Composer  Henri  Lazarof

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Henri Lazarof was born in Sofia, Bulgaria April 2, 1932. His first music lessons were with the Jesuit Lycee Francais. By his teenage years he was already a concert pianist and was beginning to study musical composition. After World War II, he left Bulgaria with his family to emigrate to Palestine (1946), and studied composition with Paul Ben-Haim in Jerusalem (1949-1952). While in the Israeli Army, he organized concerts for the Israeli troops throughout Israel. He won the first musical scholarship awarded in Israel to attend the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, where he was a student of Goffredo Petrassi (1955–1957). He completed his studies with Arthur Berger and Harold Shapero on a fellowship at Brandeis University in 1959. That same year he became a naturalized U.S. citizen and relocated to Southern California where he became a teacher of French language and literature at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Early Career

In 1962, Lazarof joined the music faculty of UCLA, teaching composition and organizing contemporary music festivals, and remained at UCLA until his retirement (1987), excepting the 1970-71 term, when he was artist-in-residence in West Berlin and 1979, when he became artist-in-residence at Tanglewood Music Center in Boston. By 1982, Lazarof was devoting nearly full-time to musical composition. During his lifetime, Henri Lazarof had 126 musical works published with Associated Music Publishers (G. Schirmer, Inc.), Theodore Presser Company, and Bote and Bock et. al. Additionally, many of his compositions were recorded by multiple classical record labels. Fluent in nine languages, Mr. Lazarof died December 29, 2013.


A partial list of Lazarof works includes seven symphonies, three concertos for orchestra, three violin concertos, three cello concertos, two flute concertos, a viola concerto, a piano concerto, 11 string quartets, and innumerable pieces for orchestra, chamber orchestra, small ensembles, solo instruments, and mixed chorus. Numerous works were commissioned and recorded, and premiered by various orchestras throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States, including Carnegie Hall in New York; "First Symphony" with the Utah Symphony Orchestra; "Concerto No. 2 Icarus" with the Houston Symphony Orchestra; "Concerto for Oboe and Chamber Orchestra" with the New York Chamber Symphony; and “Flute Concerto” with James Galway and the Berlin Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Lazarof's passion for visual art was reflected in his music—such as his "String Quartet No. 8," a homage to Paul Klee, and "Tableaux (after Kandinsky)" premiered by Garrick Ohlson and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.


Lazarof's prizes included first place in the International Tchaikovsky Competition; First International Competition from Monaco for Concerto for Viola and Orchestra; and First International Prize City of Milan La Scala Award for his musical composition, "Structures Sonores." He also received grants from the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as two Grammy nominations in 1991 for Best Contemporary Composition and Best Classical Performance - Instrumental Soloist(s) with Orchestra.


==  Text of biography above is from the Brandeis University website  
==  Material below is from other sources 
==  Names which are links in this box and below refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  

In December 2007, Janice and Henri Lazarof gave the Los Angeles County Museum of Art 130 mostly Modernist works estimated to be worth more than $100 million. The collection includes 20 works by Picasso, watercolors and paintings by Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky and a considerable number of sculptures by Alberto Giacometti, Constantin Brâncuși, Henry Moore, Willem de Kooning, Joan Miró, Louise Nevelson, Archipenko and Arp.

In April of 1992, Henri Lazarof agreed to let me interview him on the telephone.  He was very good-natured throughout our conversation, and I am pleased to present it on this webpage . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:   You are both a composer and a teacher.  How did you divide your time between those two very taxing activities?

Henri Lazarof:   For almost thirty years I was at UCLA, the University of California at Los Angeles, in the department of music.  Prior to that I was in the French department, and following that I was supposed to divide my time between the Italian department and the Near Eastern department, but there was an official announcement.  A work of mine had won the first international prize and somehow I got my appointment to the music department.

BD:   What year was that?

Lazarof:   That was back in 1962.

BD:   Was your music task to teach composition, or theory, or history?

Lazarof:   Theory, composition, all the harmony and the counterpoint, instrumentation, and orchestration for undergraduate and graduate courses, analysis, and everything.  That’s the best part of my task.

BD:   Is that good thing to teach all phases of music?

Lazarof:   It’s actually good.  One learns in the process a great deal, if not necessarily about music, then at least about human nature, and it’s a tremendous pleasure in giving as well as in taking.  In the process of teaching you discover a great deal, and especially in courses like analysis.  I have taught many, many courses in analysis and in aesthetics, and throughout those years I have had twenty-eight Masters and PhDs.  It was quite a bit of work, but it gave me a tremendous amount of pleasure.  But the thing that was unpleasant really was the bureaucracy, and that’s why I decided to take early retirement, and call it quits.

BD:   You have quit the teaching, but not the composing?

Lazarof:   Of course.

BD:   You say that you learned a lot.  Was there anything, or were there many things among what you learned in your teaching that you could apply directly to your compositional process?

Lazarof:   This I wouldn’t know.  I don’t know what is applied directly, but in the process of teaching you discover a great deal from the literature.  You go over things, you try to explain things, and in the process of explanation you find out certain aspects that were hidden, and that clarifies more.  Also, in the exchange of ideas, one is exposed to a fresher way of thinking from younger people.  I don’t know if this has influenced my compositions directly, but it’s all a matter of discovery.

BD:   Are there any of these things which you have discovered, that you really think should have remained hidden?

Lazarof:   No, no!  Knowledge never hurts.  It’s just the other way round.  Ignorance or limited knowledge hurts.  I’m not talking about information, which is the worst.  [Laughs]  I’m talking about limited knowledge.  No, knowledge has never been detrimental to my existence and to my work.

BD:   When you were teaching composition students, were you pleased with what you saw coming off the page of these youngsters?

Lazarof:   Sometimes very much so, and sometimes to a certain a point.  But it was a means to improve both their work and my way of teaching, and my way of approaching and reviewing their work.  In the process of teaching, you have to fall back upon centuries of creativity in order to bring examples as to how things could be done.  That is what I have discovered in teaching composition, really more and more examples of masterpieces.  There’s no limit to that by going to the early days and through all the centuries.  Many of my students have gone into teaching, and some of them are professors in different universities, such as the Universities of Chicago, Maryland, California, Oregon, all over the country.
BD:   Does this give you a good feeling to know that you’ve scattered your seeds far and wide?

Lazarof:   It really does because I have kept in touch with them.  First it’s about helping them get promotions, or appointments, and later on it’s helping them get grants and recommendations left and right, and then becoming even a witness at their weddings, and being Godfather to their children!  [Laughs]  It never stops.

BD:   You get really involved with their lives.

Lazarof:   Well, you have to.

BD:   I assume it’s a joyful obligation.  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at left, the Nocturnal by Varèse was edited and completed from the composer
s notes and sketches by Chou Wen-chung.  Also, see my interview with Maurice Abravanel.]  

Lazarof:   Of course, very, very much so.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Let me ask one of my basic questions.  Is composition something that really can be taught, or are you just helping to steer them into learning themselves?

Lazarof:   Teaching composition is an exchange of experience.  Here you have a young generation, and the best you can do is transmit to them your personal experiences in learning, advancing, and creating, and sharing your approach to the masterpieces of the centuries.  That is really teaching.  Of course, there are some strict and theoretical things about harmony and counterpoint, and we used to teach instrumentation, and orchestration, and analysis, but the rest is transference of knowledge, and that is always relative.  Nothing is absolute.  Sometimes the chemistry is correct between teacher and student, and sometimes it does not necessarily work rightly.  But that’s why a student has to be very careful in selecting a teacher, especially at the graduate level.  It needs to be somebody where the channels of communication are open.  It’s tangible and intangible at the same time.  You’re talking of certain theoretical matters, and at the same time you’re talking about aesthetics.  How much can you talk about aesthetics?   You are just bringing your point of view.  Objectivity is very relative in those cases.

BD:   Have there been times when you would recommend to a student that they go to a different teacher?

Lazarof:   Oh, absolutely!  They always know that the door is open, and I never get hurt if they switch, even in the process of getting their PhD.  There is no problem with that, and vice versa.  A number of students have switched and come to me.

BD:   Without citing a specific example, have there been times when you’ve said to someone
or wanted to say to someonethat they should learn how to sell insurance, or take auto-mechanics rather than continue in music?

Lazarof:   No, I have not had the unfortunate experience of saying that, because before composition, graduates have to go through a lot of theoretical preparation, and they were told that I demand quite a bit.  But that’s my own background in training.

BD:   So, the weeding out process is done first?

Lazarof:   Yes, by me and by other teachers.  They get into the problems before they get to the graduate level.

BD:   You say that you study the masterpieces.  Is there also a place to study the second-line works and the third-line works?
Lazarof:   You always stumble upon many works, and you decide which is what you call the best and which is second best.  But you have to learn.

BD:   But it seems that in concert halls, we are inundated with repeat performances ad nauseum of the great masterworks, and we don’t explore enough different works.

Lazarof:   That’s true.  That’s very true.  That’s the work of our conductors and performers.  As a composer, we approach many, many different periods and different works.  This includes music that is not often heard in the concert halls.  That’s when you really learn, when you feel the labor of the composer, not just the ease for writing these pieces.

BD:   Is analysis something that goes on while you’re writing, or is that something which is purely post mortem?

Lazarof:    While I write, no.  There is no space left for analysis when the creative process is taking place.  The analysis is taking place much before that.   As to what transpires, then I don’t know.  But analysis is something that one does in the formative years, and the rest is on a different level.  Everyone is getting in touch with what the times have to offer.

BD:   Moving directly over to your own composition, when you’re sitting there at the desk with the pen in hand, are you always in controlling the pencil, or are there times when the pencil seems to be moving your hand across the page?

Lazarof:   In the past I used to try to control all aspects in composition as much as I could.  But with time, other things have changed, and sometimes there is the feeling that one does nothing but serve as a middle-ground between the pen and the arm.  There are a few moments like that which have occurred.  Sometimes music comes out in a much easier way, and sometimes you have to labor a point in order to reach that level of satisfaction.  It’s needed to feel that a work is completed.

BD:   How do you know when the work is completed?

Lazarof:   I don’t know what the measure is, but the work exhausts itself.  The work has not stopped, but it ends, so it’s very important to have that feeling before stopping.

BD:   After a performance, do you ever go back and tinker with it?

Lazarof:   No.  This is one thing I have never done.  I have never changed a note of my work before, during, or after a performance.  That’s why I actually insist with my publisher to have the works published before the performance, and most of my works have been published before the performance.  I have corrected a work, but I haven’t been disappointed.  I may be pleased, or relatively pleased with the work itself, but it does not mean that I’m going to change it, because it’s subtly inconsistent as to what has transpired.  The time of the performance has nothing to do with the times after the performance.  There is no physical contact with the work.  Things have disappeared, or have evaporated.  What transpires the moment the work is written is unique, and everything else is only an echo, a recollection of those moments.

BD:   Do you put it down on the page fully formed, or do you work with it on the page until it is ready?

Lazarof:   Most of the time, when I write I really finish the work orchestrally, or as chamber music.  Whatever it is, I never write a short score or just notes.  The work is written completely.

BD:   Is this to say then that the work has been fermenting in your brain for a long time before it comes out and gets ink put to it?

Lazarof:   For me, the most difficult part is the conception of a work.  It’s not the actual writing, it’s conceiving of the work in its totality
the structure, the engineering, the architecture, the organizationand when it’s more or less ready in my mind, then I proceed to putting it down on paper.  I suppose many other composers work the same way, but I don’t know.

BD:   It seems that each composer works somewhat individualistically, and they all arrive at these things from different directions.
Lazarof:   Sure, and that makes it more interesting.
BD:   Do you know exactly how it’s going to sound as you’re putting things down on the paper?

Lazarof:   I don’t know if I can say
exactly’, but with experience one gets more correct or precise knowledge of things.  We do work with imagination and with a good ear.
BD:   So, you’re never really surprised?
Lazarof:   Well, from when the work is written to the actual date of performance, there’s quite a lapse of time.  Things are never done the next day, or the next week.  It usually takes weeks and months for the copyist to prepare the works, especially of orchestral works, but even of chamber music.  So, by the time it goes to the publisher, it’s always a matter of months, if not a year or more between a finished point of the composition to the performance of the work.  In the meantime, other things have taken place, and I approach and listen to the work for the first time.  It’s kind of a distant relative, and it’s during the rehearsals that I really establish an actual contact.  I recently had a couple of premieres.  Last month [March of 1994] I had a premiere for a work given by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Sextet for String Trio, Clarinet, Horn and Piano, which was actually written in 1989.  I had problems with a couple of copies which delayed the production of the work, and because of that I lost the season, so that by the time it was prepared and everything was ready for a performance, there were at least four or five other works that took place.  I also had the premiere of my Second Symphony, which was given by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Gerard Schwarz, and that work was written in 1990 [photo of recording is shown at left].  Again, a number of other works have taken place, and I may have a relative recollection as to what the intention was, but the detailed information is non-existent.  I don’t take really written notes, or shorthand notes, or anything else.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   When you give the score to the performers, how much interpretation do you expect, or even demand, on their part?

Lazarof:   I do not expect anything.  It depends on how the music evolves, and the reaction of the players, and if they like the piece, which was the case with this marvelous performance.  They get very involved in the work, and with the work, and they began to bring in different aspects that I forgot to think about.  So, the demand on my part is non-existent.  It’s an exchange of musical ideas between the composer and the performers.  Sometimes it’s very, very happy, and I’ve been very fortunate.  Then, sometimes it’s not as happy.  Unless you have the best of performers, things become very nervous.

BD:   You say there’s an exchange between the composer and the performer.  Where does the audience fit into this?

Lazarof:   The audience is the receptacle of that exchange.  They just get the final information, and they get the results for this.  The audience is nothing but passive.  They have to be passive.  They do not participate in that.

BD:   You don’t find music a participatory sport at all?

Lazarof:   Oh no, not from the point of view of the audience.  They have nothing to do with the performance of the piece, either with the creation or with the performance.  Hopefully they like it, but I’m talking about the preparation and the projection of the work.  The audience has nothing to do with that.

BD:   Are you conscious of the audience at all when you’re writing it?

Lazarof:   Not really, because when you speak of an audience, which audience are we talking about?  The audience in New York?  The audience in Seattle?  The audience in Los Angeles, or in Paris, or in London, or in Kansas City?  They are different audiences.

BD:   Are they all different?

Lazarof:   Of course, they are very, very different.  It’s a matter of sophistication and exposure and receptiveness.  They’re very different.  I have found audiences are different in almost every major center.  In one place you find a lot of politeness, and in another one you have sophistication, and yet another one has a very critical approach to the point of being destructive.  You have an academic audience, and you have a less-sophisticated audience.  You have an audience that has no previous exposure to music of our time, or twentieth-century music, so there’s a tremendous amount of curiosity accompanied with open-mindedness, and sometimes it’s just the other way round.  So, the audiences are very, very different.

BD:   What kind of audience do you hope for?
Lazarof:   I hope for any kind of audience, really.  I’m open, and I hope they do participate in enjoying the music, because projecting music and giving the music is occupying time with organized sounds, and if they can’t react to my way of organizing sound, it’s fine.  They don’t have to understand it.  They may feel a little awkward when I’m asked to give the pre-concert lecture, or discussion, or talk with the audience.  I don’t really know what to talk about, because you can talk about the external aspects of the composition, but to talk about the work itself is really useless, and sometimes it’s not helpful because you are guiding them in a certain direction, which may or may not be correct.  In order to keep an open-mind, the less that is said about the work before the first hearing, the healthier it is.  It is best to let them listen with any kind of associations they wish to have or might have.  It’s impossible, really, to bring them to the level of the composer or the artist.  There’s no need for that.

BD:   You want everyone to discover as much as they can?

Lazarof:   Of course, and many times I have discovered different things in listening, or looking at the Beethoven String Quartets, for example.  On many an occasion, I have heard other things, and different things, but that’s the beauty of music.  It should not be uniform.  That’s why I was talking about these pre-concert lectures.  One can talk about trivia, one can talk about generalities connecting the piece with periods, with aesthetics, with entertainment perhaps, but nothing to do with the actual manner of composition.

BD:   In your music, is there a balance between an artistic achievement and that awful word ‘entertainment’?

Lazarof:   No, I have never been concerned about entertainment.  As to artistic achievement, it’s an achievement.  It’s a product that happens to be in the world of artistry.  If the audience can participate, if the chemical reaction works, it’s fine, and if it doesn’t, then it’s one of those unfortunate things.  Sometimes it has happened that it did not work, and rightly so.  Even the same work being performed two or three evenings in a row, like on a concert series of a symphony orchestra, one evening the audience will be very cool, and the next evening it will be extremely open and very passionate, and the third one will be neither here nor there, just in between.  It depends on what has happened to the audience that specific evening, or afternoon.  You can’t expect certain things.  You just hope for the best, and if the performance is good, then that’s it.  Hopefully the work will be recorded, and they’ll have a second and a third chance to listen to it.  But there’s a great deal of music being written, and fortunately a great deal of new music being performed, even with all the complaints.  [Laughs]  Today, the situation is so much better than in the past.  There’s a great deal of new music being performed.

BD:   Is there ever a chance that too much new music is being penned today?

Lazarof:   No, there’s never such a thing, and there is never a problem of having too much music.  It doesn’t hurt, really.

BD:   That’s a very optimistic outlook.

Lazarof:   Oh, absolutely, and that goes for everything that has to deal with the music of our times.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   Where is music going to these days?

Lazarof:   It depends on the composer, and how a composer looks at music, or a musical composition, and is organizing the personal preferences and the musical intellect.  We are all products of a certain culture, or mixed cultures, so music is going in many different directions.  It’s a very rich period.  I do not always care for all of it, but it doesn’t matter.  I don’t have to agree or disagree.  Actually, I don’t cancel anything.  I don’t approve of everything, but then I don’t disapprove of everything either!  It’s like saying a composer was avant-garde, and then in no time this avant-garde composer becomes arrière-garde.  For me the only thing that has been true is en garde!  You always have to keep the level, and produce the best you can.

BD:   When you were first starting out, there seemed to be one, or perhaps two, ways of going in composition.  Now it seems that almost anything is available and acceptable.  Is this a better situation to have so much variety?

Lazarof:   It is and it isn’t, because with availability of so many styles, there’s also a great deal of permissiveness going around, and sometimes there’s a tremendous lack of preparation.  Anybody can paint a picture, but everybody should not have the right to exhibit it at the so-called artistic level.  The same thing goes for music.  Encouragement is one thing, but permissiveness is something else.

BD:   If everyone or anyone can write a piece of music, who is it that determines whether it is artistic or trash?

Lazarof:   Somehow time becomes the best judge.  Sooner or later, the trash disappears, and during our time, all the trash has disappeared very fast because the orchestras, the chamber music ensembles, and even the soloists themselves have become much more sophisticated.  The training of the younger generation has changed quite a bit.  There’s a great deal of judgment, and cheap material has been eliminated, or it eliminates itself very fast.

BD:   There’s no chance we’ve missed something by tossing things out too fast?

Lazarof:   I can’t tell you.  I can’t generalize.  I can’t place myself as a judge as to what happens, and I’m not really very concerned with it.  I don’t have the time to be concerned with it, because to place yourself in a position of becoming a judge is a very destructive position, and I have better things to do.
BD:   Such as composing?

Lazarof:   Yes, composing, and trying to find the right notes in the right place at the right time.  That’s a full-time vocation.

BD:   Do you feel that you are part of a musical lineage?

Lazarof:   [Thinks a moment]  I suppose so.  We’re all part of tradition, and sometimes we continue the tradition.  When we work against it, or when we alter it, it’s always continuity that we seek.  It’s like being a lost composer.  There is a lineage and a tradition that’s being continued.  Some composers bring more innovation, and some other ones bring less innovation, but the most important thing is to listen to one’s personal voice as if that has direct connection with a style or aesthetic.  One should honestly listen to that small inner voice, and go accordingly.  That’s the most difficult thing to teach.

BD:   Is that the advice you have for young composers
to listen?

Lazarof:   Oh yes, assuming that they have a technical preparation, which is very important.  That doesn’t take just a year or two, it takes many years.  It’s not like other aspects, such as engineering or medicine or law, which takes a few years, and that’s it.  After ten years of studies in music, one hasn’t scratched the surface of so-called musical knowledge.

BD:   And yet we listen to compositions by those who are just going through the process.

Lazarof:   Why not?  This is part of growing up, and one should encourage them.

BD:   Is this process of growing up for the audience as well as the composer?

Lazarof:   Yes, because there is no better way than hearing one’s own work in a performance to see what not to do in the future.  It’s very important.

BD:   Quite a number of your pieces have been recorded.  Have you basically been pleased with the recordings that have been made, since they have considerably more universality than a single performance?

Lazarof:   I have been very, very fortunate, and very happy with all my recordings
with the LPs, and later with the compact discs.  I have been extremely fortunate with soloists, with chamber ensembles, and with orchestral recordings.  I consider myself very privileged that many of my colleagues have reacted positively by being willing, not only to perform my music, but also to record it.

BD:   You are the conductor on a number of them.  Are you the ideal interpreter of your music?

Lazarof:   No, not at all, absolutely not.  It so happens that’s how it came about.  Sometimes I’m invited by the orchestra to conduct my own piece.  Sometimes there is a recording which is on the horizon, and the performance comes because of the recording.  I have no big ego when it comes to conducting.  If it’s more efficient, then I’ll do the work.  I’m very willing, and I have the same training in conducting as in composition, so it’s not a problem for me.  I like to conduct my own works, and I have conducted music in general, not just my own works.

BD:   Do you approach music by others differently because you are primarily a composer?

Lazarof:   I don’t know.  I have to be careful, and that’s why I do very little of it now.  I just want to have a one-track mind!  [Laughs]  I have so much to do, and I like to concentrate on the composition.  Conducting takes a great deal of time.  Rehearsals interfere with what I’m doing at the moment.  When you conduct, you’re conducting a work of the past, and at the present time I
m always busy with something else.

BD:   I assume that you get many more offers for commissions than you can accept.  How do you decide which ones you’ll accept and which ones you’ll turn aside?

Lazarof:   I am not one of these composers that has been inundated by commissions.  I
m very fortunate that I’m constantly writing on commission.  However, I do not have an overflow of commissions, so I have no problems of this nature.


BD:   They come to you at the right speed?

Lazarof:   I believe they do.  Maybe I don’t expose myself to a situation where other ones may come, but so far I have not encountered such a problem.  I suppose it could be a problem for many composers.  I was told that I write fast, but I have the impression that I’m writing forever at the same work until it’s finished.  But then I look at the beginning date, and the finishing date, and it’s not so.  But the impression that I get is perhaps because of the intensity.

BD:   When you start out, are you aware of about how long it will take you to complete the compositional process?

Lazarof:   Absolutely not.  Sometimes I give myself six or eight months, maybe up to a year, and when I check the dates, I see that it has been done in two-and-a-half or three months.  I’m astonished, and silently and quietly pleased about it.  But then that opens another box of problems for the copyist!  Sometimes they have been slower than what I can do, and in the day of the computer, even that hasn’t been a solution yet.
BD:   Considering all of this, is composing fun?

Lazarof:   It’s more than fun.  I don’t take it as fun.  It’s the best I can do, and shows the best of me.  I don’t take myself seriously, but I do take my work quite seriously.  I give it my all, and at the end of the day one can really reach a total exhaustion through a complete exhilaration because the work has gone well.  But days and weeks go by, and it’s very exhausting.  You need to recharge.  You need to compensate for that, and it's not always possible.  I don’t like to work in an ivory tower.  I have so many other passions in life.  I enjoy good friends, and family, and one of the passions of myself and my wife has been the world of art.  We have been collecting paintings and sculptures for many years, and this is a very important aspect of our lives, which is perhaps connected with my own writing.  One of my large-scale works is called Tableaux for Piano and a Very Large Orchestra.  There are nine tableaux after Kandinsky.  Just to give another example, recently I finished my Second Cello Concerto, which was premiered last November.  It’s not a programmatic work, however there are certain quotations from the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud.  The text will be published with the score as the quotations are symbolic.
BD:   This is something the audience should be aware of?

Lazarof:   They should be informed, but it’s not the most important thing.  If they listen to the music even without that, they should have the same aural satisfaction.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:   As we speak, you’re about to have a sixtieth birthday.  What is perhaps the most surprising item in terms of music
either your own or in the general direction of musicthat you want to talk about?

Lazarof:   [Sighs]  You know, Bruce, I have discovered the less I talk the better it is [laughs], especially about the most important things!  I don’t know what the most important things are.  There are so many aspects in a life-time that are important.

BD:   Then let me change the question a little bit.  Are you now where you expected to be, or are you pleased with where you are in your career as you hit sixty?

Lazarof:   Yes.  I’m happy.  I’m an optimist by nature.  I have seen too many negative aspects in life
the Second World War in Europe, many periods of communism, and fascism before that, and immigration changing countries and continents.  So I have seen a lot of unhappy moments.  Maybe because of that I’m an optimist in life.  I am happy where I am, but it doesn’t mean that I sit on my laurels and write the same piece over and over and over again.  It’s always a matter of search, and that is why I like to change media quite often.  It’s very important for me not to write consecutively two works in the same mediatwo orchestral works, or two chamber music works, or two works for the piano, or for the violin, or for string quartet.  I never do that, or at least I try very hard not to do so.

BD:   That way you’re more refreshed when you come to each successive piece?

Lazarof:   Yes.  It’s just tuning oneself very differently.

BD:   [With a gentle nudge]  At least for a few of your recordings you can sit on your laurels, for they are on the Laurel label!  [Both laugh]

Lazarof:   Yes, it is a magnificent label.  It’s a small company here in Los Angeles, which is headed by a wonderful person who fortunately happens to be a musician and a composer.  We’ve done quite a bit of work in the field of motion picture and television, so he understands music from a compositional and professional point of view.

BD:   That’s Herschel Gilbert?

Lazarof:   Right.  He has a magnificent ear.  It’s a very, very small company, but he has been able to achieve such magnificent results, and all his products are superb.

Herschel Burke Gilbert (April 20, 1918 - June 8, 2003) was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, began violin lessons at age nine, in Shorewood, Wisconsin, where he was concertmaster of the award-winning high school orchestra and drum major for the band · He began his own dance band at age 15, performing at high schools and colleges throughout the state of Wisconsin

gilbert 1936: Gilbert entered Milwaukee State Teachers' College (later, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) where he studied orchestration and composition with Milton Rusch, and teaching and performing on all instrument of the orchestra with Hugo Anhalt - preparing himself for his later work as an orchestrator in Hollywood

1939-1941: two years Juilliard Institute of Musical Art (violin and viola)

1941-1943: two Years Juilliard Graduate school, with two consecutive yearly fellowships in conducting with Albert Stoessel · Herschel studied composition with Bernard Waganaar and Vitorio Gianinni, and played first viola in the Juilliard Graduate School Orchestra

1942: Viola scholarship at Berkshire Music Festival, Tanglewood, Massachusetts, performing under Serge Koussevitsky · Here also, Gilbert studied composition with Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, and Lukas Foss

1946: Studied advanced composition privately with Ernst Toch - who also taught at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA)

1943: Left Juilliard to accept positions as music arranger and violist with the Harry James Orchestra, traveling to Hollywood to work in films

1945: Obtained arranging and orchestration assignments from Columbia Pictures · Arranged and orchestrated for film composers Dimitri Tiomkin, Werner Heyman, and Heinz Roemheld

From 1947: Composer-conductor, arranger-orchestrator of over sixty feature motion pictures for Columbia Pictures, United Artists, and 20th Century Fox (independent producers), winning three Academy Award Nominations

1958-1964: Executive Music Director of Dick Powell's Four Star Television Company · Music composer and supervisor of 1500 television episodes (winning three Emmy nominations) Vice President, Four Star TV Music Publishing Company (BMI) and BNP Music (ASCAP)

1965-1966: Executive Music Director of the CBS Television Network · Composer, conductor and music supervisor of 300 CBS television episodes · Composer-conductor of Rawhide's two hour episode, Damon's Road, for which he received the Cowboy Hall of Fame Award in Oklahoma City, presented by John Wayne

1974: Founded Consortium Recordings, a non-profit company, to record, produce and distribute classical chamber music recordings · Also formed GSC Recordings, solely to record the chamber music of Paul Hindemith; and started Laurel Record, Gilbert's personal record label, to produce and release classical chamber music

==  Biography from the Laurel Record website  

BD:   I’ve been very pleased with what I’ve heard on his discs.

Lazarof:   Yes.  There are three complete CDs of my music [which can be seen below].  One is Music for Strings, another is works for chamber orchestra, and then the third one, which is more recent has more chamber works, but of a different nature.  There’s a work for solo cello, a piano trio, a winds trio, and it’s a marvelous recording with artists from different parts of the country.  [Later there would be a fourth CD containing Divertimento III for Solo Violin and Strings; Necompe - 8 Soundscapes for 8 Percussionists; and Duo Solitaire for Violin and Violoncello.]  There were also some LPs, and there have been two CDs on Delos which are very, very good.  They are excellent performances, and there are two more now in the planning schedule, and also another one on CRI.

BD:   You seem to be one of the few living composers who is getting a lot of music put out on records rather regularly.

Lazarof:   I suppose so.

BD:   Many composers have a few things here and there, and they come out in a little trickle, but yours seem to be much more of a steady stream.  [The recordings shown on this page are only a sampling of what is (or has been) available.  Several other large works and smaller works have been recorded, including the Flute Concerto played by James Galway.]

Lazarof:   Do you think so?  [Laughs]  Well, you’d be a better judge!

BD:   I appreciate your spending some time with me today.

Lazarof:   Thank  you very much.  It has been a pleasure.


© 1992 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was on the telephone on April 6, 1992.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1997 for his 65th birthday.  This transcription was made in 2022, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.