Filling silent films with song

Octet ensemble Relache will play along to silent films at the Penn Museum on Sunday

· May 30, 2014, 10:38 pm   ·  Updated June 4, 2014, 6:20 pm

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Philadelphia based octet ensemble Relache will perform two shows featuring silent films at the Penn Museum on Sunday, June 1.

The ensemble will play to the background of Hitchcock’s “The Lodger” and “Twilight in Turkey”, the latter of which will replace Raymond Scott’s “The Penguin”, which they have performed in the past.

Sunday’s performance will mark Relache’s first show at the Penn museum.

At the Penn Museum, patrons will be seated during the entire performance, drawing their focus to the musical performance, Haldeman said. In the past, Relache has performed at venues such as the Philadelphia Museum on the grand staircase or in a gallery amidst works of art.

“We’re almost like a part of the art. People come and go; it’s much less formal,” Haldeman said of such performances. “In the Penn Museum setting, people come in and sit down and are responding to the film and to the accompanying music.” 

The concept of playing music to a silent film originated during the silent film era, when films required the accompaniment of an orchestra or performance ensemble. Today, groups like Relache either improvise or perform pieces scored specifically to accompany a silent film.

Relache sometimes commissions composers to score pieces to play specifically along with silent films — such as when the octet asked Darin Kelly to arrange Joby Talbott’s score for The Lodger especially for them.

Silent film work is a significant part of Relache’s repertoire as the group has become more widely recognized over the past thirty-five years. Consisting of a flute, oboe, bassoon, viola, clarinet, piano, bass, and percussion, the octet is also in the midst of a new album release.

Relache is excited to collaborate with the Penn Museum. Octet bassoonist and office manager Chuck Haldeman explained that the group never knows what to expect the first time they perform at a new venue. 

“We’re performing in Weitner Hall, which is in what you could call the northwest corner of the museum,” Haldeman said. “It’s been remodeled recently with lots of wood. It has terrific acoustics.”

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