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Jean Oelrich
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Pacific Symphony welcomes back renowned organist Dennis James to perform thrilling soundtrack to 1925 horror classic, "The Phantom Of The Opera," starring Lon Chaney, Sr.

February 19, 2013

With its haunting depths, eerie chords and funereal power, the $3.1-million William J. Gillespie Concert Organ provides a chilling soundtrack to the 1925 classic horror film, “The Phantom of the Opera,” for the second concert this season of Pacific Symphony’s Pedals and Pipes series. Considered by many to be the foremost scholar and performer of silent film accompaniment, notable organist Dennis James recreates for the third time the live musical experience heard in movie palaces of the 1920s. (Last October, James performed the soundtrack for “Jekyll and Hyde” and, in April 2009, for “The Phantom of the Opera,” accompanied by the orchestra.) His new arrangement of the original score by Gustav Hinrichs intricately conveys the fear and emotions of the actors on screen. The film stars “the man of a thousand faces,” Lon Chaney, Sr., as Erik, a mysterious phantom who threatens the diva Carlotta and forces her to give up the leading role for his love, Christine Daaé. For organ, opera and classic film fans alike, this musical event takes place one night only on Sunday, March 10, at 7:30 p.m. in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Tickets are $20-44; for more information or to purchase tickets call (714) 755-5799 or visit www.PacificSymphony.org.

Of James’ silent film scoring, Dr. Ed Mullins wrote, “James’ accompaniment was one of the finest backgrounds I have ever heard to a silent film. His performance was flawless. Its sensitivity to the action on the screen was an emotional experience bringing lumps to the throat and tears glistening in the eyes of an awestruck audience. It was superb.”

“Silent films were never meant to be presented silently,” says James. “From the beginning of the motion picture era at the turn of the 20th-century, music was an expected element of the presentation, whether supplied by pianist, organist or band… When applied appropriately to emotional development, descriptive background, comedy support or stimulating action, the music assumes a position of importance in music history equal to that of music of other periods produced for specific events or purposes.”

The film’s story, an adaptation of the gothic French horror novel of the same name written by Gaston Leroux, captivated and terrorized audiences of its day with its cutting-edge special effects and horrific makeup designed by Chaney himself (which the studio kept secret, causing screaming and fainting when the film was first shown). The story revolves around rehearsals and performances of the most popular opera of the day, “Faust,” at the Paris Opera House. Opera lovers may take special interest in hearing how James works many of the familiar melodies from “Faust” into his dramatic accompaniment. The one-of-a-kind William J. Gillespie Concert Organ, built from steel, tin, oak, poplar, maple, lead and carbon fiber, with 4,322 pipes premiered at the first concert of Pacific Symphony’s 2008-09 season, after three years and 42,000 hours of labor by a team of organ builders at C.B. Fisk.

For more than 40 years, James has played a pivotal role in the international revival of silent films with live music. He began professional film accompaniment at Indiana University while he was a music student in the late 1960s and was appointed Hollywood’s International Ambassador of the Silent Film in 1998. James now tours under the auspices of the Silent Film Concerts production company, performing to silent films with solo organ, piano and chamber ensemble accompaniments in addition to presentations with major symphony orchestras throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and Europe.

James is renowned for providing the most comprehensive selection of authentic silent films with live music presentations available today, using his extensive personal scoring library—the largest such private collection in existence, with contributions from musicians, studios and libraries around the world. James also serves as house organist for the Historic Everett Theatre in Everett, Wash. and as theater organist for the San Diego Symphony. The Symphony’s “Pedals and Pipes” organ series continues Sunday, May 5, at 7:30 p.m., when Grammy Award-winner Paul Jacobs performs “Music from Paris,” including works by Boulanger, Durufle, Guilmant, Messiaen and Vierne. Projected images allow a unique, up-close look at the master organist and the magnificent instrument.

The Pedals and Pipes series is generously sponsored by Barry and Valerie Hon.