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Orlando Consort gives a classic silent film a live medieval score

March 21, 2016

cfa-orlandoconsort
British a capella vocal ensemble the Orlando Consort.

French filmmaker Carl Dreyer never chose a score to accompany his 1928 silent film, “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” although various forms of music have accompanied the classic work over the years. A capella vocal ensemble the Orlando Consort is the first group to perform music from the exact time period the film depicts.

Join the Orlando Consort as it performs music from the 15th on stage in combination with a screening of  “The Passion of Joan of Arc” (“La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc”) at 7:30 p.m. April 8.

Presented by the Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech, the performance will be in the Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre, located within the Moss Arts Center’s Street and Davis Performance Hall at 190 Alumni Mall. 

When the film was released in 1928, it was condemned in France and banned in England. Based on actual transcripts from Joan of Arc’s trial, the piece has been praised by critics and ranked eighth on a list of the 100 best films of the 20th century in a critics’ poll conducted by the Village Voice in 2000.

The film’s cinematography was unconventional for the time period, with much of the scenes filmed with tight, close shots, emphasizing the actors’ faces. The concentration on close-ups and the low camera positions produce paralyzing claustrophobia and confusion that both interrogate and reveal the true emotions of the protagonists.

Silent films were routinely accompanied with live music, and two premieres of “The Passion of Joan of Arc” featured specially composed scores. Since then, music from a variety of composers, including Bach and Nick Cave, have accompanied screenings. Until now, however, no one has incorporated music from the time period the film depicts.

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British vocal ensemble the Orlando Consort specializes in medieval music from the years 1050 to 1550, encompassing the time period of Joan of Arc’s brief life. Music, just as with cinematography, has the same potential power to construct meaning for films.

When creating the score for “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” the Orlando Consort identified the emotional points of each scene in an attempt to match music to imagery and decide where the music cues should begin and end. While some of the chosen music coincides with specific action, other pieces have a tangential relation to the scene, which could be textual or historical. This intimate performance of five unaccompanied voices with the film is appropriate to the portrayal of a woman whose divine inspiration came in the form of the voices of St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret.

Formed in 1988 by the Early Music Network of Great Britain, the Orlando Consort’s work combines captivating entertainment and fresh scholarly insight. The imagination and originality of its programming, together with superb vocal skills, has marked the ensemble as a leader in its field.

The Orlando Consort’s performances also embrace contemporary music and improvisation. Its memberts have performed more than 30 world premieres and created striking collaborations with the jazz group Perfect Houseplants and tabla player Kuljit Bhamra. The group currently holds a residency at Nottingham University, and recent concert highlights include their debut at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

During their visit, members of the Orlando Consort will lead a workshop on renaissance vocal music for members of the Virginia Tech Chamber Singers.

Before the ensemble’s performance on April 8, Matthew Gabriele, associate professor of Medieval Studies in the Department of Religion and Culture, will present “The Use and Abuse of Joan of Arc: Memory and the Creation of the Middle Ages,” where he will share his thoughts on the creation of “The Passion of Joan of Arc” and the Middle Ages. The free event will be held in the Moss Arts Center Merryman Learning Studio, but space is limited. Guarantee a seat by registering online.

Tickets

Tickets for the performance are $20 to $45 for general public and $10 for students and youth 18 and under. Tickets can be purchased online; at the Moss Arts Center's box office, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; or by calling 540-231-5300 during box office hours.

Parking is available in the North End Parking Garage on Turner Street. Virginia Tech faculty and staff possessing a valid Virginia Tech parking permit can enter and exit the garage free of charge. Limited street parking is also available. Parking on Alumni Mall is free on weekdays after 5 p.m. and on weekends.

If you are an individual with a disability and desire an accommodation, please contact Kacy McAllister at 540-231-5300 or email kmcallis@vt.edu during regular business hours at least 10 business days prior to the event.

The Center for the Arts at Virginia Tech presents renowned artists from around the globe and from close to home, with a special focus on experiences that expand cultural awareness and deepen understanding. The Center for the Arts and the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology, with which the Center for the Arts is uniquely partnered, are housed in the Moss Arts Center. The Moss Arts Center is a 147,000-square-foot facility that includes the Street and Davis Performance Hall and its 1,274-seat Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre; visual art galleries; the four-story, experimental venue the Cube; and research studios.

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