Paul Greenwood talks to Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) conductor Richard Kaufman ahead of the orchestra's Music of John Williams concert at Royal Concert Hall.

California-based Richard Kaufman has been a conductor for over 30 years, and on Friday and Saturday will lead the RSNO in concerts of the music of celebrated film composer John Williams at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh and Glasgow's Royal Concert Hall.

How did you come to be working with the RSNO?

I was asked to come to Scotland and work with the RSNO for the first time last year. I had been a fan of this orchestra for many years, having admired the many CDs of film music that they have recorded so brilliantly. Needless to say, when I was asked if I wanted to conduct a concert with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, I couldn't say yes fast enough.

What does the conductor bring to a well known piece of music?

I have tremendous respect for composers, and so my goal is always to fulfil their musical vision which they had when they created the music.

When it comes to conducting film music, I really want to try to recreate the sound, feel, and the music that the audience remembers from the original film itself. Of course this takes a lot of study on my part to know and understand the musical intentions of the composer. Most of the time, it's a great deal of fun exploring the music to find out exactly what the composer was hoping to achieve, and trying to recreate that in the concert hall. In the end, I guess that I would want to know that if the composer were in the audience for the performance, that when it was over they would be smiling!

What can the audience expect from a music of John Williams concert?

John Williams is quite simply one of history's greatest film composers. And I believe that when it comes to hearing this music performed by the RSNO, the audience is excited even before they arrive at the concert hall. They know that, without a doubt, the orchestra will present John's music brilliantly, and that the performance will be memorable.

How do you decide on the line-up when there are so many Williams pieces to choose from?

So much of John's music has become legendary throughout the world, and audiences definitely have their favourites. I love to programme many of the iconic themes that people have come to know and love. But I also enjoy presenting music that John has written for some of his lesser known films. We will, in fact, be presenting several of these wonderful scores on the concerts in Glasgow and Edinburgh, including Sabrina, Yes Georgio, and Empire of the Sun.

In many cases, I believe that hearing some of these will inspire people to want to see films that they may not have yet discovered.

What are the audience favourites?

Let's see, there's a little film called Star Wars that people seem to know! And then there's Jurassic Park, E.T., Harry Potter, Superman and Indiana Jones just to name a few. Not a bad musical resume for one composer.

How would you rate John Williams in the pantheon of film composers?

John is easily one of the finest composers to ever write for motion pictures. His skill for creating incredible themes is unparalleled. His dramatic sense - the music that makes you jump out of your seat when the shark finally does attack, or causes the audiences to weep when E.T. climbs aboard the mother ship to return to his home planet - is beyond compare. Just imagine Star Wars with a different score, or Schindler's List in the hands of another composer; truly unthinkable. With total and worshipful respect to the legendary composer Max Steiner, I would love to have seen what John might have done musically with Casablanca or even with Gone With the Wind.

You played on some of his scores; is he a hard taskmaster and what are some of your memories of that?

Working for John as a violinist was thrilling, both personally and professionally. Sitting in the studio on one of John's sessions was a challenge and an honour, and while the music was always remarkable, I can't think of a kinder or more distinguished human being to work for than John Williams. He is the consummate musician, and because of his background as a studio player himself, he has great respect for the musicians who bring his music to life. And in turn, the musicians return that respect with passionate playing, and a tremendous appreciation for the opportunity to be part of a John Williams score.

What's your favourite Williams piece?

There are so many. But because it was the first film on which I played violin for John, I really love Jaws.

What other modern film composers do you rate highly?

There are some very fine composers working today. I love the scores of Patrick Doyle, James Newton Howard, Alexandre Desplat, Bruce Broughton, Lee Holdridge, and several others.

Would you like to do more composing yourself?

No! I'm not sure that people understand what it means to be a composer, watching a film that has been edited and then staring at a blank piece of music score paper, trying to come up with a theme. Make that trying to come up with just one note! I remember the fantastic film composer Elmer Bernstein telling me that when he was given the edited film for To Kill a Mockingbird, it took him over six weeks before he could write the first note. It's a daunting profession, and I bow to the likes of John and Elmer and all the others who come up with the music that brings a film to life.

What's your favourite score?

I have so many scores that I love, I really can't name one. And I am so incredibly blessed to have the opportunities to present many of these in concerts throughout the world. The idea that I can stand in front of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and conduct the music of John Williams is as good as it gets for this conductor.

What would films be without music?

Try turning the sound off while watching Gone With the Wind or Casablanca or Jaws or Psycho or Pirates of the Caribbean or, well, you get the point. Music is so often a "character" in the film, and can influence the story and the emotion as much as any action on the screen or any actor saying his or her lines.

Are film scores a good way in to classical music for an audience?

As the great composer of both classical and film Erich Wolfgang Korngold once said: "Music is music, whether it be for the concert hall or the cinema". I couldn't agree more. Over the centuries, music has been used to create emotion and tell stories in operas, films, classical music, and ballet. And it's not only the music that an audience loves, it's the experience of hearing the music within the electric environment of a concert hall, seeing real live musicians coming together to bring the music alive, and joining with fellow audience members to share the whole experience.

In terms of overall quality, how would you compare the film scores of today with decades past?

In film scores of the past, I have found that there was much greater abundance of memorable themes, whereas today the emphasis seems to be more on creating a "mood". I'm also a fan of the orchestral sound, and the films prior to the past several years certainly featured many more orchestral scores. Not that an orchestral score is necessary for every film, but there were composers such as Max Steiner, Bernard Herrmann, Franz Waxman, Dimitri Tiomkin, Alfred Newman, Miklos Rozsa, Victor Young, Elmer Bernstein, Jerry Goldsmith and others who were amazing dramatists, and who used the sounds of the orchestra just as a great painter uses all the colours on a huge palette.

You've worked with actors like Tom Hanks and Jack Nicholson, what did that involve?

I worked with Tom (on The Man With One Red Shoe) and Jack (on The Witches of Eastwick) each for three months - every day! My job was to teach them to look like great violinists. Neither had ever held a violin, and so it was fun to figure out how best to help them to not only imitate the technique, but to also adopt an "attitude" that a violinist has while playing. Each of them took their work very seriously, but we had a lot of fun along the way. In the end, I thought they both did a terrific job, and from what I heard from fellow musicians and friends after they saw the films, so did the audience. I think the thing that struck me most was the dedication both Tom and Jack had to wanting to look like they were REALLY playing the instrument. In fact, Tom actually did learn to play one Beatle's song, and when the film was completed, he took the violin with him.

What do you love about travelling the world as a conductor, and is there anything about it you don't like?

It is amazing to me that no matter where I travel, music is such an important part of people's lives no matter their ages or backgrounds. Of course it's not always easy going from time zone to time zone, and to trying to feel at home in a strange hotel is often quite a challenge. However having the opportunity to meet and work with great musicians in orchestras like the RSNO makes it all more than worth it.

Do you get a chance to watch many films and what are your favourites?

I especially love the classic films of the '30s - '70s. There are some later films that I have enjoyed, but the stories and the acting and the music of the period I mentioned I find to be some of the greatest film making ever accomplished. Of course, to paraphrase that old saying: "The films we love are in the eyes (and ears) of the beholder".

Are you excited about the new Star Wars movie?

Yes, isn't everyone! I can't wait to hear what John creates for this new film. It's probably the safest bet that anyone could make to predict that it will be a fantastic score.

The RSNO will perform the Music of John Williams concerts at Royal Concert Hall tonight and tomorrow (Saturday, March 14)