Program Notes: A Sailor-Made Man, November 13, 2012, 7:30pm at City Performance Hall

 In Program Notes
Brian Satterwhite on A Sailor-Made Man:

When Richard first approached me to compose a score for a classic silent film, I knew instantly what my choice would be. I have been an ardent admirer of Harold Lloyd for most of my adult life. Of the “big three” silent film era comedians (including Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton), Lloyd has always been my personal favorite.

Harold Lloyd got his start in show business making one and two reel short comedies as early as 1913. In 1918, he and producing partner Hal Roach developed the “Glasses Character” which would make Lloyd an icon. Movie audiences instantly fell in love with the character’s blatantly naive optimism and unyielding resolve to challenge any obstacle he faced. While other personas of the silent film era leaned more toward caricature or parody, Lloyd’s “Glasses Character” had a “guy-next-door” quality that many audience members could relate to easily.

Originally conceived as an extended-length short film, A SAILOR-MADE MAN (1921) is widely lauded as Harold Lloyd’s first legitimate feature (albeit a short one). Lloyd and his camp of comedy collaborators infused so many gut-busting gags into the picture that it nearly doubled its targeted running time. This expanded the comedic value of cinema and proved that a well-executed movie could indeed sustain a laughing audience longer than what was popularly believed. It also blazed the trail for other famous personalities including Chaplin and Keaton to venture into feature-length comedies themselves.

Those familiar with his films will recognize many of the same actors Lloyd collaborated with throughout his career. Mildred Grace (whom Lloyd would eventually marry in 1923) plays his love interest, the gnarly-faced Dick Sutherland plays the smarmy maharajah of the fictitious kingdom Kairpura-Bhandanna, and Noah Young delivers a superb performance as bully-turned-buddy Rough-House O’Rafferty. Combined with the elaborate sets (including cooperation from the U.S. Navy to film aboard the U.S.S. Frederick), well-timed gags, and beautiful cinematography, A SAILOR-MADE MAN is one of the great silent era classics of all time.

Being tasked to compose a new score for this film was an exhilarating and daunting challenge. Music has an increased level of responsibility in a silent film and must occupy all the aural real estate of the narrative. This includes evoking the entire emotional spectrum of the picture as well as contouring the unfolding action. My goal is to deliver a classic cinematic experience for the audience so I was careful not to “reinvent the wheel.” I wanted the music rooted in tradition and reflective of the nostalgia for the era.

The opportunity to experience Harold Lloyd’s comedic genius accompanied by a live ensemble of extremely talented musicians is one that I’m sure you will never forget. I’m honored to have had the opportunity to compose this music for this amazing film. I have a strong affinity for the silent film era so it is my privilege to share this experience with you.

To purchase tickets, click here, or call (214) 880-0202.

To learn more about Brian Satterwhite, visit his website by clicking here.


John Adams on his Chamber Symphony:

The Chamber Symphony, written between September and December of 1992, was commissioned by the Gerbode Foundation of San Francisco for the San Francisco Contemporary Chamber Players, who gave the American premiere on April 12. The world premiere performances was given in The Hague, Holland by the Schoenberg Ensemble in January of 1993.

Written for 15 instruments and lasting 22 minutes, the Chamber Symphony bears a suspicious resemblance to its eponymous predecessor, the Opus 9 of Arnold Schoenberg. The choice of instruments is roughly the same as Schoenberg’s, although mine includes parts for synthesizer, percussion (a trap set), trumpet and trombone. However, whereas the Schoenberg symphony is in one uninterrupted structure, mine is broken into three discrete movements, “Mongrel Airs”; “Aria with Walking Bass” and “Roadrunner.” The titles give a hint of the general ambience of the music.

I originally set out to write a children’s piece, and my intentions were to sample the voices of children and work them into a fabric of acoustic and electronic instruments. But before I began that project I had another one of those strange interludes that often lead to a new piece. This one involved a brief moment of what Melville called “the shock of recognition”: I was sitting in my studio, studying the score to Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony, and as I was doing so I became aware that my seven year old son Sam was in the adjacent room watching cartoons (good cartoons, old ones from the ’50′s). The hyperactive, insistently aggressive and acrobatic scores for the cartoons mixed in my head with the Schoenberg music, itself hyperactive, acrobatic and not a little aggressive, and I realized suddenly how much these two traditions had in common.

For a long time my music has been conceived for large forces and has involved broad brushstrokes on big canvasses. These works have been either symphonic or operatic, and even the ones for smaller forces like Phrygian Gates, Shaker Loops or Grand Pianola Music have essentially been studies in the acoustical power of massed sonorities. Chamber Music, with its inherently polyphonic and democratic sharing of roles, was always difficult for me to compose. But the Schoenberg symphony provided a key to unlock that door, and it did so by suggesting a format in which the weight and mass of a symphonic work could be married to the transparency and mobility of a chamber work. The tradition of American cartoon music–and I freely acknowledge that I am only one of a host of people scrambling to jump on that particular bandwagon–also suggested a further model for a music that was at once flamboyantly virtuosic and polyphonic. There were several other models from earlier in the century, most of which I come to know as a performer, which also served as suggestive: Milhaud’s La Creation du Monde, Stravinsky’s Octet and L’Histoire du Soldat, and Hindemith’s marvelous Kleine Kammermusik, a little known masterpiece for woodwind quintet that predates Ren and Stimpy by nearly sixty years.

Despite all the good humor, my Chamber Symphony turned out to be shockingly difficult to play. Unlike Phrygian Gates or Pianola, with their fundamentally diatonic palettes, this new piece, in what I suppose could be termed my post-Klinghoffer language, is linear and chromatic. Instruments are asked to negotiate unreasonably difficult passages and alarmingly fast tempi, often to inexorable click of the trap set. But therein, I suppose, lies the perverse charm of the piece. (“Discipliner et Punire” was the original title of the first movement, before I decided on “Mongrel Airs” to honor a British critic who complained that my music lacked breeding.)

John Adams
June 1994

To purchase tickets, click here, or call (214) 880-0202.

To learn more about John Adams, visit his website by clicking here.

Michael Torke on Adjustable Wrench:

Each group of four instruments combines with a keyboard: four woodwinds are matched with a piano, four brass with a marimba, and four strings with a synthesizer. The texture is simple- melody and accompaniment. After a melody is introduced, it is then harmonized into four note chords. The chords become an accompaniment for a new melody, which in turn is harmonized to work with the accompaniment. The old chords drop out making the new chords become the new accompaniment for yet another new melody.

The keyboard instruments, around which each family of four instruments is grouped, simply double exactly what is being played; the piano, marimba, and synthesizer add no new material. Instead, they provide an extra envelope to the four-note chords as well as reinforce the attacks.

The music falls into the kind of four-bar phrases found in most popular music. Overall, the structure of the piece is arranged in four identifiable sections.

To purchase tickets, click here, or call (214) 880-0202.

To learn more about Michael Torke, visit his website by clicking here.

Join us next time, February 26, 2013 @ 7:30pm – Dallas City Performance Hall

For more information about the Dallas Chamber Symphony’s next concert on February 26, 2013, 7:30pm at City Performance Hall, featuring The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, visit Tickets are available starting at $24 ($15 for students), and may be purchased online, at the door, or by phone at (214) 880-0202.

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