Finale Spotlight on Symphonic Orchestrator Patrick Russ

Scott Yoho and Patrick Russ at the 2012 NAMM Show  – Photo Credit: Mark Frisbie

At the NAMM Show back in January I had the honor of interviewing some high-profile Finale users at the MakeMusic booth. Among my guests was Patrick Russ, who has orchestrated more than 170 films, including several as principal orchestrator for Elmer Bernstein and Maurice Jarre. He’s also done many other types of projects, including re-orchestrating and reconstructing scores from sketches and recordings, as he did for the Grammy-winning “Previn Conducts Korngold.”

One of the highlights of our interview was an example Patrick provided that nicely illustrates this work as well as the job of an orchestrator in general. Below is an excerpt of a sketch in Dimitri Tiomkin’s own hand, for The High and the Mighty (for which Tiomkin won an Academy Award for original score in 1954).

Remarkably, the original film score manuscript was lost. Using the above pencil sketch and recordings, Patrick and his mentor Christopher Palmer re-orchestrated the score for a recording with the London Symphony Orchestra. Check out the first page of their completed Finale score to see how the sketch is transformed.

But no orchestrator would receive a pencil sketch from a composer today, right?

“It’s not as unusual as you might think,” according to Patrick. He indicated that this is a “real-life example of what I’m what I’m sometimes given in Hollywood. It’s a little like architecture, where the architect will draw a building, but a draftsman will make every room fit. Like the draftsman, ours is a bit of a clerical job, but it’s still very creative.”

We also discussed how Patrick came to work with some of Hollywood’s most celebrated composers. I knew from an earlier discussion that he began his long-time association with classical guitarist Christopher Parkening while a student at UC Santa Barbara, and that it was Christopher who introduced him to Elmer Bernstein.

“I started with Elmer Bernstein at a time when his son Peter was getting his own movies as a composer, and Elmer needed an orchestrator. He tried me on one cue in Ghostbusters and he liked it, and used me on most projects over the next twenty years. And through Elmer I met Maurice Jarre, who wrote the scores to Dr. Zhivago, Passage to India, and Lawrence of Arabia.

So I’ve had some really long and happy associations. At the same time, the industry changes. Back then I did everything all by myself. Now with the advent of digital editors, you find that there’s not enough time, so you split the movies with several other people. So it’s a lot more pressure. I remember on King Kong they would give us cues at midnight to be recorded at ten in the morning. The schedule is a lot tighter than it used to be.”

Scott: So different orchestrators are working on different cues simultaneously?
Patrick: Absolutely. In fact, it’s not unusual now to divide up big cues, especially if we’re going to be recording in just twelve hours, I’ll do the first four pages, the next guy will do the next four. It’s really time-intensive. But you’re usually with a team that thinks like you, so the listener can’t hear the difference: We slot into each other. 

Scott: That’s mind-boggling to me. Imagine writing a novel like that: you take the first chapter. And yet, thanks to the genius of the people involved, there’s some continuity there.

Patrick: I’m not sure we’re doing a good thing for our industry by succeeding in this process! We still meet the deadline no matter what they throw to us.

Patrick has also published several concert suites and anthologies, and he discussed Finale’s advantage in this area:

“First of all, you have almost infinite variables with Finale, which is great, because every publishing house will tweak a symphonic score in a different way, with different sized notes, and different lines per page. I first starting using Finale with orchestra with the William Walton estate and Oxford University Press, and this goes back to the 1980s, so Finale has been in use a long time in publishing houses.

Even now, when you look at Hal Leonard Corporation’s Signature Series for professional orchestras, you see that Finale is the standard. They have recently released the John Williams series with about thirty orchestral suites such as Star Wars and Schindler’s List. Those are all typeset in Finale. I’m helping with the symphonic series after that which features music by Dimitri Tiomkin and Elmer Bernstein, and again those are all done in Finale. So Finale is very much the tool of choice if you want to be involved in orchestral publishing.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed this excerpt of our NAMM interview, and I hope it conveys some of Patrick’s enthusiasm. It was great fun and I’d like to thank him for his generosity and good humor.

Please let us know what you think about our interview, Finale, or anything else on your mind by clicking on “Comment” below.

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