaby is the first music that a child will hear and it’s that connection between a mother and child which associates music with love.
DRF: It’s that association that you have, and the passing on of that to your son.
LR: I wrote “Day is Done” – children’s lullabies, which sold thousands of copies. I just listened to it again recently. It’s with members of the Pittsburgh Symphony and Debbie (Lucas’ wife and business partner) and me. (CD Available here.) So many lullabies are recorded with synthesized music. This is all acoustic. So it’s really beautiful. We put it together when Max [their son] was just a baby, one-year old. So it has a lot of meaning to us. And we’ve had a lot of anecdotal comments over the years. Orli Shaham just wrote to me and said, “We play your lullaby album every night.” And she sent me a picture that her son had drawn of one of the songs. How incredible is that?
DRF: What about acoustic vs. electronic music?
LR: There is nothing like acoustic, real instruments. Synthesizers are cold. They are computers. While you hear a melody or beat, it’s not at all the same as hearing a person playing an instrument live.
DRF: And the quality of the acoustic sound — I feel it goes into one’s soul differently than synthesized music.
DRF: You were influenced by many people. Who were the most influential.
LR: A personal story about Aaron Copland: when I was six years old, I was reading the biographies of composers. Unfortunately, when I reached the end of books about Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and others, I found out that they had passed away...so, being six, I thought that, in order to be a composer, one had to be dead! But when I reached the end of the book about Aaron Copland and found out that, at the time, he was still very much alive, I went to my father and said, “Daddy, Daddy — I want to write a letter to Aaron Copland!” Well, my father found Copland’s address but warned me that the composer was a very busy man and would probably not have tome to answer my letter. I was determined, however, and mailed off a letter with a six-year-old’s brazen expectation that, of course, this esteemed icon of American music would respond without a doubt.
Sure enough, six weeks later I received a postcard from Aaron Copland (see picture) that has given me inspiration ever since. He wrote: “Dear Lucas, I received your letter and thought it was just fine. Good luck in your composing! Your friend, Aaron.” Now, the fact that this man, at the top of his profession, took the time to write to a little kid from the San Fernando Valley has remained with me as an important motivator for my own efforts in music and education. There is a postscript to the story, which is that I think Mr. Copland actually couldn’t resist writing back to me because, being six, I copied directly out of the biography I had read. So for my introductory sentence to this esteemed and very distinguished man I had written the following: “Dear Aaron Copland, when you were born you were wrinkled, reddish in color and bald.” Ten years later, I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Copland and, fortunately, he had no recollection of the content of my letter. AARON COPLAND AND LUCAS RICHMAN (BELOW - TEN YEARS AFTER THE POSTCARD).
DRF: Who are some others?
LR: Mr. Robert Kursinski, they called him “Mr. K.” - my high school chorus teacher. I had two years of harmony with him when I was 14-16. I was also arranging and conducting. He would sometimes not be available for rehearsals, so he would call my mom and say, “Is Lucas available for rehearsals?” At a very early age I was suddenly standing up in front of an orchestra and chorus and . . . leading. Leading rehearsals. I was also rehearsal pianist and taking violin lessons and playing in the youth orchestra. My youth orchestra conductor was Mr. Thomas Osborn, who has unfortunately since passed. The last time I saw him he came to a concert I was doing with the Young Musicians Foundation in Malibu, and I told him that when I do these pieces, “I think of you, because you are the person who introduced this piece to me. I sat in the second violin section and played this piece while you conducted. So I always associate these works with you.” That speaks to the musical legacy, things that we pass on from one generation to the next. And the mentorship which is an inherent part and progression of music and the teaching of music, the passing on of music. From parent to child, from mentor to student. And when I became a teacher of music of middle school and high school . . . four of the most difficult years of my life, I realized I was to those kids what MR. K was to me. And it was profound and I realized that it was a very, very important thing that I was doing. It was very difficult. Teaching is something that I am very passionate about. Teaching in a grammar school setting is perhaps not my life’s work, but I applaud those who do it and can do it for a sustained amount of time. I managed for four years, but I had other things I wanted to do as well.
DRF: I think of you as being very influenced by Leonard Bernstein – not only in your conducting style, but also in composing and in your love of education.
LR: In everything that he did he was teaching. I’m reading the book you gave me [‘Dinner with Lenny’ by Jonathan Cott], and it’s fascinating that he loved to teach everything. He was a teacher. When he was composing, when he was playing the piano, when he was conducting, he was teaching. He always wanted to inform and enlighten. People respond to music on many different levels – on an intellectual level, an emotional level, a spiritual level. And sometimes it helps to know a little more in depth about the music to make the experience that much more rich. Because it’s very abstract to just hear sounds. Just sounds. And have them create an impression on us. Why does the sound of a larger orchestra impact us in a certain way that might be different from hearing a solo violin, or three instruments together, or a whole orchestra playing very quietly, as opposed to one horn playing loudly. And the pacing of that . . . when a composer has ideas and stitches them together — ideas with a certain pacing that tells a musical story, without words, it takes us on a journey through time. It’s such an amazing and odd, abstract art. Once its done, once you hear the notes, it’s done. It is at that point a memory.
DRF: And the vocabulary is not one that many people are acquainted with. Therefore their absorption of a live performance, if it is informed beforehand is different than if it is not. And yet you need a balance, you don’t want it to be all intellectual or all emotional. And there is no real way to quantify it. And it varies from performance to performance.
LR: Oh, absolutely. Why does hearing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony move you one time and not the next time? It could be the performers, or what you ate for dinner.
DRF: It seems to me somewhat obvious that your working with Bernstein, who seemed to have such a joy in teaching and sharing . . . [BIG SMILE FROM LUCAS AND SAYS, “YEA”] and that is exactly the way you are. So giving. And that is what is exciting about being around you.
LR: For me, interestingly I just want to create. And so much has to go into managing one’s life and doing the things you don’t want to do. And how much more could I do if I didn’t have to think about marketing the things I have already created?
DRF: It’s everyday life today. While 200 years ago, with the patronage system it was different. Yes, they had their problems, but it’s such a shame that we can’t do what we should be doing. What are you priorities once you leave the KSO? Where do you see your weighted system, what takes precedence?
LR: I look forward to having the opportunity to explore more of the creative side. I need to have a good balance between creation and re-creation. And conducting is re-creation. You are re-creating something that somebody else put down on paper. And the teaching aspect, the learning, the exploring, what did other people do . . .that is part of the re-creation and assuring the continuation of the legacy that precedes me and my colleagues. At the same time, I have things to say in, I hope, a unique manner, to perhaps shed a little more light on things that are part of the human existence and the things that I want to create I need time to be able to create those things and let them gestate. It’s hard to do all this at the same time. To be music director of two orchestras, and write a piano concerto . . . and have a friend in Dahlan . . . oh my God! [laughs]
DRF: You are a perfectionist and want to do things well.
LR: It’s so rare to have truly sublime moments in performance because being, ok, maybe a perfectionist and being a leader, you are always making choices. You have a goal, what is the standard, what is acceptable, what is my personal level of integrity, how much do I push, what and how much can I expect of other people. And in the moment making decisions when someone has misunderstood something that I’ve done, or another musician, or there is a discord or something out of line – it’s making the adjustment, it’s making choices all the time, weighing the value of one thing against the value of something else.
DRF: And the time involved.
LR: Exactly. So it is rare to actually have those moments in performance where everything is perfect . . . and in that moment you feel everything ……. whooooosh over you. And it might only be for three seconds. But those moments are those moments that sustain us and they are the stunning moments in our lives when you can feel, as you are coming to the final crescendo in Mahler’s Second Symphony, and you feel the orchestra generating incredible heights of passion and the chorus is singing, the soloists are singing, and the audience, you can feel behind you, are on the edge of their seats. Those are incredible moments.
DRF: There are those moments within each concert that are gratifying enough to you, to the musicians, and of course to the audience. Your enthusiasm when you conduct, when you lead, seems to be something which makes the musicians and the audience aware of what’s there, besides the music itself.
LR: Yes, that’s the teaching aspect. And that’s being aware of myself as a performer, in trying to guide. Not that it’s choreographed. But I certainly have those moments when I know, “Oh my gosh, I’ve lost focus.” It’s human nature. It’s hard to always be hyper-focused and involved, but in putting that energy in all the time, it’s very tiring. It’s taken me a week to recover from working on the piano concerto and the performance.
DRF: What’s the difference for you between conducting, say, the Mahler #2 and your own Piano Concerto?
LR: It’s a very different mindset. And interestingly, I think that Bernstein was the same way. I think that he may not have conducted his pieces maybe as well as he conducted other peoples’ music. You have to put on a different hat. You have to be the conductor. I look forward to doing my music more and more, additional performances so I can live with the piece. When you are involved in a premiere there is so much going into it, and writing and finishing any corrections to the parts at the last minute that there is not as much time to prepare the score as a conductor. I realized after the performance that I could have conducted a certain part much better. Maybe a specific [conducting] pattern made things slow, but I didn’t have time to work it out.
DRF: Speak to me about the Piano Concerto and where it came from and what keeps drawing you to this particular material and how it has evolved.
LR: [Lucas gets quiet] There are things that we encounter in our lives as adults, which we are forced to question, on a regular basis. “Am I crazy” or “is what I believe to be true really not true?” Is it possible that that person over there truly believes what they are espousing, or are they saying what they are saying for personal gain and not caring about the ramifications of their choices. And also not taking responsibility or any culpability for the aftermath of choices that they make. Sometimes people make choices and make statements and do things in a non-malicious manner. And it’s simply because of lack of education. But we all know people who decide to do things and “beat the system,” get away with stuff. Well, if you are getting away with stuff – can you live with yourself? Because you know that you did something ‘not quite honest’. So the perception that we have as individuals of what is acceptable behavior to one another all came out in this piece, “In Truth”. And I think that to begin with we have to be true to ourselves and discover what kind of person we think we are and/or want to be. And take a look in the mirror, a real hard look, and say . . . . for instance people who aspire to have a career in a certain professional. If you are not talented in that profession. Look in the mirror. You are probably talented in something else. But find it. Discover it. Don’t keep on hitting your head against a brick wall and say, “I’m going to be the biggest actor, rock star.” If you can’t do it, you can’t do it. And be honest. Be honest with yourself. You not only hurt yourself, you hurt everyone around you because you are not being true to yourself and your inner. And that’s why I wove in, as the second theme for the first movement, “Strengthen the Bond between your inner feeling and the One who watches over you.” It’s being honest and allowing yourself to be guided. Properly. That’s what the whole first movement is. [In the first movement,] "To One’s Self" in there], I also have musical ideas which, in Latin, Veritas vos Liberatis – Truth will set you free. That rhythm is throughout that movement. And the word, “Emet” – Truth – assigning pitches – E, F, E, F, along with the English – Truth – assigning pitches – FDGFA and combining those two phrases came up with a melody that is put through many permutations in this movement and in the other two movements. Forward, backwards, upside down. And so you hear many different versions of the truth. The second movement, “To One’s World,” therefore, after having taken a good hard look at ones’ self we take a look at the world. And it’s chaos, it’s fast-paced, it’s dissonant, and there are things in it we can try to fit in it, sometimes we ride along with it, and sometimes we just can’t make sense of it. Sometimes we just go . . . .BLAAAHHHH! And there is no answer. And ultimately, very often, as much as you try, as one tries to teach and coax an understanding out of other people, it’s not unsolicited advice, and teaching as posturing is largely unsuccessful, which is what takes us to the last movement, “To One’s Spirit.” If we lead by example, people will follow. And if we are true to ourselves, people will follow. And it’s a matter of tapping into that universal higher power to find what is the truth. And that vibration, if it’s magnified and broadcast loudly enough, can’t help but make it’s way into peoples’ hearts and souls in a way that they never knew was there. To touch people not through their mind, but through the same avenue by which we receive our understanding. To touch them through their core as well.
DRF: It’s fascinating how when there is clarity within ones’ self there is a cleanliness to it. Which then makes the dissemination of it to others easy. It’s not done by volition. It happens on it’s own accord.
LR: Yes. And what is the movement from the Cantata to the Piano Concerto?
LR: The Cantata (The Seven Circles of Life: A Subud Cantata) was written for an audience, a congregation, if you will, that already understood. And it’s interesting that when we did it in Spokane there were a few members of the Spokane Choir who opted not to sing. Once they began to understand that this piece was talking about an individual connection to the Higher Power that didn’t need to go through another intermediary, that was objectionable to some people. And they promptly left.
DRF: But the flip side is that many people were opened [in Subud] after the concert, from the community.
LR: Yes, and that’s what I’m talking about. They felt something. They felt the vibration. They felt something in a way they never felt it before. And it was so interesting to hear, anecdotally, after the premiere of my Piano Concerto, not even having read the program notes, that they were so moved on a spiritual level that they felt like they were floating. There is something about that and I like the fact that the melody, “Strengthen the Bond” really did come from the Indonesian chants that Lorenzo Music had given me — a whole box of tapes of this woman singing the entire Susila Budhi Dharma text, chanting. Hours. [Lucas sings the melody]. And I notated in preparation for writing the Cantata. That’s what you have, she sang a different melody for different passages. I notated what she sang, and she must have sung it twenty times as she was going through the text. The fact that that melody came from that original chanting, it’s already infused with something very powerful.
DRF: Thank you, Lucas. I am very touched, honored and happy to have your friendship. Click here for more about In Truth and Program Notes.
Lucas’ “Day is Done” CD is available here.
Lucas’ “The Seven Circles of Life: A Subud Cantata” CD is available here.
Click here to download bios of Lucas and Dahlan
Click here to downlad musical origins of "Strengthen the Bond."