John Rubinstein, fabulous son of fabulous father, has varied career as composer actor, radio host


NEW YORK -- John Rubinstein is the son of the late classical piano virtuoso Arthur Rubinstein but he isn't embarrassed to be known as one of the leading composers of popular music for movies and television.

'I feel a great deal of good music is written for film, important 20th century music, more than for any other medium,' said Rubinstein, a youthful, curly-haired 37-year-old who balances his composing career with that of acting and calls both New York and Los Angeles, where he was born, home.


'My experience as an actor informs my music writing,' he said. 'And there have been the lean times as an actor when I was glad to have a composing career.'

Rubinstein observed that some fine musicians such as opera composer Erich Korngold opted to make a career of writing for film, just as Tchaikovsky made a career of writing music for ballet. Haydn, he said, wrote 'gigs' for his patron Prince Esterhazy's social entertainments, much as a Hollywood composer might write for 'Gone With the Wind'.'


Noting that composing for film was only in its seventh decade, Rubinstein said he believed the best of film music will be retained.

'Maybe 100 years from now there will be musical classics that were composed for film, by Dimitri Tiomkin or Leonard Bernstein, but right now there's no room to highlight them,' he said. 'Maybe they'll write about us and say our music was 'greatly unappreciated in its time' just as they say about modern music.'

Rubinstein's first film score more than a decade ago was for 'Paddy,' starring Milo O'Shea. This was followed by many others including two Robert Redford films, 'Jeremiah Johnson' and 'The Candidate.' Although most Hollywood composers do not compose for television, which has its own stable of composers, a few such as Henry Mancini, Maurice Jarre and Rubinstein write for the tube.

His roster of TV credits include the theme for the ABC weekly series, 'The Family,' in which he played the role of Jeff Maitland for five years, 'The Ordeal of Patty Hearst,' 'Emily, Emily,' 'To Race the Wind,' 'Johnny Belinda' and most recently, 'The Dollmaker,' in which Jane Fonda made her television movie debut.

His music for 'The Dollmaker' had a country-Western flavor that was new to Rubinstein's work, but he found it came naturally.


'Music is music,' he said in an interview in the all-white living room of his West Side Manhattan apartment where he and his wife, actress Judi West, live with their two young children. 'I've always been fond of American folk music, much of which is based on Scotch and Irish folk tunes which are already in my ears.'

Rubinstein said he had only two weeks to write music for the three-hour 'The Dollmaker' after he received the rough cut tape, much less time than he usually is given to compose a Hollywood film. He writes in consultation with both the producer and director, pinpointing the musical concept, and with the music director, blocking out the timing.

'Then it comes down to money -- the budget,' he said. 'It's a question of the size of the orchestra and the hours of rehearsal and recording. I write for specific musicians. There's a great concentration of musicians in Los Angeles, extraordinarily gifted, who play all styles and are incredible technicians.'

This summer, Rubinstein is busy polishing a new facet of his multiple career, that of host on a weekly radio series, 'AT&T Presents Carnegie Hall Tonight,' which is broadcast nationally by l75 commercial and National Public Radio stations. He chats with each artist presented, giving a personal glimpse into their lives before they perform. ---


'They wanted a layman, an enthusiast to do the interviews,' Rubinstein said. 'I'm not a musicologist and I'm not as knowledgeable as people think I should be. I have to do my homework.'

His guests have included flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal, violinists Isaac Stern, Alexander Schneider, and Pinchas Zukerman, clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, soprano Elly Ameling, and pianist Misha Dichter.

Rubinstein is no stranger to Carnegie Hall, where his father, who died at 92 in 1982, often gave recitals. He was the narrator in a rare production of Stravinsky's 'L'Histoire du Soldat' at Carnegie in 1982.

Rubinstein's Broadway acting career took off when he was chosen over 400 auditioners for the title role in the hit Broadway musical, 'Pippin,' in 1972. He won the American Theater Wing's 1980 best actor Tony Award for 'Children of a Lesser God,' and most recently was seen as Barney Greenwald in a revival of 'The Caine Mutiny Court Martial.' ---

He has just filmed a pilot for a CBS-TV series titled 'Crazy Like a Fox,' a comedy set in San Francisco in which Frank Warden is his co-star, in the expectation of mid-season airing next season. In the meantime he is working at New York University's School of the Arts as a director in the undergraduate drama department.


'They wanted me to teach an acting class but I don't believe you can teach acting,' he said. 'So I said let me direct full productions and the kids will learn anything I have to teach that way. So far we've done Chekhov's 'The Three Sisters' and Shakespeare's 'Macbeth.'

He is now engaged in a long-term project, a workshop production of Robert Bazarini's dramatization of Tolstoy's 'War and Peace' in which his students improvise the staging much in the manner of the the recent British production of 'Nicholas Nickleby.'

'It's very good, very exciting,' he said. 'I see it as a 12-hour production, but maybe that will be too long, too expensive or too boring. It may not be successful. We'll just have to see.'

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