How The Handel & Haydn Society Is Recreating The Music Of 'Amadeus' Live

Richard Kaufman

Richard Kaufman has conducted hundreds of films with live orchestras: "Psycho," "Jaws" (and almost all of the John Williams’ scores for that matter), classics like “Casablanca” and “The Wizard of Oz,” “Singin’ in the Rain” ("basically a Broadway musical," he says, “but some of the greatest film music ever made”).

"It’s absolutely gorgeous, for one,” he says. “I’ve done it a number of times — Philadelphia, the LA Chamber Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony. I’m doing it five times with the New York Philharmonic in April. The audience will hear one of the great scores ever."

The 1984 film, directed by Miloš Forman, won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The score, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard classical charts, won a Grammy Award. Sir Neville Marriner conducted the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields in the original soundtrack, which also featured numerous soloists.

The brinkmanship that goes with conducting a live orchestra, synced up with a film that obviously doesn’t stop or pause once it gets started, is a wonder to watch — even without the action or the music. Kaufman, who supervised the music at MGM for 18 years, has multiple Emmys and a Grammy for his work, has not only conducted, but coached many actors through musical roles. He brings that unique experience to his first-ever appearance with Handel & Haydn.

“There are five elements that go into this performance,” he says. “The live orchestra — when the film was first done, Neville Marriner insisted that none of Mozart’s music could be changed — then you have the live chorus. And the soloists. And finally the dialogue and sound effects. When it all comes together with the visual elements ... it can be absolutely something.”

Mozart purists — Marriner’s insistence about the music aside — have long sniffed at the film, complaining that it basically portrays the revered genius as a junior high school bad lad, more interested in scatology and sex than in music.

“The story itself is non-factual,” Kaufman says, bluntly. “It’s the Hollywood version of Mozart’s personality. It shows a colorful Mozart, maybe not that factual, but it makes him interesting. And the acting is extraordinary. I think the only people with any real objection should be the distant relatives of Salieri" — Mozart’s jealous rival composer, who comes off badly portrayed in the film.
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