Friday, January 31, 2014

The Little Tramp at 100

Charlie Chaplin 1st appeared as the tramp in a 1914 Keystone short, improvised in front of the crowd at a children’s go-cart race in Venice, California, & it’s startling to see how instantly recognizable he is from the start. Earlier this month the San Francisco Silent Film Festival held a wonderful one day event at the Castro Theatre commemorating the 100th anniversary, to the day, of Chaplin’s iconic character. There were 3 different programs of classic shorts & feature films, all with live music.

Jon Mirsalis accompanied 3 shorts from Chaplin’s Mutual period. His pleasant & relaxed playing provided a simple, child-like mood for the films. 16 musicians from the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra accompanied The Kid & The Gold Rush. The band included piano, strings, woodwinds, brass & percussion. Their apparently unamplified sound filled the Castro Theatre beautifully, & their playing for conductor Timothy Brock was warm & floaty. Mr. Brock also arranged the music from Chaplin’s own scores for the films.

Artistic Director Anita Monga welcomed the audience but balked while reading a quote from the program because the print was too small. Historian Jeffrey Vance introduced the 2 feature films & displeased the festival audience when he debunked the myth of Chaplin ending up a loser in a Chaplin look-alike contest in the 1920s. Mr. Vance also pointed out in the audience the last surviving divorce lawyer of Lita Grey, Chaplin’s 2nd wife.

At the showing of The Kid, Stephen Salmons conducted a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest, with 16 contestants of various ages and genders. The audience selected the winners by clapping, though it was unclear whether it was the length or the loudness of our applause that was the determining factor. We were also given fans with Chaplin’s face on them, which we held over our faces so that a photographer could capture a picture of a theater full of Chaplins.

The theater got more crowded with each show, & the lively festival audience applauded the famous gags in The Gold Rush. Children were few, though their laughter was loud & clear every time a character got hit on the head. A major plumbing failure created a long, slow line for the men’s room at the 4p show.

§ The Little Tramp at 100
A Charlie Chaplin Centennial Celebration
San Francisco Silent Film Festival
January 11, 2014 at the Castro Theatre

§ 1:00pm
Our Mutual Friend: Three Chaplin Shorts
Piano accompaniment by Jon Mirsalis

The Vagabond (1916)
2013 restoration with modern intertitles

Easy Street (1917)
2012 restoration

The Cure (1917)
2013 restoration

§ 4:00pm
Kid Auto Races at Venice, CA (1914)
Accompanied by Jon Mirsalis on piano

The Kid (1921)
Introduced by Jeffrey Vance
Accompanied by Timothy Brock conducting the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra
World premiere of Mr. Brock’s chamber arrangement of Chaplin’s score for the 1971 version

§ 7:30pm
The Gold Rush (1925)
Introduced by Jeffrey Vance
Accompanied by Timothy Brock conducting the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra
1993 reconstruction, accompanied by Mr. Brock’s chamber arrangement of Chaplin’s score for the 1942 version

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Handel’s Theodora

Last weekend a friend invited me on a field trip to Weill Hall at Sonoma State to hear The English Concert perform Handel’s Theodora. The performance was very proficient. Conductor Harry Bicket led from a harpsichord, & the orchestra of 25 played with impressively tight ensemble & clean intonation. The strings’ 32nd notes during “Kind Heav’n” were astonishingly neat & together, & leader Nadja Zwiener displayed effortless virtuosity in “Sweet rose and lily.” The brass & wind players sometimes stood for their solos. Maestro Bicket often connected the numbers, & the performance flowed at an even pace.

Countertenor David Daniels as Didymus was an expressive singer & had a dense, muscular sound. Soprano Dorothea Röschmann had a somewhat metallic sound & sang with nice rubato. Mezzo Sarah Connolly was solid, weighty & serious as Theodora’s companion Irene. Tenor Kurt Streit, replacing the originally announced Andrew Kennedy, was a bright & urgent singer. I liked the mocking way he sang “Mistaken wretches! ... Dread the fruits of Christian folly.” At one point he picked up a page of music that had fallen to the floor & placed in on the conductor’s harpsichord. Bass-baritone Neal Davies was appropriately blustery & barking as the tyrant Valens. The youthful 24 member Choir of Trinity Wall Street was great. I liked their grounded, warm & cushy sound. They portrayed a very human chorus.

Weill Hall photo IMG_20140125_192429_zpsbdb8285e.jpgMy concert companion & I sat in the center of the balcony, where it was easy to hear all the musicians, even the theorbo player, though somehow the sound from the stage never seemed quite hall-filling. The concert ran nearly 4 hours, including 2 short intermissions which the printed program failed to specify. The audience was very quiet throughout & even let the silence linger at the conclusion of each part. There was major audience attrition after part 2, but those that remained gave the performers sustained applause & a standing ovation. The online listing mistakenly labels the event as “An Opera in Concert.”

§ Handel's Theodora
The English Concert
Harry Bicket, conductor

Dorothea Röschmann, Theodora
Sarah Connolly, Irene
David Daniels, Didymus
Kurt Streit, Septimius
Neal Davies, Valens

The Choir of Trinity Wall Street
Julian Wachner, director

Saturday, January 25, 7:30 pm
Weill Hall at Sonoma State University

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

The Music in Your Brain

A recent podcast from Australian radio about the neuroscience of music includes an interview with composer Tobias Picker talking about his Tourette's & his body's response to hearing soprano Susannah Biller sing Verdi. I also learned that babies in the womb have a fully developed auditory system at 20 weeks & subsequently show a preference for music they heard in the womb.

§ The Music in Your Brain
Radio National
All in the Mind
Sunday 5 January 2014 5:00PM