Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

fishing in the 3rd stream

interview with richard todd, part 1

January 18, 2008

Many enthusiasts of LACO appreciate in a general way the outstanding caliber of musicians LACO has attracted. I suspect that few, however, actually know the background of such LACO stalwarts as Richard Todd, principal French horn. Todd, who has been with LACO since 1980, is internationally renowned as a classical concert and recording artist, truly one of the finest horn soloists playing today. Gold medal winner of the 1980 Concours Internationale Toulon, he is a Pro Musicis International Foundation Award winner, having performed under the batons of such luminaries as Bernstein, Giulini, Marriner, Abravanel, Ozawa, and Rilling. His rigorous schedule includes recitals and solo engagements with orchestras across North America and abroad, including the New Orleans, Santa Barbara, Lima, Northeast Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Akron, Long Beach, San Luis Obispo, Pasadena and Santa Rosa Symphonies, the Saarbrucken Radio Orchestra, and Saint John’s Smith Square London. Festival appearances include the Oregon Bach, Mostly Mozart, Tanglewood, Casals, La Jolla, Tucson, Chatauqua, Sedona, Sandpoint, Music Academy of the West, Grand Teton, Green Festival and San Luis Obispo Mozart Festivals. In 2002, he recorded an album entitled Horn Sonatas of Three Centuries, and in 2003, Craig Russell’s Rhapsody for Horn and Orchestra was commissioned by and recorded with the San Luis Obispo Symphony specifically for him. Todd will be performing the Rhapsody for Horn and Orchestra with the San Luis Obispo Symphony at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on Sunday, June 8, 2008!

In the film industry, Rick has been a recording artist on over 1,000 motion picture soundtracks, and on recording projects with performers as varied as Streisand, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Manhattan Transfer, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Natalie Cole and Dave Grusin. In addition, he is a widely sought after teacher and educator, having taught at USC, UCLA, the Henry Mancini Institute, the Waterloo Music Festival, Chautauqua Institute, Bowdoin Music Festival, Cal Arts and Occidental College.

It is his crossovers between the classical and jazz worlds, however, that prompt Rick’s appearance here in The Third Stream. He is continually expanding the boundaries of the world of the French horn. As a jazz artist, he has appeared in concerts and recordings with such artists as Clark Terry, Ray Brown, Woody Herman, Lalo Shifrin, and McCoy Tyner. He has recorded two CD’s with Andre Previn, one jazz: What Headphones, the other classical: French Chamber Music. He was personally selected by Gunther Schuller (who, as you recall, coined the term “Third Stream”) to record his Concerto No.1 on an album entitled Three Concertos with the Saarbrucken Radio Orchestra.

Among his solo albums, New Ideas, a crossover album of both classical and jazz, and Rickter Scale, his first pure jazz album, prompted Rick to step into the spotlight as a “star among jazz hornists.” His most recent jazz album is entitled With a Twist. (One can also order his currently available CDs at his website.) Rick is one of the only horn soloists to have performed at both Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl; his performances at both venues received standing ovations. In truth, Richard Todd breaks down many of the barriers in music, being equally at home in all areas.

We’ve been fortunate to be able to speak with Rick Todd recently about the relation between classical music and jazz from his unique perspective, poised as he is right on the cusp. The content of our interview follows:

Bob: I’m so appreciative of your willingness to spend time with us here in The Third Stream, Rick.

Rick: As you may recall, Bob, when I first learned about your blog, I said I hoped you had me in mind as someone to talk with!

Bob: ...and I think I reminded you that I reviewed With a Twist for www.52ndstreet.com when it was first released in 2002. (I gave it an excellent review, by the way!) There’s no way I would miss the opportunity to chat with you about this fascinating interface between jazz and classical music! But, let’s get under way. Can you share with us a bit about where your interest in music came from? Was your family musical?

Rick: Yes, I was born into a musical family. My mother is a pianist, and my father was a trumpet player. He died serving our country in the Marines before I was born. My childhood years were spent with a stepfather who was a music educator, so music was in the home a lot. I started on the piano when I was four, and began horn when I was eight. My younger sister also had an interest in music, and played violin and guitar. We had classical music in the home, but my sister and I much preferred Rock and Roll.

Bob: So, Rock and Roll was an early-on interest. Not surprising, given what was popular at that time. What about jazz? When do you remember hearing it, and what did you think of it?

Rick: I first heard jazz as a youngster, but I didn’t really relate to it until I got into high school. I suppose as a result of my early years on piano, and also due to the fact that I was still playing keyboards in a rock band in high school and college, I first really listened to piano players. Oscar Peterson was the first jazz keyboard hero I had, but this was already after I had become a disciple of Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, and also of Rick Wakeman of Yes.

Bob: Of course, we just lost Oscar Peterson recently. What a sadness! We’ve lost a lot of giants in the past few years, but I really felt this one. A giant, in more ways than one…

Rick: One of the true greats, for sure.

I also listened a lot to Count Basie. I was struck by how many notes Oscar could play, and also by how few notes Count Basie needed to play. They both spoke right to me with their music. Then I heard Art Tatum and the earth moved.

Bob: I think a lot of people have had the same reaction! In his biography of Oscar Peterson, The Will to Swing, Gene Lees quotes Oscar as telling André Previn that, when his father introduced him to Tatum playing “Tiger Rag,” he “gave up the piano for two solid months; and [he] had crying fits at night.”

Rick: Yeah, I remember hearing about that. I guess there are two reactions to hearing that kind of genius. Like fire, if it doesn’t destroy you, it just makes you stronger…

Bob: And it certainly ended up making Oscar stronger!

Rick: That it did!

I also became aware of Thelonious Monk, and I realized how seemingly infinite the jazz language was. I was also listening to Frank Sinatra, from whom I probably learned more about phrasing and timing than perhaps anyone else. They, along with many of the artists that were affiliated with Norman Granz, the legendary Jazz at the Philharmonic concert and record producer, were my early influences for jazz.

The interview with Richard Todd will continue next week.

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