Category Archives: blog

What do Dinosaur Extinction & Music Have in Common?

I am so glad you asked.  I frankly think it is a fitting question for Bachiosaurus Studios.

Firstly, may I mention that the beautiful artwork to this Blog is from Kasia Severaid, artist extraordinaire.  The featured abstract image reminds me of a pterodactyl in flight (although I happen to know it is meant to represent something quite different!).  She has graciously allowed me to utilize some of her artwork as part of the design scheme for my website.

So, the other night, my wife and I decided our young son was ready to see the the movie, Jurassic World.  He loved it, of course, and since then he has been watching the YouTube video I made of a song I composed & performed, Chicxulub – Dinosaur Musings on the Meaning of Life OR Trouble at the K/T Boundary!  It is a family video game adventure THEME.  My son said it should get about a million likes, so what are you waiting for?!  Here’s the video link:

Alpine Adventure at the Magnificent Mondavi Center

On Mothers’ Day 2017, Concertmaster Richard Altenbach and the Auburn Symphony presented Richard Strauss‘s monumental An Alpine Symphony at the Mondavi Center, Davis CA, one of Northern California’s greatest concert halls.  I use the term “monumental” quite intentionally.  The term in the obvious sense well connotes the shear scale of technical difficulty as well as the gigantic instrumental forces required (125-piece orchestra including heckelphone, organ, wind-machine and a “Samuel’s Aerophon” – some kind of monstrous perpetual pre-circular breathing flute!)  The “-mental” in the adjective “monumental” could also apply to the fact that Strauss had originally entitled the opus “Der Antichrist “.  But that discussion is for another BlogSpot…

When young, Strauss had experienced an Alpine adventure similar to the one described in his An Alpine Symphony: he and a group of climbers lost their way heading up a mountain and were caught in a storm and soaked on the way down.

Solos for the Concertmaster are alternately gratifyingly beautiful and downright horrifying…

Richard in the News… Front Page!

Ok, any publicity is GOOD publicity, right?

So, that photo of me conducting a Hollywood Studio Orchestra in the recording of my movie cue In the Winners’ Circle is from 20th Century Fox’s Newman Scoring StageEndre Granat, Concertmaster; the inimitable Armin Steiner Engineer/Mixer (and one-time violin protégé of Jascha Heifetz!)

From the local Sacramento’s Fox40 Community Calendar:

Community Calendar

First violinist Richard Altenbach also is concertmaster for InConcert Sierra, in Grass Valley. He calls Strauss’ pinnacle work “cinematic… a herculean effort” that ranges from musically depicting “shards of light coming out into the valley at dawn” to the “disciplined chaos” of dissonant chords evoking the anxiety of being lost in the brush.

From the Grass Valley The Union Newspaper:

Alpine musical performance set with assist from performer with Grass Valley ties

Good Musical Advice from 2Oth-Century Fox Scoring Stage

Above an entrance to the c. 1920 Newman Scoring Stage at 20th-Century Fox is a simple declaration set in large gold letter bas-relief:

“IN TIME AND IN TUNE”

The statement is a reminder to all musicians; but it is studio musicians for whom it has special relevance, because their very livelihood depends on exemplifying this goal!

Surely it is a simple maxim worthy to inspire any musician. I use the remark often to my violin students, also adding an important additional suggestion, “In Time, In Tune & In Tone(stressing the importance of discipline of rhythm and tempo, impeccable intonation, and beauty/quality of sound).

Tip: How to Make Music Sound Good! …

Over my professional career as a composer and violinist, I have had the opportunity to play and record in spectacular rooms and halls.  You know that adage, “…but I sound great when I sing in the shower”?  Well, there is truth in it.  It’s called reverberation, or REVERB.

The best rooms simply have either by natural luck or design a fortunate, slightly echoey wash of sound that seems to envelop the performer/listener without distorting or blurring the distinct voice and quality of each instrument. I have listed below the best venues I have ever played in. Notice I have not included any cathedrals of churches in this list; this is because although the sound is beautiful-perhaps perfect for sacred intents, it is invariably excessively reverberant for many musical uses (e.g. a musician or conductor must choose slower tempos for fast-moving  passages). [BTW, the fastest, easiest way to make computer instrumental samples sound convincing is to slather on the REVERB!]

The best concert halls I have played in include, IN THIS PARTICULAR ORDER:

Carnegie Hall-NY (by far!), Orchestra Hall-Chicago, Ambassador Auditorium-Pasadena, Royce Hall-UCLA & Disney Hall-LA (honorable Mention goes to Mechanics Hall in Worcester, MA, Little Bridges Auditorium at Pomona College, CA and San Francisco Conservatory; see pix below:)

The greatest scoring stages I have played in include, IN THIS PARTICULAR ORDER:

Skywalker Studios-Lucas Ranch (by far!), 20th-Century Fox Newman Scoring Stage-LA, MGM/Sony Streisand Stage-Culver City, ToddAO (extinct)-LA, Paramount Studios (extinct)-Hollywood, and of course Bachiosaurus Studios!

Locally, in the sprawling metropoles of Nevada City and Grass Valley, CA, the best musical hall is the 7th-Day Adventist Church (see below:)

Richard, Concertmaster, shakes the hand of Conductor of InConcert Sierra, Ken Hardin: )

Speaking of InConcert Sierra, we are at this moment preparing to build a new, beautiful performance hall featuring the acoustic properties of the aforementioned church!

Other wonderful venues include St. Joseph’s Concert Hall (a bit on the “churchy” side of sound, but great for 1 to 3-part instrumental chamber music),  the Donald Besemer Concert Hall  housed in a private home as well as numerous other fine homes and estates, some of which boast wonderful natural acoustics:

(Richard-violin, Ken-piano)

Hooray for Hollywood … Music, That is!

Americans and people from all over the world, for that matter, have a lot to say about what comes out of Hollywood these days.  It is a bit of a love/hate relationship.  True, the quality of entertainment often leaves much to be desired, and the industry’s old standard aim  to “entertain, educate and edify” has been replaced with the simple goal to “titillate” … emphasis on- well you get the drift.

(Can you spot Richard amongst this cadre of musicians and sound engineers at 20th Century Fox’s Alfred Newman Scoring Stage?)

But with all the blemishes and less than stellar box office performances of recent Hollywood offerings, I think we have to admit that there have always been gems of cinematic genius to be found.

Movies really are the art form of the 20th-21st centuries; and I am not being merely glib when I use the term “artform“.  Ben Hur, Ordinary People, Being There … Alien! – Filmmakers have at times inspired literally great cinematic visual moments, compelling stories, exquisite artwork, creativity in imagination, style and form, fine acting; and for us musician types, the chance to effect and profoundly move a movie audience through the guiling seductive charms of Euterpe  – um, MUSIC … is sometimes more gratifying than composing an abstract piece for concert stage.  Is it the collaboration between the so many arts necessary to create a film?

(Capturing a moment from a talk about the power of music in film, Richard illustrates with RIAA {Recording Industry Association of America} momentos commemorating his involvement in 3 standout movies: Jurassic Park, Matrix & Lion King.)

Richard offers a very popular course (18 hours for the full version) entitled “A Century of Music in Film” which explores the history and the many facets of music production in film.  He is considering making the interactive course available for purchase online.  Hmmm, Kickstarter, here I come!

Trivia Question: Name the first ever classical composer to be commissioned to score a film – bonus points for identifying the year of creation … (Hint below:)

 

 

Harry Potter … LIVE! Defeating the “Red Light Syndrome”

Yes, you heard right.  Richard participated in a live concert presentation of John Williams fantastical score to the movie as it screened behind the orchestra!  We (100 musicians more or less) played on the state-of-the-art stage in Costa Mesa, CA’s new Segerstrom Hall, this time the dramatic and visual action serving as backdrop.

(author & concertmaster Mark Robertson on stage)

My young son Bren, already an astute musician,  mentioned something I found rather profound – the music was much more expressive, vibrant and more effective with the live musicians compared to the recorded score to the Harry Potter film.  Why?

Think about it.   A recorded underscore is massaged and sculpted and mixed to serve perfectly in the movie setting.  Many studio musicians play under a form of duress I call Red Light Syndrome – akin to being “under the microscope” for every blessed detail.  Some of our colleagues have even quivered under the fear of never being rehired should they make a mistake!!!  Now imagine a live ensemble playing their hearts out audaciously, flaws and all, as musicians have always done on stage for concert performance, driven only to convey the emotional impact of the music.  “Who cares if I make a mistake?  The real score is already in the can!”  (Thank you London, BTW…)

 

Richard Composes for Spike James & the Names’ new Rock Song, “An American Anthem”

Ok, OK, OK!  What business does a stodgy classical guy have doing string arrangements for a Rock & Roll song!   Well, it pays well, number one; number 2, Richard has vast experience recording for such greats as Aerosmith, Puff Daddy & Natasha Bedingfield.  He also composed the string arrangements for 3 of Natasha’s songs.

Spike James is a talented rocker band.  Look and listen to their new hit, An American Anthem.  Sample Snippet of Strings below …

Full song available here:  An American Anthem

 

 

Richard Performs with Johnny Mathis

An incredible experience to play back-up violin for Johnny Mathis at the Luther Burbank Performance Arts Center in Santa Rosa, CA!  He is a genuine gentleman in the truest sense… gentile, laid back, ultra-professional, kind, even humorously self-effacing.

Rehearsal moments:

I remember working with him and Johnny Mandel on an album 1990-ish.  His signature voice still has that mellow, mellifluous quality and introverted expressivity that gained him fame (think Chances Are ).   He is of that uncommon crooner talent shared with Harry Belafonte, Nat King Cole, Perry Como & Johnny Nash.

A funny side note:  My son Bren, 9, is fascinated with superheroes (especially Batman!), so I have introduced him to some old-time characters including Hercules.  I had always believed that Johnny Mathis had recorded the exuberant and beautifully-performed theme song for the Hercules cartoon and I was going to compliment Mr. Mathis at rehearsal.  Thank the stars I was stopped from mentioning it to Mr. Mathis as my Google Search revealed that the song was sung by Johnny Nash, a popular American reggae and pop singer.  Click to check out the Mighty Hercules theme…