When the nationally renowned, 35-member chamber orchestra Northwest Sinfonietta performed a concert in 2009 set to Charlie Chaplin’s short films “A Dog’s Life” and “Shoulder Arms,” the experiment created quite a buzz.
“People loved it last time,” said Neil Birnbaum, executive director for the orchestra. “We’ve been getting lots of requests to do it again.”
The moment so many Northwest Sinfonietta fans have been waiting for will be held at the Liberty Theater in Puyallup on Sunday, when a smaller ensemble of 20 members will play the entire score to Charlie Chaplin’s 1925 silent film, “The Gold Rush.”
“This is a much more ambitious project,” Birnbaum said. “It’s an award-winning, 94-minute feature film.”
The orchestra will perform Timothy Brock’s arrangement of the Chaplin original score and show the film, according to a news release.
When “The Gold Rush” premiered in 1925, it was during Prohibition. Birnbaum said concert patrons will be able to sit back and enjoy light appetizers and alcoholic beverages while they watch the show, an experience unheard of in the 1920s.
Christophe Chagnard, Northwest Sinfonietta’s founding music director, will direct the 20-piece orchestra. He said the arrangement will be the most difficult directorial job in his career.
“The music is continuous; there is no break,” Chagnard said. “There is a lot of close-to-the-action music. When the action speeds up, so does the music. Every three or four bars, the music either changes tempo suddenly, holds, slows down or speeds up.
“There is a lot of sudden motion, which makes it very tricky. It’s a very unique challenge that is unlike any other.”
Chagnard said light travels much faster than sound. In one example, there is a scene in which Chaplin has the hiccups, and the drum places the hiccups in that exact moment.
“You have to over-anticipate everything,” Chagnard said. “If you don’t, you will be late. It’s better to be ahead than to be late.”
Chagnard said the 20 orchestra pieces include flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoon, strings, keyboard and percussion. The members are all tenured.
Chagnard said the group will have three rehearsals for a total of seven hours, and he added that the score has a wide emotional range.
“There is a lot of humor,” he said. “The music is happy and sparkling. There is poetry. There is anger. When (the cast) is in the cabin and there is nothing to eat, the music expresses that feeling of hunger.
“This is something you can maybe experience once in a lifetime.”
The Northwest Sinfonietta will perform an original score to Charlie Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush” at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Liberty Theater. Other dates will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Nordstrom Hall at Benaroya in Seattle, and at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Temple Theater in Tacoma. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.nwsinfonietta.org.Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.