It’s not often that you see a silent movie these days, even less so with live musical accompaniment. However, that’s what we were treated to on Saturday 20th April. This was the main event of a centenary year for the organ (of course, organ or piano accompaniment would have been common 100 years ago) and we were delighted to welcome David Briggs, who is Artist-in-Residence at St James Cathedral, Toronto.
David is internationally acclaimed and he told us he had performed to “The Phantom of the Opera” 275 times, each one a unique improvisation and interpretation! His playing was nothing less than sensational, each half (there was an intermission in the middle) a continuous stream of improvised organ music lasting about 45 minutes. The sounds coming from the organ were hauntingly appropriate to what we were watching on the screen. David said at the beginning that he hoped that we would forget he was playing live and, indeed, we did. You were drawn into the film with this sound all around you. It reminds you how important music is to any production and how we take it for granted.
When the evening started at 7.45pm there was still some daylight coming through the large church windows. David therefore treated us to a rendition of Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor whilst we watched the sun go down. “The Phantom of the Opera” was the original black and white movie from 1925 starring Lou Chaney. Although now dated of course, you were surprisingly drawn in by the tinting, make-up and costumes. David had warned us that we may hear some familiar themes in the music and indeed we did. From Tristan and Isolde, through “The National Anthem”, “Row, row, row the boat” through to, our course, some Andrew Lloyd-Webber! However, it was the extremity of colours he produced from the organ with his own music which particularly grabbed me. From dark underlays in the lower regions to high dancing melodies in the upper registers.
A big thanks must go to Ian Church for inviting David Briggs over from Toronto and organising the whole “big screen” experience. I can honestly say it was a unique experience!