PODCAST: Inside Berklee—Sheldon Mirowitz

By 
Lesley Mahoney
April 25, 2012
The Berklee Silent Film Orchestra performs <i>Battleship Potemkin</i> at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Maureen Choi, violin
The orchestra performs in the pit while the film plays overhead.
Vicente Ortiz Gimeno, clarinet and bass clarinet; and Trevor Jarvis, cello
Michael Oldham, one of our five composer/conductors
Amparo Biol, horn; Robert Hoveland, trombones; and I-Yun Chung, keyboards
Photo by Henry Hayes
Photo by Henry Hayes
Photo by Henry Hayes
Photo by Henry Hayes
Photo by Henry Hayes
Photo by Henry Hayes

The Artist captured audiences and critics, earning it the Oscar for Best Picture and the distinction of bringing newfound attention to silent films. The Berklee Silent Film Orchestra has been carving a corner on that market, too. Under the direction of film scoring professor Sheldon Mirowitz, students compose original scores to classic silent movies and perform them live-to-picture on the big screen. The without-a-net element adds another layer to the communal movie-going experience.

Each semester Mirowitz's class, Scoring Silent Films, takes on a new project. Students have composed and performed three silent scores: Sunrise (1927), It (1927), and Battleship Potemkin (1925). They debuted at Brookline's Coolidge Corner Theatre, which commissioned the works, and Berklee took Sergei Eisenstein's Potemkin on the road for a packed performance at Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center. For Potemkin, five students each conducted the reel they composed, passing the baton between reels, and spotters ensured the music of the 10-piece orchestra matched up with the picture.

to Inside Berklee: Sheldon Mirowitz

The Kennedy Center audience was rapt with attention as the dramatic score punctuated the emotion in the tale of a 1905 mutiny aboard the Russian battleship when the sailors rebelled against their Tsarist leaders. While the score itself is remarkable, the synchronization to the film with such seamless precision is another feat altogether.

"It's a really good score," Mirowitz said of Potemkin. "All three of our projects are legitimate scores." 

Next up is E.A. Dupont's Piccadilly starring Anna Mae Wong on May 7 at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline.

Hear Mirowitz talk about the complexity of composing for and performing to silent film, and how Berklee students more than live up to the task.