The Dallas Chamber Symphony Knows How to Put Music to a Movie

Annex - Lloyd, Harold (A Sailor-Made Man)_01.jpg
Harold Lloyd and Mildred David in A Sailor-Made Man
It's getting easier and easier to find movie screenings with live musical accompaniment these days. It's harder to find it done well. On Tuesday night, the Dallas Chamber Symphony proved they know exactly how to create a well executed, interactive and entertaining live music/film screening experience.

Artistic director and conductor Richard McKay led the newly founded chamber group through a couple of modern chamber works before the movie screening. With a few notable exceptions, Dallas' classical music scene is lacking when it comes to groups dedicated to pursuing innovative, modern, or avant-garde concert-hall music. The Dallas Chamber Symphony's Tuesday night concert highlighted the group's potential to fill this void.

During the second half of its program, the Dallas Chamber Symphony accompanied Harold Lloyd's 1921 silent film, A Sailor-Made Man with newly composed music by Austin-based composer Brian Satterwhite. The audience was drawn into the film from the start, bursting into laughter and interacting with the story audibly. Satterwhite's score was perfectly stylized without resorting to parody.

A Sailor-Made Man is a slapstick boy-meets-girl comedy. Harold Lloyd's physical comedy is reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin's style, if a bit cheekier. Composer Brian Satterwhite's deep understanding of the genre's sense of humor and style clearly informed his score. He told me he was looking to create a "fresh experience rooted in nostalgia."

This combination of old and new elements helped transport the audience to a different time and place without over-doing musical clich├ęs. He relied heavily on the piano in his orchestration, evoking the silent-film theater tradition of piano-accompaniment. Richard McKay did a masterful job at the challenging task of keeping the orchestra in sync with the film.

The City Performance Hall, one of the arts district's newest editions, is the perfect setting for this kind of program. Sometimes a theater with a great screen has lousy acoustics. Transversely, I've seen movies in concert halls where the visual quality of the film and screen seem to be an afterthought. In this space, both acoustics and visuals were spot on.

During the first half of the evening, the Dallas Chamber Symphony performed two late 20th-century pieces: Michael Torke's Adjustable Wrench and John Adams Chamber Symphony. Adjustable Wrench fell flat, revealing the symphony's weaknesses. As an ensemble, they're still getting to know each other and their conductor, and it seemed they could have used more time to gel with this piece. It sounded like a first rehearsal run-through.

But during Adams' Chamber Symphony, the strength of this group shone through; they have some incredible talent in their midst. Adams' piece is remarkably challenging and several of the musicians, including first violinist Jing Wang, wowed. It was exciting to hear an interesting modern chamber work in a perfectly suited-space. Of the three concerts this group has performed, this one was the most innovative in its structure and material.

At the DCS's next concert, Brain Satterwhite will return with a new score for the classic horror film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. You can buy tickets and check out the group's other offerings here.

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