Berklee Silent Film Orchestra Creates and Performs New Score for The Passion of Joan of Arc

By 
Rob Hayes
May 2, 2019
Press release
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The piece will premiere at the Coolidge Corner Theatre on Thursday, June 6.

Berklee Silent Film Orchestra - Joan of Arc
Reneé Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer.
Gaumont Cinema, Paris

The Berklee Silent Film Orchestra (BSFO) will present its new score for the definitive version of The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), more than 90 years after Carl Theodor Dreyer’s transcendent tale of power, belief, and martyrdom first came to the screen. To accompany the newly available, revelatory 20-frames-per-second version, the film composers of the award-winning BSFO have created a new score for voices and small chamber orchestra. Its libretto is based on the actual transcript of Joan’s trial.

The BSFO will perform the world premiere of the new score, live to the 2017 restoration of the film, in the BSFO’s original venue, the Coolidge Corner Theatre, in Brookline, Massachusetts, on Thursday, June 6 at 7:00 p.m. The score is the twelfth commission and film concert that Berklee has created for the Coolidge’s Sounds of Silents silent film series

Following the Coolidge, the BSFO will perform with The Passion of Joan of Arc twice more, in two of New England’s finest repertory film venues: Sunday, June 9, 7:00 p.m., at The Cabot in Beverly, Massachusetts; and Thursday, June 20, 7:30 p.m., at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, as part of the annual FILMUSIC Festival.   

Based on the transcript of the 1431 trial, The Passion of Joan of Arc is considered a cinematic landmark for its production, Dreyer’s direction, and Reneé Falconetti’s stunning, otherworldly performance as Joan. It will be screened in the luminous, original 20-frames-per-second version, the truest to Dreyer’s original vision for the film, first made available in the modern era at the end of 2017. Experiencing the film at this speed, with the BSFO score—believed to be the first orchestral score for this version—should be a revelation, even for those deeply familiar with the film.

Prior to its release, The Passion of Joan of Arc was controversial, due to French nationalists’ skepticism about a Danish director being entrusted with the story of one of France’s most important historical figures. Despite cuts initiated by the Archbishop of Paris, and government censors—and a remarkable history of near-obliteration and restoration—since the time of its release, it has consistently been considered one of the greatest films ever made.

The Berklee Silent Film Orchestra creates new, original scores for silent feature classics and performs them live to picture. Based at Berklee, in the world’s first undergraduate degree program in film scoring, the student orchestra composes its new works and performs as an ensemble, in a course named Scoring Silent Films, and under the direction of multiple Emmy nominee Sheldon Mirowitz. The BSFO’s seven student composers each conduct the 12-piece film orchestra in a “reel” of the film, passing the baton, in a spectacle of musical synchrony.

A two-time recipient of special commendations from the Boston Society of Film Critics, the BSFO has performed to critical and popular acclaim at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, the Nantucket Film Festival, Tony Bennett Concert Hall in New York City, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and several other major film and performing arts venues. To date, the BSFO has scored 14 iconic silent features, 12 of them commissioned by the Sounds of Silents program at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. 

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