For Score

Golden State Pops Orchestra’s Steven Allen Fox and his journey from movie-goer to maestro.

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    Fabienne Marsh

The conductor and artistic director for the Golden State Pops Orchestra (GSPO) urges me to imagine the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho without music. “It would be laughable,” he says.

By contrast, he wants me to consider Steven Spielberg’s documentary-style opening sequence in Saving Private Ryan, which runs for nearly a half-hour without music. “After the camera pans across the beach at Normandy, you hear the first note of the theme, and it’s heart-wrenching,” Steven Allen Fox says. “That’s when you start crying.”

Steven’s passion for film music started in his native Illinois when he was 13. Halfway through the 1991 film Hook, he turned to his stepmother and said, “This is what I want to do for a living.”

As time went on, he realized that his favorite movies—Hook, E.T., Jurassic Park, Star Wars, Jaws, Indiana Jones, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan—were all scored by the same composer. “I’ve always been partial to thematic music by John Williams because it’s connected to the Romantic era of Beethoven, Wagner and Berlioz and uses the full force of a live symphony orchestra.”

Steven founded the Golden State Pops Orchestra in 2001. After completing USC’s graduate program in film scoring, he was hired by a former Disney animator to compose a pilot for cartoons in India. He scored the music for all nine, was paid for one—and the pilot never got picked up.

After looking for work as a conductor, Steven decided not to spend the next 15 or 20 years auditioning for orchestras and then being somebody’s assistant, so he founded his own orchestra to focus entirely on film music and build a business. When asked what he likes to conduct, his response is immediate: “If it’s got emotion and drama, I’d like to perform it.”

Examples of jobs well-done? “The theme to Schindler’s List captures our emotions, and E.T. does a phenomenal job telling the story.”

A few years after its founding, the GSPO’s repertoire expanded to include the extraordinarily rich contributions made by composers of television and video games. Yet the orchestra’s mission has remained the same: “We believe that music is an essential part of life and that people need to be connected more to live music. Media music with its visual component of lighting and video is a great bridge to bring people into the symphonic work.”

The 2014-2015 season featured events such as “Anatomy of a Horror Score” at Sonic Fuel Studios; “A Spoonful of Sherman” celebrating music that defined the sound of Disney; “Superhero Soundtracks” at the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro; and the upcoming “Varése Sarabande Composer Celebration” this June at Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center.

Steven’s personal taste falls in the genre of action/adventure—“but darker,” he says. “I like what Lord of the Rings does, or Star Wars, where you’re given a palette that’s so huge you can’t ‘overdo’ the movie with music.”

As one would expect of a composer and maestro, which means both ‘master’ and ‘teacher’ in Italian, Steven follows musical developments closely. Of all the current composers, he’s most impressed by Austin Wintory—the first composer to have his video game, Journey, nominated for a Grammy.  

Journey is centered around a beautiful cello solo,” Steven says. “In The Banner Saga, Wintory used a band instead of an orchestra. He’s pushing the art form forward.”