‘Doyen of silent film pianists’ is back

By Julie McNicholls Vale   |   Deputy news editor   |
Tuesday 19th March 2019 7:00 am
@JulieCambrian
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Neil Brand, pictured at the piano, returns to Aberystwyth this weekend

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Music and movies – a partnership from the earliest days of the moving image to the latest blockbusters.

And the man with his finger on the pulse of this vital relationship is former Aberystwyth University student turned TV presenter, Neil Brand.

Neil first made his name as a pianist for silent films. Dubbed ‘the doyen of silent film pianists’, he remains one of the world’s top accompanists and has performed across the globe.

Composing original orchestral scores for silent films was a natural development and has brought Neil to the top in this field. He has composed countless scores for British Film Institute DVDs as well as classic feature films.

This weekend Neil’s work will be celebrated with a series of exciting events in Aberystwyth - where Neil studied drama at the university in the late 1970s and began his journey into a life of music and broadcasting. He has always had a special affection for Aber and visits when he can.

The weekend opens with a free public presentation in the Old Hall of Old College at 6pm on Friday, 22 March.

In The Silent Pianist Speaks, Neil talks engagingly about his varied 25-year, globe-trotting career, illustrated with clips from movies and, of course, he’ll be playing plenty of live extracts. This show is never the same twice, so you can be sure this Friday freebie will be quite different from the show Neil gave us in 2014.

At 2pm on Sunday, 24 March Neil will be on stage at Theatr y Werin with his new show about Buster Keaton, using clips of Keaton’s funniest moments. We journey with Neil through Buster’s early life, his funniest gags and most death-defying stunts.

Finally Neil will accompany the classic Keaton feature Steamboat Bill Junior.

The central event of the weekend will be a screening at Aberystwyth Arts Centre of Anthony Asquith’s superb silent feature film, Underground, accompanied live below the big screen by Philomusica. The film begins and ends in London’s underground. In between it moves through beautifully-shot evocative, colourful and futurist locations as it follows a love triangle involving everyday working characters that turns toxically manic.

Experiencing silent film with full orchestra playing a tailor-made score live is a unique and exhilarating experience. The orchestra creates a vivid, almost operatic, dimension that draws in and immerses the audience in the imagery and drama on the screen. This is not silent film as a quaint, old-fashioned relic. Films like Underground, richly photographed in atmospheric black-and white, come to life in a way you have to experience to appreciate. People still talk about the 2014 screening of Hitchcock’s Blackmail when Philomusica played Neil’s score. If you missed that, don’t miss Underground.

Conductor David Russell Hulme, who has worked with Neil as an orchestrator and arranger, said: “The score is wonderfully varied, imaginative, richly melodic and, of course, full of atmosphere and drama. When the mood suggests, it deliberately recalls the styles of such film music greats as Bernard Hermann and Franz Waxman, while retaining a distinctive voice of its own.

“Conducting for silent film without click-tracks or other aids is hugely exacting – 90 minutes of continuous music, measured to exact metronome tempi so that key visual moments coincide exactly with the music. It’s the conducting equivalent of crossing Niagara Falls on a greasy tightrope.”

The performance on Saturday, 23 March, starts at 8pm, with a selection of ‘shorts’ – extracts from the famous film scores for Gone with the Wind, Murder on the Orient Express and The Big Country.

For more of what’s on in your area, see this week’s Cambrian News, on sale on Wednesday

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