Lalo Schifrin is a true Renaissance man. As a pianist, composer and conductor, he is equally at home conducting a symphony orchestra, performing at an international jazz festival, scoring a film or television show, or creating works for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the London Philharmonic, and even The Sultan of Oman.
As a young man in his native Argentina, Lalo Schifrin received classical training in music, and also studied law. He came from a musical family, and his father, Luis Schifrin, was the concertmaster of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Buenos Aires at the Teatro Colon.
Lalo Schifrin continued his formal music education at the Paris Conservatory during the early 1950’s, studying with numerous teachers including famed composer Olivier Messiaen. Simultaneously, he became a professional jazz pianist, composer and arranger, playing and recording in Europe.
When Schifrin returned to Buenos Aires in the mid 1950’s, he formed his own big concert band. It was during a performance of this band that Dizzy Gillespie heard Schifrin play and asked him to become his pianist and arranger. In 1958, Schifrin moved to the United States and thus began a remarkable career.
His music is a synthesis of traditional and twentieth-century techniques, and his early love for jazz and rhythm are strong attributes of his style. “Invocations,” “Concerto for Double Bass,” “Piano Concertos No. 1 and No. 2,” “Pulsations,” “Tropicos,” “La Nouvelle Orleans,” and “Resonances” are examples of this tendency to juxtapose universal thoughts with a kind of elaborated primitivism. In the classical composition field, Schifrin has more than 60 works.
He has written more than 100 scores for films and television. Among the classic scores are “Mission Impossible,” “Mannix,” “The Fox,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “Bullitt,” “Dirty Harry,” “The Cincinnati Kid” and “Amityville Horror.” Recent film scores include “Tango,” “Rush Hour,” “Rush Hour 2,” “Rush Hour 3,” “Bringing Down The House,” “The Bridge of San Luis Rey,” “After the Sunset,” and “Abominable.”
In 1987, a select group of some of the best musicians in France decided to form the Paris Philharmonic Orchestra for the purpose of recording music for films, performing concerts and participating in television shows. The appointed Lalo Schifrin as Musical Director and their inaugural concert took place at the Theatre des Champs Elysees on January 26, 1988. His first recording with this orchestra was released on September 1988. Schifrin held this post for five years before resigning to spend more time composing.
Among Schifrin’s other conducting credits are the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Israel Philharmonic, the Mexico Philharmonic, the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the Mexico City Philharmonic, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra of Saint Luke (New York City), the National Symphony Orchestra of Argentina, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and the Lincoln Center Chamber Orchestra.
In 1986, the Glendale Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Lalo Schifrin performed at the Hollywood Bowl. His “Salute to the Statue of Liberty” was received with a tumultuous ovation by a crowd of 17,000 people. In 1987, Schifrin was commissioned to write the overture for the Pan American Games which he recorded in Toronto and premiered with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. In 1995, Schifrin composed ad conducted the finale for the Pan American Games, which were held in Argentina.
It is Schifrin’s ability to switch musical gears which makes him so unique in the music world. As a jazz musician, he has performed and recorded with great personalities such as Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz, Count Basie, Jon Faddis, James Moody, Louie Bellson, and Kenny Burrell.
His “Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra,” was recorded by the London Philharmonic Orchestra featuring soloist Angel Romero.
“Dances Concertantes” for clarinet and orchestra which he conducted at the Pyramids of Teotihuacan in Mexico with Placido Domingo as the tenor soloist. The event was telecast in 1989. In 1999, this concert was released on CD, DVD, and VHS.
In April 1989, Lalo Schifrin was appointed Music Director of the Glendale Symphony Orchestra, and he served in that capacity for six years.
He was commissioned to write the Grand Finale for an event that took place in Caracalla, Italy, July 7th, 1990, to celebrate the finals of the World Cup Soccer Championship. In this concert, the Three Tenors, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and Jose Carreras sang together for the first time. The orchestras of the Rome and Florence opera companies were conducted by Zubin Mehta. The record and videotape of this event have gone on to become the biggest sellers in the history of classical music. Schifrin also was engaged to arrange the sequels for July 1994, also for Carreras, Domingo, Pavarotti, and Zubin Mehta, which was performed at Dodger Stadium, again on the eve of the World Cup Soccer Championships; the Three Tenors event that was held in July of 1998 in Paris, France, and the latest one for the World Cup Finals in Japan.
Schifrin was commissioned by the Steinway Foundation to write his “Piano Concerto No. 2,” which was premiered by the National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich, in Washington, D.C. at the Kennedy Center on June 11, 1992, featuring Cristina Ortiz as the soloist. In that year, he also produced, conducted and arranged a CD featuring Jose Carreras with the London Symphony Orchestra: “Friends for Life.”
Among Schifrin’s commissions include “Fantasy for Screenplay and Orchestra” for Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony, premiered in 2002-2003 season, and Symphonic Impressions of Oman, which was commissioned by the Sultan of Oman, recorded in England with the London Symphony Orchestra, and released by Aleph Records in 2003. His other key appearances in 2003 included Schifrin with the Georgian State Symphony Orchestra; with The Moscow Symphony Orchestra and with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva, Switzerland.
His longtime involvement in both the jazz and symphonic worlds came together beginning in 1993 when he was featured as pianist and conductor for his on-going series of “Jazz Meets the Symphony” recordings, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and such notable jazz stars as Ray Brown, Grady Tate, Jon Faddis, Paquito D’Rivera and James Morrison. “Thinking back, I believe the start of this project was really two of my early film scores, namely, ‘The Cincinnati Kid,’ in which Ray Charles sang backed by a symphony orchestra, and the famous chase scene through the streets of San Francisco in ‘Bullitt’ wherein I wrote a symphonic score combined with saxophone solos playing at very fast tempos. Then, years later, when I arranged music for Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Grady Tate and myself to play for a tour with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, I began to fully realize that the two distinct musical forms could be combined.” “Jazz Meets the Symphony” was internationally successful, and led to the release in July 1994 of “More Jazz Meets the Symphony.” The third of the series, “Firebird, Jazz Meets the Symphony, No. 3” was released in the summer of 1996 and received two Grammy nominations. The fourth in the series “Metamorphosis,” was released in the spring of 1998 on Schifrin’s own label, Aleph Records. The gift set contains the first four releases so far and is entitled “The Jazz Meets the Symphony Collection.” The fifth in the series, “Intersections, Jazz Meets the Symphony, No. 5” was released in late summer 2001. It is unique in that it has a full symphony orchestra, full jazz band, plus jazz stars Jeff Hamilton, Christian McBride, James Morrison and David Sanchez. In 2005, Aleph released “Kaleidoscope: Jazz Meets the Symphony No. 6” which was performed and recorded by Schifrin in Sydney, Australia with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Jazz Meets the Symphony No. 7 was performed and recorded in 2011 with the Czech National Symphony Argentina, featuring James Morrison, Pierre Boussaguet and Tom Gordon.
In November 1992, the Los Angeles Master Chorale premiered his “Cantares Argentinos” in a concert of Latin American music. Also during that month, Schifrin conducted the European premiere of his “Piano Concerto No. 2” with the Sophia Radio Symphony Orchestra. This concert marked the first Bulgarian telecast for the Eurovision Network. The full-length concert is featured in a film score CD “Something to Believe In” with Jeffrey Biegel and the Munich Rundfunk Orchestra.
Schifrin wrote and adapted the music for “Christmas in Vienna” in 1992 featuring Diana Ross, Jose Carreras, and Placido Domingo. The telecast was released as a CD, laserdisc and video in 1993 on the Sony Classics label.
Schifrin returned to Vienna in December 1995 where he arranged the entire program of Christmas music entitled, Christmas in Vienna,” sung by Jose Carreras, Natalie Cole and Placido Domingo. It was shown on PBS in America on December 23rd and 24th of that year and is shown regularly during the holiday season.
In 1993, Schifrin was commissioned to write his “Lili’Uokalani Symphony” in honor of the last monarch of Hawaii, Queen Lili’Uokalani. The work was premiered by the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra, and was recorded by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra with Schifrin conducting in the spring of 1995. It was released in November 1996 on the Urtext Digital Classics label. In the spring of 1993, Schifrin conducted for a recording with the Vienna Volksoper Orchestra for Julia Migenes, “Julia Migenes in Vienna,” and conducted the recording of “Te Deum” by Charpentier for classical trumpet virtuoso, Maurice Andre and chamber orchestra in Pairs. Both projects were released in October 1993.
His 1996 conducted recording of “The Carnival of the Animals” by Camille Saint-Saens has been acclaimed by the electronic and print media. The narrations are by Audrey Hepburn, Charlton Heston, James Earl Jones, Dudley Moore, Walter Matthau, and Lynn Redgrave.
He also composed the score for Luis Valdez’ epic drama “Bandido!,” presented at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. The music showed the wide spectrum of Schifrin’s talents as a composer. Valdez contributed lyrics to certain pieces.
The Sultan of Oman commissioned Schifrin for his latest classical work, “Symphonic Sketches of Oman.” This symphony was recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra with Schifrin conducting in the autumn of 2001 and released shortly thereafter.
In December of 1995 in Marseilles, Schifrin led a symphony orchestra in celebration of the Lumiere brothers’ invention of film, with a concert entitled “100 Ans de Cinema.” The concert featured singers Julia Migenes and Dee Dee Bridgewater and was recorded by Warner Bros. Records in France. This recording, “Film Classics,” is currently in release of Aleph Records. This concert was reprised in Buenos Aires in 1998, and was released on CD with Aleph Records in February 2002.
Other conducting programs include film music, classical repertoire and jazz bands. The big band formations are frequently featured in performing “Gillespiana,” which has become a highly acclaimed classic. Recent performances have been the Playboy Jazz Festival, the Monterey Jazz Festival, the 80th birthday commemorative concert for Dizzy Gillespie in Englewood, New Jersey, television Big Band concert in Germany, WDR Big Band concert in Cologne, Germany; Carnegie Hall Jazz Band at Carnegie Hall, the Clark University Jazz Band in Atlanta at the I.A.J.E. (International Association of Jazz Educa-tors) and a concert in early 1998 with the BBC in London, England.
In October 1996 was the world premiere of “The Rhapsody for Bix.” Schifrin was commissioned by the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society to write a suite in honor of Davenport, Iowa’s native son, Bix Beiderbecke. This piece is on Schifrin’s current release “Metamorphosis.”
In June 1999, Schifrin premiered his “Latin Jazz Suite” with soloists Jon Faddis, David Sanchez, Ignacio Berroa, Alex Acuna and the WDR Big Band in Cologne, Germany. It was also performed with the BBC Big Band in London, England. In September 1999, the piece had its American premiere in Los Angeles at the Watercourt Plaza while, at the same time, the recording of the work was released. “Latin Jazz Suite” received a Grammy nomination, and was released on CD and DVD by Aleph Records.
In January 2000, Schifrin premiered a new work for jazz big band, “Esperanto.” This work features soloists Jean-Luc Ponty, Don Byron, Nestor Marconi, James Morrison, Trilok Gurtu, Sydney Thiam, Greg Hutchinson, Simon Stockhausen and the WDR Big Band. “Esperanto” was released on CD in September, 2000.
In 2004, Schifrin premiered his sixth Jazz Meets the Symphony program in Adelaide, Australia with subsequent concerts with the Sydney Symphony at the Sydney Opera House where this work was recorded. Soloists included Australian native James Morrison on trumpet, Christian McBride on bass, and Gordon Rytmeister on drums. In August of 2005, Aleph Records released “Kaleidoscope: Jazz Meets the Symphony No. 6.” Schifrin was invited back to Australia in 2006 where he conducted a “Jazz Meets the Symphony” tour in Queensland, Adelaide, and Sydney.
Schifrin had the pleasure or writing and recording “Dances Concertantes for Clarinet and Orchestra” for his cousin and virtuoso clarinetist, David Shifrin. The piece was recorded with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and Aleph released the album titled “Shifrin Plays Schifrin” in 2006.
In April of 2005, Schifrin premiered “Letters From Argentina” at the Lincoln Center with the Lincoln Center Chamber Ensemble. In this musical feast, Schifrin combines Tango and Argentinean Folk music with Classical music to create a fresh, new sound reminiscent of his homeland. Schifrin was on piano with David Shifrin on clarinet, Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin on violin, Nestor Marconi on bandoneon, Pablo Aslan on contrabass and Satoshi Takeshi on percussion. Schifrin effortlessly blends the sounds of his Argentinean roots to paint a perfect picture for the audience that transports them into the heart of a culture. During the summer of 2005, they toured the United States and performed in Portland, OR; Santa Fe, NM; and La Jolla, CA. The piece was recorded and released on Aleph Records in May of 2006.
In 2006, Schifrin was commissioned by the SMILE Foundation to write and conduct a Double Concerto for Piano, Trumpet, and Orchestra. The world premiere was in July of 2007 with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and featured virtuosi James Morrison on trumpet and Ambre Hammond on piano.
Schifrin scored son Ryan’s first horror feature film, “Abominable” which was released in 2006. The score was released on CD by Aleph Records in June of 2006. In September of 2008, Schifrin had the opportunity to work with Ryan again when he and Andy Garfield wrote 20 minutes of score for the comic-turned graphic novel “Spooks” by Larry Hama (G.I. Joe) and Ryan Schifrin.
In August of 2007, Aleph released “Lalo Schifrin and Friends” which focuses on Schifrin the pianist as much as Schifrin the composer. He was joined by ‘Jazz Meets The Symphony’ veteran James Morrison, and tenorist James Moody. The album also featured Dennis Budimir on guitar, and Brian Bromberg on bass, and Peruvian percussionist Alex Acuña. Of the nine selections, six are Schifrin tunes.
The “Tangos Concertantes,” a concerto for violin and orchestra with the pulse of the Tango was commissioned by virtuoso Cho-Liang Lin and is a composition for violin and orchestra. It premiered in Norway in 2008 and in February of 2009, it was performed in Los Angeles by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.
The Austrian government commissioned Schifrin to compose a work to commemorate the second bicentennial of Joseph Haydn’s death. Schifrin’s piece, “Elegy and Meditation,” was premiered in Eisenstadt, Austria in May of 2009.
The virtuoso Italian cellist, Antonio Lysy, commissioned Mr. Schifrin to write a composition for cello and piano “Pampas” which was premiered in 2009 in Los Angeles, CA. In November 2010 “Pampas” won the Latin Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. To date Schifrin has won 1 Latin Grammy, 4 Grammy Awards, with 22 nominations.
Another recent classical composition was commissioned by Quattrocelli, titled “Crosscurrents” for four cellos. This work was premiered in Germany at the Cello Festival Rutesheim in June 2010 and will be released on CD.
In November 2010, he received the Jay McShann Lifetime Achievement Award from the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. The award recognizes the contributions Schifrin has made to jazz throughout his six-decade career.
In addition to current commissions and film scoring activities, Schifrin has toured extensively conducting symphony orchestras particularly featuring his repertoire of “Jazz Meets the Symphony.” His seventh “Jazz Meets the Symphony” album was released in 2011.
The Lumiere 2012 Grand Lyon Film Festival, October 15-21, honored Lalo with a Lifetime Achievement Award. During the ceremonies a documentary about Lalo, “In the Tracks of Lalo Schifrin,” by French filmmaker Pascale Cuerot premiered. Later that month Schifrin received the Max Steiner Film Music Achievement Award, from the City of Vienna. The award was presented at the annual Hollywood in Vienna Concert on October 22, 2012. The second half of the concert presented selections of Schifrin’s compositions performed by the Vienna Radio-Symphony Orchestra under the direction of David Newman.
To celebrate Lalo’s 80 th birthday, Aleph Records released a four-CD box, “Lalo Schifrin: My Life in Music” in November 2012. It includes tracks from some of Lalo’s favorite compositions, from some three dozen films (including previously unreleased music from “Coogan’s Bluff,” “The Beguiled,” “Charley Varrick” and “Joe Kidd”) plus numerous jazz and symphonic pieces.
In October, 2015, “Tales of Halloween” brought the father-son duo together once again. Ryan wrote and directed the segment “The Ransom of Rusty Rex”, one of the 10 stories presented on this feature film, while Schifrin composed the main title.
Mr. Schifrin composed his second concerto for guitar and orchestra “Concierto de la Armistad” (Concerto of Friendship) featuring, Angel Romero. The world premiere took place in August 2016, at the Hollywood Bowl with Maestro Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
On November 8, 2016, Madame Audrey Azoulay, the French Minister of Culture, presented Mr. Schifrin with their prestigious Commandeur of Arts and Letters. “Words cannot express my gratitude to the French Minister of Culture for this recognition. I feel overwhelmed by this distinction and it humbles me.” Mr. Schifrin was previously named a Chevalier of Arts and Letters.
The Cinematheque Festival honored Mr. Schifrin’s contribution to the movies, including screenings of “Cool Hand Luke”, “Coogan’s Bluff”, “Bullitt” and “Dirty Harry”. The festival ran from November 9-14, 2016.
The same week the Festival du Cinema & Musique de Film de la Baule also had screening films from Schifrin’s catalog. On November 12, the la Baule Festival paid tribute to Schifrin as part of their Cine-Concert and awards ceremony.
In February 2017 the theme from “Mission Impossible” was entered into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In November of the same year, The Latin Recording Academy will present Lalo with their Trustees Award.
Schifrin has been married to his wife, Donna, for more than 40 years. His three children include William, who is a writer for films and television; Frances, who is an art director/designer; and Ryan, who is a film writer/director.