Conductor and record producer Charles Allan Gerhardt, whose “Classic Film Scores” series helped rekindle popular interest in movie music, died Feb. 22 in Redding, Calif., from complications following an operation for brain cancer. He was 72.
Gerhardt’s 1972 recording of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s film music is credited with reviving interest in the Viennese composer’s concert music as well.
“The Sea Hawk” launched RCA’s film music series and resulted in 12 more albums (later reissued on CD), many of them deemed the definitive recordings of scores by Max Steiner, Franz Waxman, Bernard Herrmann, Miklos Rozsa and other film-music greats.
Born in Detroit and raised in Little Rock, Ark., he began playing the piano at age 5 and composition at 9. He studied at the U. of Illinois, College of William and Mary, USC and the Juilliard School of Music.
Formal education was interrupted Gerhardt served in the Navy as a chaplain’s assistant during WWII.
In 1950. Gerhardt began his professional music career when he joined the technical staff of RCA Victor, where he assisted at sessions for Vladimir Horowitz, Wanda Landowska, Kirsten Flagstad and William Kapell. He also worked with Arturo Toscanini, who urged Gerhardt to study conducting.
He made one of the label’s first experimental stereophonic recordings with Stokowski and worked closely with Toscanini during the last few years of the renowned conductor’s life.
By the early 1960s Gerhardt was overseeing RCA’s productions in London. His first major project as a producer was “A Festival of Light Classical Music,” which sold through the Reader’s Digest in 1960, the beginning of a long association with the publishing giant. Indeed, The “Festival of Light Classical Music,” was so successful that he produced dozens of others over the next three decades.
In 1961, he produced a Beethoven cycle conducted by Rene Leibowitz that has become a collector’s item and was recently was reissued by Chesky Records.
Gerhardt’s conducting career began in the mid-1960s. His classical recordings included works of Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Ravel, Debussy, Walton, Richard Strauss and Howard Hanson, but he became best-known for his film-music records after the success of “The Sea Hawk” and its successors.
An orchestra he formed of London musicians in 1964 was incorporated as the National Philharmonic Orchestra in 1970, which remains one of London’s busiest symphonic ensembles. Gerhardt conducted it on recordings of contemporary pieces and standard repertory works.
Gerhardt spent most of his time in London but always maintained a residence in the U.S. After retiring from RCA in 1986, he freelanced for Readers Digest, producing and recording until 1997. He moved to Redding, Calif., in 1991.
He is survived by three cousins.