Legacy Conversations: A Talk with Conrad Pope

The talented composer, conductor and orchestrator talks about his working relationship with John Williams and his views on the Maestro’s legacy

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Composer, conductor and orchestrator Conrad Pope is certainly one of the most consummate and talented professionals working in the very demanding and competitive environment of Hollywood’s film music community. Classically trained in some of the finest music schools in the world, Conrad Pope is considered one of the finest orchestrators in the film business.

As film composers usually work under tight deadlines and enormous pressures coming from the studio and the filmmakers, they must be assisted by one or more orchestrators to speed up the process. Of course, methods and practices vary depending on the various composers’ working routine–it could be straight and clear as copying a condensed score sketch to a full score format (as is the case of John Williams), but it could also mean to take a piano sketch just with basic chords and turning it into a fully formed orchestral piece. As Conrad Pope himself tells, “orchestration is every job you say yes to”.

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Conrad Pope with the International Film Music Critics Award he won for his score of the documentary “Tim’s Vermeer” (2013) – Photo courtesy of IFMCA

After working as a copyist and transcriber at the music preparation house Jo Ann Kane Music Service, Conrad started to make his way up into the “Hollywood music food chain”, ending up working as an orchestrator in the team led by John Neufeld, who became John Williams’ lead orchestrator at the end of the 1980s after Herbert Spencer (Williams’ lead orchestrator since the late 1960s) retired.

Since then, Conrad Pope served as orchestrator to some of Hollywood’s biggest and most famous film composers such as Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Alan Silvestri, James Newton Howard, Danny Elfman, John Powell, Hans Zimmer, Mark Isham, Don Davis, Howard Shore and Alexandre Desplat (for the French composer, he also worked as Supervising Orchestrator and Co-Producer for the scores to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part I and Part II).

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Conrad Pope and Alexandre Desplat (Photo courtesy of ScoringSessions.com)

Conrad is also a fine composer and wrote many film scores, including the lovely Chinese-inspired soundtrack for Pavilion of Women (2001), the critically acclaimed film My Week with Marilyn (2011), featuring international classical pianist Lang Lang, and the exquisite chamber-like score for the award-winning documentary Tim’s Vermeer (2013), for which he won the International Film Music Critics Award.

Conrad was orchestrator for John Williams in the 1990s until the first decade of the 2000s, working on scores such as Jurassic Park, The Lost World, the Star Wars prequel trilogy, the three Williams-scored Harry Potter films, Memoirs of a Geisha, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn. Given this privileged position, he developed a unique insight into Williams’ approach to film scoring and also into his writing style and working methods. Conrad was also a witness of a generation of highly talented composers and musicians who were a community of people devoted to the art and craft of music-making applied to film, of which Williams is “the last of his kind”, as he said. These are some of the topics we discussed at length in this engaging and fun conversation I hope you will enjoy.

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A very special thanks to Conrad Pope for his kindness, patience and generosity. Visit his website for a complete resume of his work: http://conradpopemusic.com

Visit also the website of Hollywood Music Workshop, a special course held every year in Baden, Vienna (Austria) where Conrad teaches classes on orchestration in film music: https://www.hollywoodmusicworkshop.com/