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Conrad Pope: The Grand Musical Mind Behind "Tim's Vermeer"

Composer/Orchestrator Conrad Pope of the new documentary by Penn of "Penn & Teller", Tim's Vermeer
Composer/Orchestrator Conrad Pope of the new documentary by Penn of "Penn & Teller", Tim's Vermeer
Courtesy of Victor Pesavento

Composer, Orchestrator and Conductor. All three are very important responsibilities in composing for film. To write and perform great music, you definitely need all three and when you're assisting the giants of the film music industry, you definitely have to have your A-game when it comes all three. That's where the talents of the great Conrad Pope come into play.

For many of those who don't know who Conrad is, he is one of the most unsung and professional musicians working in Hollywood for over three decades. His invaluable contributions to each film which as graced his musical touches, have resulted in memorable scores by the likes of greats such as Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Alan Silvestri, Mark Isham, Alexandre Desplat, Randy Newman, John Debney amongst many others. One of the more professional gentlemen in the industry, Conrad is a brilliant composer in his own right writing unforgettable scores for "Pavillion Of Women", "The Rising Place", "The Presence" and most recently, his acclaimed work for "My Week With Marilyn".

After interviewing him years ago for his terrific horror score for the ghost story "The Presence" and "My Week With Marilyn", I was amazed of the great job and responsibilities he had as an orchestrator which really shifted my level of respect for the craft as a whole. Conrad is one of the best and more versitile composers I've met so far and he really is a class act without a doubt. For this special interview with him, he happily shares with us about his latest project the documentary, "Tim's Vermeer", shares his personal insight on the "The Hobbit" and working with Oscar Winner Howard Shore and looking back at his most favorite projects in his great career. So sit back and enjoy this musical genius' great insight.

Please tell the readers about what made you become interested in music and composing.

CP: My grandmother encouraged me from the time I was small. This led, as a natural course, to lessons on the piano, as well as other instruments. In high school I became seriously interested in orchestral music and began studying scores in earnest and writing for the various student ensembles, both instrumental and choral. What seems perhaps atavistic today is that I rigorously studied counterpoint, harmony, and solfege from a very young age. These studies were concurrent with my private lessons on instruments. I’d also like to give a shout out to my public library, which possessed all of the scores, books and albums which I could not afford. A library card is a magic carpet.

Let’s talk about your recent work on the film “Tim’s Vermeer”. What got you interested in this project?

CP: Jay Duerr, longtime friend and music editor, called and said he had been asked to advise Farley Ziegler, the producer of “Tim’s Vermeer,” about what to do about music, and he had suggested they give me a call. By coincidence, I had, a few years earlier, read David Hockney’s book, Secret Knowledge. In my conversation with Farley, I found that we had many interests in common in terms of how art was made in Vermeer’s time. It was kismet!

Let’s talk about the lovely theme you composed for the score. Was it easy for you to come up with it or did that take a little time?

CP: Themes always take me a great deal of time, as they must be memorable, hopefully singable, and suggestible of variation and extension. It took me about a week to craft something simple enough and direct enough to be usable.

When you spotted the film with “Teller” did he tell you exactly what he wanted the music to sound like or did he pretty much give you the leeway to write what you felt passionate about the film?

CP: Teller and I talked in broad strokes and I then set to work, offering the filmmakers many ideas. All of the ideas I felt passionately about, but the ones we went with were the ones the filmmakers felt passionately about.

How much music did you end up recording for the film?

CP: We recorded 63 minutes of music in about 10 hours at Air Lyndhurst in London.

What were the recording sessions like?

CP: Well, there only 3 sessions in one day, and they were intense. I was amazed at the focus of the players and grateful for the enthusiasm for the music they had to perform. It’s always a good sign when, on the “tens,” you hear the musicians whistling and humming the music they just played.

Let’s talk about the soundtrack album upcoming on Milan Records. How did you assemble it?

CP: It was quite simple — we made the album in the order that the music appears in the film, and it seemed to work quite naturally as a listening experience. Or so I hope!

Are you happy with the way the album ended up?

CP: Yes, very much so. Indeed, I’m happy that there was an album at all.

Let’s talk about your recent work with Oscar Winner Howard Shore on “The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug”. How did you get involved with the project?

CP: I was approached by Howard Shore, Warner Bros., and Peter Jackson all at the same time. They had wanted to make sure that Howard could concentrate his energies on writing the best possible music for “The Hobbit,” leaving such technical tasks as the orchestration and the performance to someone such as myself.

Was it difficult for you to work with someone like Howard who normally does all of the orchestrations on his scores?

CP: No, it’s not difficult to work with Howard. It is difficult to do your best-- To ensure that one doesn’t let such a high standard that had been set by the LOTR scores down.

Did you feel comfortable taking the reigns on conducting such as massive and spectacular work like “The Hobbit”?

CP: No, I did not feel comfortable. I felt an enormous responsibility. However, I was nonetheless excited by the challenge of bringing to life such iconic music with such great musicians as one finds in the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. That’s what I live to do — to make music the best I can with the finest musicians I can work with.

What is it like to work with a great composer such as Howard Shore?

CP: Inspiring. Though I must say, I have been fortunate in my rather checkered career to have worked with many great composers; composers who indeed, through their work, defined the times in which we live. I think myself very lucky.

I know that you love to orchestrate a lot for such great composers like John Williams, Alan Silvestri, James Newton Howard, Alexandre Desplat, Mark Isham and Mychael Danna to name a few. Can you please tell us what it is like to work with each one of them and which one is your favorite to work with.

CP: Each one IS different, and each one has a different demand and different need from an orchestrator. The joy of orchestration is to be able to provide what is ever needed to make any score the best it can be. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to help these brilliant composers do their best.

Do you find it easier or difficult to orchestrate a score that isn’t your own or do you treat as if you were writing your own music?

CP: It is much more difficult to orchestrate someone else’s music because you must think as they must, and imagine the best they can be. The gift of being yourself is that you only have to be as good as YOU are. Hopefully that’s enough.

Was there a difficult score that you both had to really work on just to meet a deadline?

CP: “Troy” is the one that springs to mind. James Horner had to write a replacement score in 3 weeks.

Was there a director that gave him (or yourselves) a difficult time on a project?

CP: No. Never.

As a composer and a terrific one at that, you’ve created fascinating and enjoyable scores in the past such as “My Week With Marilyn”, “The Rising Place”, “The Presence” and “Pavillion Of Woman”, which to me is still a brilliant piece of work. Do you look on the work you’ve done and go “wow” I wrote this? How do you feel about these projects and films looking back all these years?

CP: It’s not in my nature to ever say “Wow” unless it’s to say, “Wow — I wish I could do that again.” Looking back, I’m grateful for all of the projects, grateful for all of the chances to write music and be the composer.

What’s is your favorite film score that you’ve written?

CP: “Pavillion of Women” still stands out for me as the most sincerely felt of my scores.

What is your favorite film score that you haven’t written?

CP: The one I’m trying to get right now! But seriously, “Hook” by John Williams has had the most profound effect on my life.

Who is your favorite director that you’ve worked with?

CP: Simon Curtis on “My Week With Marilyn,” and Gary Ross on “Seabiscuit.” Also, as an orchestrator and conductor, I’ve enjoyed working with Peter Jackson, David Fincher, and Florian Von Donnersmarck.

What is your favorite film that you’ve personally scored to date?

CP: See above.

Please tell the readers about your future upcoming projects.

CP: “Tim’s Vermeer” surprisingly has opened a number of doors--doors I thought would be forever closed. I hope I have an opportunity to walk through them. Stay tuned.

A very special heartfelt thanks to the great Conrad for allowing me to interview him once again. You are a true class act and one the best unsung musical heroes in Hollywood today! You're amongst the greats! Also very special thanks to the always fantastic Stefan Karrer of Milan Records for pulling out another great interview. I really owe you one!

Please feel free to visit Conrad's excellent official website with an insight on his work, his latest projects and future ones at

The soundtrack to Tim's Vermeer is available on Milan Records Digitally as well as CD available for pre-order at

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