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RPO "Turns Back the Clock" To Eastman Theatre's Silent Movie Past

October 18, 2007

Safety Last! Features Harold Lloyd as the famous "Man on the Clock"

Rochester, NY – During the week of April 23, 1923, when the Eastman Theatre was still a new, state-of-the-art movie palace, it featured a diverse mix of orchestral pieces, ballets, vocal works, newsreels and the just-released silent movie, Safety Last!  Starring comedic genius Harold Lloyd in one of his greatest roles ever, it was the most successful film shown at the Eastman Theatre in its early years. The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra under Principal Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik “turns back the clock” as it presents this film at Silent Movie Night at the RPO on Friday, November 9 and Saturday, November 10, at 8 p.m. at the Eastman Theatre.  

The RPO’s accompaniment of Safety Last! – with film score by Carl Davis – occupies the concert’s entire second half; in keeping with the historical look-back, the first half reprises two works from the original 1923 program:  Franz Von Suppé’s Overture to Poet and Peasant and Pietro Mascagni’s aria “Voi lo sapete” from his opera Cavalleria Rusticana with mezzo-soprano Korin Kormick.  In the spirit of “Chopiniana” (performed by the Eastman Theatre Ballet on the original program), the RPO will present Frederic Chopin’s Suite from Les Sylphides.

In Safety Last!, Lloyd is a poor country boy who comes to the big city to “make good” in hopes of eventually marrying his hometown sweetheart, played by Lloyd’s future real-life wife, Mildred Davis.  Although only a sales clerk in a department store, Harold sends his girl optimistic letters leading her to believe he is well on his way to success.  On her mother’s advice, the girl packs her bags and goes to the city to join him.  In Harold’s attempt to convince her that he is really the boss, he finds himself hanging off the hands of a collapsing clock on the side of a skyscraper 12 stories above the streets of downtown Los Angeles.  With his iconic horn-rimmed glasses, dapper straw hat and naïve charm, Lloyd was the “everyman” character to whom the post-World War I audiences could relate.  It was Lloyd’s extreme talents in this film which helped crown him “king of daredevil comedy.” 

The concert’s first half certainly provides a snapshot of music performed in the early 1920’s.  Mascagni’s aria was performed by singer Maikki Jarnfelt-Palmgren (wife of Finnish composer Selim Palmgren, probably the most internationally celebrated member of the Eastman School faculty in the early years).  For present day purposes, Jeff Tyzik has translated the Eastman Theatre Ballet’s performances to music by Chopin into that composer’s Suite from Les Sylphides.  Performing Mascagni’s aria will be mezzo-soprano Korin Kormick, most recently heard in the RPO’s opening night performance of Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music.  Ms. Kormick was a regional finalist in the 2005 Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions and is currently a candidate for the Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the Eastman School of Music in the studio of Kathryn Cowdrick.

The film score used for the upcoming screening of Safety Last! was written by well-known silent movie composer and conductor Carl Davis and premiered in London in 1989. It was inspired by the popular music of the 1920s with the orchestration based on the line-up of the Paul Whiteman Band. 

According to silent film music historian and resident accompanist at the George Eastman House, Philip Carli, in 1923, the orchestra at the Eastman Theatre performed multiple times per day, seven days a week after only one rehearsal on the Monday of the performance week.  The music for Safety Last! would have been compiled from a variety of pieces by the conductor (in this case, it was Victor Wagner), then assembled into a conductor’s score by one of the staff music librarians.  The score’s musical cues were tied to the action or to a subtitle, using a stopwatch for accuracy.  During the week of April 23, 1923, approximately 60,000 people attended the performances; at that time, the city of Rochester boasted a population of only 300,000. 

Tickets for these performances are $20-$57, available online 24/7 at www.rpo.org, by phone (454-2100) and in person from the RPO Box Office, Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (non-concert Saturdays, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.); and seven days a week at area Wegmans.  A convenience fee may apply.  The WPOP Series is sponsored by Wegmans; this concert is sponsored by Harter Secrest & Emery LLP.

Celebrating its 85th season in 2007-08, the RPO inspires and enriches the community through the art of music.  The Orchestra is passionately dedicated to outstanding musical performance at the highest artistic levels, and has a unique tradition of musical versatility, commitment to music education in the broadest sense and a deep and enduring engagement with the community.  The RPO has been honored with the New York State Governor’s Arts Award and two recent ASCAP awards for adventurous programming.  RPO performances are made possible in part with grants from the National Endowment for the Arts; the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency; the State of New York; Monroe County and the City of Rochester. 

Note: Digital still photos from Safety Last! are available, as are interviews with Philip Carli and Jeff Tyzik.



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