There are few sounds that provoke more excited anticipation in me than that of an orchestra tuning up. I know I’m not alone in this; after all, it’s such a predictable, familiar sound, and it always means the same thing: music is to follow.
I grew up with a father who was (and is) a pianist, so I attended lots of orchestra concerts as a child, but I think I can date my love of that particular sound even further back, to a particular book: The Philharmonic Gets Dressed. It shows members of the New York Philharmonic getting ready before a concert at Carnegie Hall, putting on their fancy clothes, taking their instruments downtown, etc. It was one of my favorites when I was very little, and I think of the book every time I hear the oboe lead the rest of the orchestra through the process.
So that book was on my mind last night when I had my seat in the Sottile for City Lights, Charlie Chaplin’s film which was screened with the Spoleto Festival USA Orchestra playing the soundtrack live (I wrote about how I thought the event should have been a free community concert last night). But this time what followed the tune-up was different: I’d never seen a full orchestra accompany a film before, but after seeing it last night, I’d love to try it again (not too sure about Decasia though … Chaplin’s music is quite different from the droning soundtrack that Decasia apparently has).
Naturally, the strongest effect of having an orchestra playing a movie soundtrack is to move your focus away from the screen, and toward the music. Luckily, Chaplin’s soundtrack (he was a composer and violinist as well as a filmmaker) is really wonderful — it’s fun, it’s lively, it moves the movie along, and it’s got several beautiful themes that, again, were much more noticeable last night. My favorite sequence was the opening one, when Chaplin’s Little Tramp makes his entrance sleeping on a new monument that’s being dedicated. Conductor William Eddins led his orchestra through this bright, funny music with incredible energy, practically lifting off his seat with every wave of his arms. He and his musicians had the timing of each note and sound effect exactly right.
The audience was definitely skewed toward the 60+ crowd, even more so than your usual Spoleto event — but what’s interesting is that this audience was much more outspoken with its reactions. By the time we were about halfway through the film, people were not only laughing out loud, which they’d been doing from the start, but groaning, or going “whoaaaaaaa” every time Chaplin narrowly missed falling down stairs or being punched in the face. Behold the magic of the movies: people really loosen up, even if they’re in a beautiful theater like the Sottile.
My final thought on City Lights? It was very cool, but not something I’d really want to see again as a ticketed Spoleto event. At a film festival, however? Absolutely. Let’s bring silent films with live accompaniment back, please.
After that, I headed to TD Arena to see Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. Those big TD concerts never really feel like Spoleto events to me, and apparently this one didn’t to the artists, either. At one point, Harris said from the stage, “This is a festival, right?” Yes it was, Emmylou, but you would never know it inside the arena.
That aside, Harris still has that incredible throaty croon, and Crowell, whom I’d never heard sing before, was just as good. On stage, they looked like the old friends they are.
And their electric guitar player, whose name I need to look up (UPDATE: it’s Jedd Hughes), deserves a serious mention — he played solos that put rock band frontmen to shame.