Since I’ve been a critic and starting interviewing alot of composers which I’ve been very honored to meet as well as find out what makes them tick personally. What makes their music so great and fresh. Most have their own personal, traditional idologies and traditions on how they want certain things done. While others, just wing it and express themselves to suit their personality.
This is very special interview because not only is it because it’s the son of one of the more legendary composers in the late Elmer Bernstein to ever step on a scoring stage and write the most memorable music one could ever imagine from “The Great Escape” to “The Magnificent Seven” and to memorable 80’s culture such as “Ghostbusters”, “Heavy Metal” and “Stripes. Peter Bernstein is also a great composer in his own right and one of the best in the business as an orchestrator for many of Elmer’s many projects, while getting his musical feet wet on alot of his own that include the memorable “Star Wars: Ewoks” film adventures for George Lucas and the excellent TNT film “Rough Riders” Starring Tom Berenger and Gary Busey amongst the few.
Words cannot express how happy I am to present this interview because of the legacy involved and what a great legacy it still is! The Bernstein name much like the Newman’s will forever be memorable and I hope that you will enjoy this interview as much as I did working long and hard on it.
Hello Peter, how are you and thank you very much for granting me the time to
conduct this interview with you today. It really is an honor to do so.
PB: It is my pleasure to be here.
Please tell the readers about what made you become interested in music and
PB: Honestly, I can’t remember a time when I was not interested in music. Obviously
there was music in the house. I am told that when I was very young, I used to
stand next to my father while he was practicing conducting, and I would
eventually memorize his moves. My teenage rebellion took the form of becoming a
rock ‘n’ roll bass guitar player. It lasted into my 30’s. But starting from my
college years, I knew there was much more to do and learn. I became an
orchestrator, and for a decade, I would go from orchestrating to being on the
road with a band to producing records. Eventually composing became my main
Let’s talk about your recent work as “Honorary President of International Music
in Cordoba”. Please tell the readers about your experiences with such an honor.
PB: It was a wonderful time. My duties as honorary president mostly entailed saying
a few words at the proper moment, and of course being at as many of the
functions as I could. I am comfortable with speaking, and who’s is going to
complain about being at the concerts? We had a great time, the organizers
couldn’t have been nicer and more helpful, and it was so nice to see so many
film music fans in one place.
You also conducted a symphonic tribute to your father, the late Elmer Bernstein.
How did you feel conducting on stage some of your fathers’ masterful and
memorable works, such as To Kill A Mockingbird, Ghostbusters and The Ten
PB: It was at once uplifting, quite emotional, and hard work. He never went easy on
himself as a conductor and always had great faith in his orchestras. What that
means is that both the conductor and the orchestra are assumed to be performing
at a high level. So it can be a challenge, but a very worthy one. Once or twice
during the performances, I would find my mind wandering to all of the times I saw
him conduct those pieces, and that it was somewhat surreal that I was now doing
it. There was also the thought that all things considered, I’d have been happy
to be able to see him do it in my place.
Let us please talk about your father. What was he like? Tell us about his
passions for film music?
PB: That’s a big subject and I am currently contributing to a book on his life. In
his 50+ years of career he outlasted many trends and upheavals in the world and
Hollywood, and his story parallels those times. He was, in my experience,
unique, and not only as a composer but as an individual. He was passionate on
all subjects he was interested in (and that was many), but especially film
music. Consider that he started his Film Music Collection in the mid 70’s when
he had already been one of the top film composers for 20 years, and yet here he
was re-recording old film scores with his own money and running a mail order
record business out of his own garage. He loved life and he lived big. He rarely
stayed in one place for very long unless he was completely absorbed in work. And
even then he would find time to go to a ball game or be on his boat or at the
race track, dinners, functions, meetings etc.
What was it like to work with him?
PB: Of course you have to color my experience with our relationship, and in the
early days he was not so much an employer as a mentor. That said, he was easy to
work for and fun to work with. His unstated expectation was that everyone was
working at their job as hard as he was and cared as much. He could put in some
serious hours at crunch time, or if he didn’t have the hours, he could write a
great deal of music quickly. After that it fell to the orchestrators to keep up.
He was very workmanlike and even tempered unless he was getting what he
considered undue pressure or silly instructions on the scoring stage. Then he
was capable of getting quite angry, but only for a little while. Soon after we’d
be laughing about it. He always described his work as ‘collaborative’ and was
happiest doing that with an employer who let him follow his instincts and then
made intelligent contributions.
Please tell the readers about your very first project you worked with your
father on and the many afterwards?
PB: Too many to name. The first might have been a very small contribution to one of
the Billy Jack movies in the early 70s. By 1977, I was orchestrating whole
projects by myself. I think the first was The Great Santini. That continued
through the mid 80s. From the mid 80’s to the mid 90’s, we didn’t do anything
together, and after that when we were together it was a collaboration of some
sort: He’d write a theme and I’d do a score, or I’d conduct for him or he’d
conduct for me, or I’d write for him.
Was there a difficult score that you both had to really work on just to meet a
PB: Many. Take Ghostbusters. The day before the final recording session, there was no
music written for the last 10 minutes of the movie and it all needed music. Not
entirely his fault as the film wasn’t locked until very late what with all the
effects trickling in. When we finished recording at 5, he gathered all his
sketches around him at the piano and went to work. Three hours later, he had
cobbled together sketches to cover the scenes. Some of it was new music, but some
of it was ‘roadmap’ instructions of how to stitch together other cues by using
certain bars and perhaps changing the key, and then he’d add some connecting
music to get to the next roadmap. He was very good at that sort of thing, and
had every confidence in his ability to make whatever changes were needed from
the podium. I took the sketches home along with the other orchestrator, David
Spear, and we stayed up all night doing the orchestrations, which were picked up
at 5am and on the stage at ten. Just another day at the office really.
Was there a director that gave him (or yourselves) a difficult time on a
PB: A few, but none that I’d care to name for a couple of reasons. One is that some
of them are people who I really like and there was simply a lot of pressure for
whatever reason. And the others, I don’t want to think about. My father once
appealed to the head of a studio and had a director barred from the stage.
What was your most disappointing experience working together?
PB: Any score that was ultimately thrown out. It happens.
If you had to choose one or two soundtracks of your father’s work that you would
love to see released for his fans, what would they be?
PB: I like it when the obscure stuff gets a hearing. He wrote a lot of music and
actually too much for me to keep track of everything that is released. I
wouldn’t mind a CD of some very rare stuff. I am sure there is plenty of it.
You’re also an excellent composer in your own right and the one or two scores
that most fans very often request and relate to most is your work on “Ewoks: Battle Of Endor” and “The Ewok Adventure” quite fondly. Tell us your recollections about
PB: I was young and I was a bit intimidated working for George Lucas. I was keenly
aware that I was neither my father nor John Williams, but I was also aware that
those projects called for music that wasn’t like either of them. I spent some
considerable time constructing, in my head, a sound and attitude for the scores.
They were very much a rite of passage for me; much bigger and more complex than
anything I had done before. Of course, I had orchestrated some very big scores by
then so I was comfortable with the setting. To this day, I am still surprised
that I got the assignment which I waited a few nervous weeks to hear about after
the initial contact. I gave both of those scores total effort and rarely left my
studio while composing them.
An album was released by Varese Sarabande on LP in the mid 80’s featuring the
best work from both films. Was a difficult album to put together considering
the amount of music you wrote for each?
PB: It was for a number of reasons. Yes there was a lot of music to go through and
choose from, and in those days editing was done on ¼” tape. A lot of music was
left out due to sound or performance issues. This was very early on as far as
recording in continental Europe was concerned. There was a lot of learning going
The album is a sought after collector’s item since then for both Star Wars fans
and soundtrack collectors alike . How come a CD of your work has never been
issued to date?
PB: Good question. I am trying to arrange a rerecording and CD release as we speak.
I think it would find an audience.
You and your dad have worked with Director John Landis in the past. Please tell
us about your experiences working with him on his films.
PB: We all met when John and I were in middle school together so he’s family. We had
the full range of experience working on John’s films. Good, bad, fun, grinding,
but the one thing it never ever is, is un-interesting. John is irreplaceable and
extremely knowledgeable about film and film making. John knows what he wants, if
not musically, then emotionally, in every scene and that makes things easy.
Do you have a favorite film that you worked with Landis on with your dad and on
PB: “Three Amigos”. It was a big project requiring a team effort. I did a lot on that
movie. Composed, ran sessions, orchestrated and conducted. David Spear was also
on that one and did a great job. Everyone on the music side was quite busy on
that one for a while. It’s one of my favorite scores of his.
You’ve also worked in television in the past. Is it a hard transition to go from
scoring a film such as “Wild Wild West” for example to “Weird Science”?
PB: It takes getting used to but after you’ve done it a couple of times it’s easy.
It’s a different medium with different expectations, schedules, organizations
What do you think about films today in general?
PB: I could do with a few less superheroes. That said, it looks like great fun to
compose for, but not as a steady diet. There are some really fine filmmakers out
there and I enjoy seeing their work.
What is your favorite film score that you haven’t written?
PB: Too many to even consider. When I was younger I was asked a lot who my favorite
film composer was. It was a trick question. If I didn’t name my father then
there were further questions and raised eyebrows. If I did name him then people
would say “You had to say that right?” I usually answered “Prokofiev.” Who is
going to argue with that?
What is your favorite film that you’ve personally scored to date?
PB: Difficult to answer. In terms of what the music is doing I have think of a
Showtime movie called “The Happy Face Murders”. It was very unusual score-wise and
I had a lot of fun personally creating it. There are many others which all have
their moments. The TNT mini-series “Rough Riders” for instance. There was a lot of
big battle and action music and that was also a lot of fun to do. The list goes
Please tell the readers about your future upcoming projects.
PB: Let’s see, there are several films, both musicals, that I am a part of and they
are both in various stages of development so I really can’t say much more. There
is the book I mentioned and I have also been booking dates as a conductor. Just
trying to keep myself occupied.
I really want to thank you once again Peter for granting me this interview and I
really honored to meet you and everything. (huge fan of you and your dad! BTW!)
PB: Thanks very much. I am happy to do it.
I’m extremely grateful to Peter for being gracious for his time and being candid about his father and his experiences. Easily one of my favorite interviews ever! I’m totally indebted to you! As well as Beth Krakowker, for arranging it and always being her brilliant usual self! God bless!!
Please follow Peter and check out his great filmography along with his upcoming projects at his website at http://www.petermbernstein.com/index.html
Canadian Bacon Soundtrack is available from Quartet Records and available through http://www.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/25153/CANADIAN-BACON-1000-EDITION/
The Puppet Master Collection Available to order from Perseverance Records http://store.fortytwotradingco.com/pumasocobox.html