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Scores Without Films 

click to enlarge The St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble will perform a program of “Reel Music” at Dia:Beacon on November 22.
  • The St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble will perform a program of “Reel Music” at Dia:Beacon on November 22.

If the St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble ever wishes to change its name, I suggest Virtuosos Who Get Bored Playing The Same Schubert Quartets Over And Over. This group enjoys a challenge. “When I first got here, which was two years ago, I thought the focus was on Baroque music, and [the musicians] really have mastered that, but then we had a contemporary music series, and they just blew everyone’s socks off,” notes Liz Keller-Tripp, artistic associate for the ensemble.

Last year at Dia:Beacon, I saw the group perform contemporary work in the “Notable Women: A Celebration of Women Composers” series. The quiet delight the musicians took in digging into a difficult score was palpable. On November 22, at the same venue, they will present “Reel Music,” a concert of music by composers who wrote for films.

Benjamin Britten, for example, scored Love from a Stranger (1937), a film based on an Agatha Christie novel. Jacques Ibert composed the music for Orson Welles’s Macbeth (1948). And Robert Vaughn-Williams was responsible for the orchestration in 49th Parallel (1941). “Reel Music” will not present the film music, however, but other pieces by the same composers.

Part of the St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble’s work is educational. Few people realize how many major composers wrote for film—because the composers didn’t want anyone to know! It would be like compiling an anthology of Novelists Who Were Also Screenwriters.

Bernard Herrmann is the exception. Born in New York City in 1911, he won a $100 music composition prize at age 13. After attending New York University, Herrmann joined CBS radio as a staff conductor. He wrote the music for the infamous “War of the Worlds” broadcast by Orson Welles in 1938. When Welles moved on to movies, Herrmann joined him, composing the score for Citizen Kane. Probably his best-known works were for Alfred Hitchcock, which include Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho.

“He’s really the powerhouse of film composing on this program. And it’ll feature our clarinetist, who’s fabulous,” remarks Keller-Tripp. Anyone who has heard Herrmann’s disturbing, intricate, careening music finds his or her self wondering: “What would he compose without a screenplay?” Yet his serious works are rarely performed. Most often, orchestral concerts feature excerpts from Herrmann’s movie scores. The St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble will perform his “Souvenirs de Voyage,” a gentle piece in three movements for clarinet and string quartet.

The ensemble has 22 members, not all of whom perform at each concert. For certain appearances, it expands to 60 musicians to become the Orchestra at St. Luke’s. The group is extremely versatile. In a two-week period, it may perform a children’s concert, then at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and later accompany a chorus or even a musical comedy.

At Dia:Beacon, the audience will be surrounded by the Andy Warhol series “Shadows,” which consists of 102 silkscreens taken from a single photograph of a cardboard maquette. The performers will commandeer one corner of the room, where the acoustics are surprisingly fine.

The St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble will perform “Reel Music” at Dia:Beacon on November 23 at 2 pm. (845) 440-0100; www.diaart.org.

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