Deserves props for: Along with being one of world's premier (and Grammy-winning) contemporary chamber music ensembles, they've performed scores for a slew of silent masterworks, including Ren� Clair's Entr'acte, Alfred Hitchcock's The Lodger and, this week at International House, Buster Keaton's The General. We spoke with Lloyd Shorter, the ensemble's co-artistic director, oboist and French horn player.
Why did your group decide to add film accompaniment to its repertoire?
"It really fit well with what we do. We'd been doing a lot of improvisation, and the visual aspect is important to an audience, and to us too. So bringing it to silent films or silent cartoons is fun. It's challenging, and it brings a touch of spontaneity we enjoy."
Unlike with most Rel�che film events, the score to The General isn't preexisting--you've cobbled it together yourselves. What's it like?
"It's going to be a series of interwoven fragments from pieces of music everybody knows, along with improvisation. A trio might play a Dixieland tune when a Confederate shows up, while another part of the ensemble will be improvising to the action, throwing in sound effects. That's the plan. We're still working it out. We'll be working it out till people are sitting in their seats."
How does Rel�che want the score to affect viewers' perceptions of the film?
"There's a poignancy to Buster Keaton's work that's really wonderful. We hope to bring that to life even more. This film has very little printed dialogue on the screen--a good two-thirds is spent following the train. We're going to try to give it a rhythmic pulse, an added energy. I think the difficulty will be maintaining that energy through some of those long scenes. But that's the neat thing about Rel�che. We do a lot of experimental work, and some works and some doesn't. But every Rel�che performance is different. We're always trying different balances."
How is playing over films different from simply playing music?
"The obvious thing is the timing. When we're doing commissions, even though we try to stick pretty close to the composer's metronome markings, there's a lot of leeway. But film is set. You have a given that you have to fit things into. In a way it's kind of like ballet, in that the dancers get used to a certain tempo and feeling, and as a musician, you have to try to recreate that every time for them. Film's kind of like that. You can't do this languid melody that's in your head if you have a train running."
What's the name mean?
"'Rel�che' is French for 'cancellation,' 'theater dark' or 'no performance today,' and is often used in theater posters in France when cancellations or 'dark nights' are announced. To me it reflects an anti-elitist view regarding the music we perform. It was used in this regard as a title for a ballet by Erik Satie and his dada cronies in France in the '20s. Witty and fun, it well reflects our musical presentations over the years."
Sun., Jan. 28, 3pm. $7-$20. International House, 3701 Chestnut. St. 215.387.5125. www.ihousephilly.org
A Short History of...
Ben Kingsley, You Kill Me
Oliver Dahan, La Vie en Rose
Chris Eigeman, The Treatment
Mark Fergus, First Snow
Lance Weiler, Head Trauma