Cellist extraordinaire talks his distinguished career as a studio musician in Hollywood and his many collaborations with John Williams, including Angela’s Ashes, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Memoirs of a Geisha and Munich
Hosted by Maurizio Caschetto
If you’ve heard an exquisite solo cello while watching a big Hollywood movie of the last 25 years, it’s very likely that you were listening to the stunning musical talent of Stephen Erdody. He’s one of the most distinguished and talented cellist working in the studio world, but also a very fine classical musician who have spent many years playing with symphony orchestras and chamber groups. His impeccable playing impressed also Maestro John Williams, who appointed him as principal cello of all his recordings in Los Angeles since 1999 until today.
Stephen Erdody started his musical career as a young boy and soon picked up the cello as his instrument of choice. He studied at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York, where he met another young lad named Yo-Yo Ma, and got his Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees. While studying, he became principal cellist of the Juilliard Orchestra and was the recipient of several important accolades. After his studies, Steve started to work as chamber musician and founded the New York String Quartet, but after the group dismantled in the mid-1980s, he decided to pursue a career as a freelance musician in Los Angeles, where he soon started to work in film and tv sessions.
In the first years of working as a studio musician for film recordings, Steve performed in the cello section for many top film composers including Jerry Goldsmith, John Barry, Danny Elfman, Michael Kamen. His first session for John Williams was in 1986 for the film SpaceCamp, where he was part of the cello section led by the legendary Eleanor Aller Slatkin. He performed on almost all John Williams film scores recorded in Los Angeles since then, including such iconic films as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Born on the Fourth of July, Home Alone 1 and 2, Hook, JFK, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List. During those first years, Stephen was able to see and hear first-hand some of the great playing of legendary studio cellists who were still active. The world changed for him in 1999, when he was invited by music contractor Sandy DeCrescent to become John Williams’ first-chair cello of choice, starting with the film Angela’s Ashes. In this score, Erdody performed extended lyrical cello solos, often in duet with harpist JoAnn Turovsky and John Williams himself at the piano.
Angela’s Ashes got a nomination to the Academy Award for Best Original Score and became a favourite of Maestro Williams himself, who reworked it into an extended concert suite for narrator and orchestra, featuring extended solo playing for cello, harp and piano. The exposure given to Erdody by this magnificent score soon helped him to become one of the first-call studio musicians in town for many other film composers. However, it’s his ongoing work with John Williams that, in addition to be some of his own career highlight, helped him even more to become Hollywood’s principal cello of choice. In 2001, Williams gave him another lovely lyrical solo in the score for Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, but it was in 2005 that Erdody got two incredible “spotlight moments” for John Williams–a duet with his old friend Yo-Yo Ma in the score for Memoirs of a Geisha and a long, extended solo cello heard during the end credits of Steven Spielberg’s Munich.
Steve remembers both sessions as some of his own personal career highlights. “I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to play for the greatest living composer,” he said during our conversation. The solo in Munich was a particularly joyful moment for him, as his friend and colleague cellist Lynn Harrell attended the session and watched him performing upon John Williams’ invitation.
Erdody performed on such scores as Minority Report, Catch Me If You Can, War of the Worlds, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Adventures of Tintin, War Horse, The Book Thief, The BFG, The Post and the Star Wars sequel trilogy produced by Disney, which for him was sort of coming full circle, as he still remembers fondly the moment when, in 1977, he watched the original film and was blown away by Williams’ stirring score. Steve was 1st cello also for the recording sessions of the Sony Classical album American Journey (featuring a selection of Williams’ celebratory fanfares and overtures), the album Yo-Yo Ma Plays the Music of John Williams, the 2004 update of the NBC News music package and the 2017 compilation The Spielberg/Williams Collaboration Volume 3, where he performs a lovely lyrical cadenza on “With Malice Toward None” from Lincoln.
Besides his work for John Williams, Erdody enjoyed fruitful collaborations with many other film composers including Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard, Danny Elfman, Nick Glennie-Smith, and the late Basil Poledouris. You can hear some of Steve’s lovely solos on such scores as I Am Legend (James Newton Howard, 2009), The Pacific (Hans Zimmer, Geoff Zanelli & Blake Neely, 2010), August Rush (Mark Mancina, 2009). More recently, he performed a few solos on the scores for the hit streaming show The Mandalorian by Academy Award-winning composer Ludwig Goransson, and on the live-action remake of Disney’s The Lion King with Hans Zimmer (2019).
Parallel to his work as a studio musician, Erdody continued to perform as a classical player as well and has served as principal and solo cellist of the Pacific Symphony, Opera Pacific, American Ballet Theater, the Dance Theater of Harlem and the Joffrey Ballet. He also enjoyed playing chamber music and, from 1987 until 2002, he was the cellist of the highly acclaimed Angeles String Quartet, which won the 2002 Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance for their complete recordings of the 68 Haydn String Quartets, a 21-disc set on the Philips and Decca labels.
Steve also devotes time and energy to causes dear to his heart. In 2003, he founded Chamber Music Los Angeles, an organization that supports non-profit organizations that enrich children’s lives through the performing arts, particularly children who are terminally ill, at risk, or have little exposure to the arts.
In this conversation, Steve talks in-depth about his distinguished career as Hollywood’s preferred principal cello and his many collaborations with John Williams on such scores as Angela’s Ashes, Munich, Memoirs of a Geisha, War Horse and many others, offering his own deep thoughts and reflections about the uniqueness of Maestro Williams’ music and the role of the cello in his scores, telling many stories and anecdotes from decades of recording sessions with him.
Many thanks to Stephen Erdody for his time, generosity and kindness.
List of musical excerpts featured in the episodes (all music by John Williams except where noted)
. “My Mother Begging”, from Angela’s Ashes (1999)
. Franz Joseph Haydn, Quartet In C Major Hob.III65 (Op.64 No.1) – 2. Minuetto. Allegro ma non troppo
. “Stored Memories”, from A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
. “Joey’s New Friends”, from War Horse (2011)
. Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, III. Scherzo – Yo-Yo Ma, cello; Recording Arts Orchestra of Los Angeles, from the album Yo-Yo Ma Plays the Music of John Williams (2002)
. “End Credits”, from Munich (2005)
. Franz Joseph Haydn, Quartet In B Minor Hob.III68 (Op.64 No.2) – 2. Adagio ma non troppo
. Erich Wolfgang Korngold, excerpt from Deception (1946)
. “Inner City”, from Star Wars (1977)
. “Indy’s Very First Adventure”, from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
. “My Mother Begging”, “I Think of Theresa”, from Angela’s Ashes (1999)
. “As the Water…”, “Becoming a Geisha”, from Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)
. “What is Your Wish”, “The Specialist Visits”, from A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001)
. “Thoughts of Home”, from Munich (2005)
. “With Malice Toward None (alternate version) from Lincoln“, from the Sony Classical album The Spielberg-Williams Collaboration Vol.3 (2017)
. “Horse vs. Car” from War Horse (2011)
. “March of the Resistance” from Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
. “Red Rackham’s Curse and The Treasure” from The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
. “The Spark” from Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
. Elegy for Cello and Orchestra, Yo-Yo Ma, cello; Recording Arts Orchestra of Los Angeles, from the album Yo-Yo Ma Plays the Music of John Williams (2002)
. Theme from Schindler’s List (Reprise), from Schindler’s List (1993)
. “Lord, Why Do You Want the Wee Children?”, from Angela’s Ashes (1999)
. “The Force is With You” from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
. “Learning to Write” from The Book Thief (2013)
. “The Rise of Skywalker” from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
. “Thoughts of Home”, from Munich (2005)