Festival of sight and sound

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January 13-February 3 @ Howard Assembly Room

WHEN, in 2009, Opera North screened an old black-and-white Russian film in the Howard Assembly Room with a soundtrack played live by its orchestra, a seed was sown.

The success of New Babylon, a 1929 avant-garde classic by Leonid Trauberg, complete with its score by Dmitri Shostakovich, led to further screenings, of Joan of Arc and Peter and the Wolf, and now a mini-festival uniting music and celluloid.

Called Film/Music, it’s the brainchild of Dominic Gray, projects director of Opera North, whose aim is to cross boundaries between the arts.

“One of the things that we find we are really interested in is how different art forms work together,” he explains. “Being an opera company, we would. Because the Howard Assembly Room is so small and intimate we can be quite playful. This season we shall explore the relationship between film and live music and some of the innovations in that territory.”

Film/Music, staged between January 13 and February 3, offers an interesting spread of events from a classic Gary Cooper western to a vampire flick set to electronic music.

“A bit like a festival, audiences can test it out,” says Gray. “It may be a film that they know well and a musician they have never heard of.”

Two of the events go under the banner “films with a twist”, silver screen outings in which music plays an integral role. “One is High Noon, the western,” says Gray. “It has a famous song that runs all way through called Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darlin’. In 1952 the film bombed then, when the song was released by Tex Ritter and went to No.1, the film became popular.” Before the screening at the Howard Assembly Room, the Leeds-based jazz ensemble Home of the Brave will perform jazz versions of celebrated western themes in the foyer.

Two weeks later sees a showing of The Orchestra Rehearsal, a collaboration between movie director Frederico Fellini and composer Nino Rota. “It’s about a conductor conducting an orchestra in rehearsal which goes wrong,” says Gray. “The orchestra fight back against the dictatorship of the conductor. It’s funny but it ends tragically.” Richard Farnes, Opera North’s music director, will talk before beforehand about how an orchestra and conductor really relate to each other.

A pair of films will be shown with live music. Vampyr is a classic re-telling of the Dracula story made in 1932 by Carl Dreyer. “We have got Hauschka, a German composer and pianist, who is going to play a live score,” says Gray. “In the world of electronic acoustic music he has a cult following. It should be a creepy, scary night out.”

Then there’s Apollo: For All Mankind, Al Reinert’s memorable documentary about the Apollo space missions. “It had Brian Eno music and NASA film footage,” says Gray. “It also had a voiceover telling the story of the moon landings. Though it had success as a film in the early 80s what Eno wanted was just music and film.” This was done at the Science Museum in London; now it is coming to Leeds. Adds Gray: “There’s no voice, just beautiful film of the Earth seen from the moon with this extraordinary ambient music. We are very pleased that we have got a contemporary ensemble called Icebreaker, who are the crème de la crème of their field, playing live with the pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole. This is a first for the North.”

The season ends with an evening of music by Nino Rota, the Italian composer famed for his scores for La Dolce Vita, The Leopard, Romeo and Juliet and the first two Godfather movies. “It’ll be music written for films but without films,” says Gray. The programme will be performed Richard Galliano, the French accordion player, and John Surman, the jazz saxophonist and clarinettist. “It’s a new programme for Richard and the first time that he will have done it in Britain,” says Gray. “He’s coming over just to do it for us as part of this festival. We are really proud of it.”

Further into the year Opera North has commissioned Johann Johannsson, the Icelandic composer, to write a score for Pandora’s Box, the 1920s silent film starring Louise Brooks. More events are planned.

Gray likes a quote from Ingmar Bergman, the Swedish film director. “Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our soul.”

“The Film/Music season is part of a long term interest,” he adds. “It’s a split obsession that we’ve got, film with music. It feels like operatic territory – music and image together.”

From Jan 13 to Feb 3, Howard Assembly Room, New Briggate, Leeds. Tel: 0844 848 2727. www.operanorth.co.uk

Duncan Seaman


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