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Film Music and the Ghost of Wagner - Review

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by Alison Brinkworth (subscribe)
Freelance journalist in Birmingham with a passion for the dynamic theatre, art, food and fashion scene in Britain's 'Second City'.
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Silent film pianist Neil Brand is riveting
How many times when you are watching an action film or Hitchcock classic do you take in the music and what it is adding to your experience?

I must admit, I rarely did, but I will now after being entertained and educated in this fascinating event by silent film accompanist and composer Neil Brand.

Neil Brand, silent film accompanist, film music, Birmingham Patrick Centre
Neil Brand gave a passionate and insightful talk on film music and its connection to opera


Brand, who you may have seen presenting the BBC4 programme Sound of Cinema: The Music that Made the Movies last year, is riveting as he hurtles through nearly a century of cinema and how every note you hear helps bring about a greater depth for the characters seen on screen.

The natural ability of humans to relate to music and the tactics used by composers to make scenarios and people recognisable were just some of the expert's insights offered up in this intimate talk on November 1.

Equipped with a mindful of knowledge, a grand piano and a projector screen, the importance of film scores and there often obvious link to the great opera composer Wagner became very clear.

This talk at Birmingham's Patrick Centre was just one of the special Ringside events being held in Birmingham this week to coincide with performances of Wagner's Ring operas at Birmingham Hippodrome.

During around 80 minutes, the audience was treated to many clips including scenes from Hitchcock's Vertigo, the original King Kong and, with one of the most recognisable music sequences of all time, Jaws.

But the real highlight was when Brand tinkled the ivories to accompany clips on screen, like with silent footage of Shackleton's ill fated journey to the Antarctic. The pianist did a show and tell in how he could change the mood and hope for the surviving adventurers through a few simple chord changes.

There was also a chance to see rare footage of a wonderful black and white silent movie - Beggars of Life - that Brand and film critic Mark Kermode have taken on tour.

And hearing who and why particular notes became synonymous with film noir was a real ear-opener.

Whether it is opera, music or film that is your particular fancy, this event offered something for them all. It was well thought out, enlightening and overflowed with Brand's enthusiasm for the topic.

It's made me realise how the importance of music in opera has transcended to the silver screen. It adds more meaning and depth to a plot and character. In Brand's own words, "the music gives you what you can't see on screen, if not there would be no reason for it".

Rating: 9/10
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Why? An education in music and film
When: November 1, 2014
Where: Patrick Centre
Cost: 10
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