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Stewart Copeland

Stewart Copeland unleashes a soundtrack for MGM silent film Ben Hur

Stewart Copeland unleashes a mighty soundtrack for the epic 1925 MGM silent film Ben Hur to be performed live at the Virginia Arts Festival on Easter weekend 2014
One of the most impressive feats in Hollywood history, MGM’s
Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ (edited for the concert stage) has inspired a new score from Stewart Copeland.

Copeland has been commissioned by The Virginia Arts Festival to create and perform the score for the Silent Era’s most expensive film production starring 1920’s matinee idol Ramon Novarro. It will be performed live on stage with the Virginia Arts Festival Orchestra with Richard Kaufman at the podium. This explosive musical experience will premiere at Chrysler Hall in Norfolk, Virginia on Saturday, April 19 at 8pm. Tickets $20–$60; click here to learn more.

In addition to being one of the most renowned rock drummers of all-time, Stewart Copeland has also received accolades as a composer of film scores, concert works, ballets and operas, including commissions from Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and Long Beach Opera.

Looking for a second life for orchestral music that he had created for the 2009 Ben Hur Live arena show that played across Europe, Copeland became entranced with the 1925 Fred Niblo film, still considered one of Hollywood’s crowning achievements. “It’s a silent movie, which is cat nip for a composer, and the wild action scenes are nitroglycerin for a drummer,” says Copeland. His musical approach revels in the excitement of the pirate ship battle and chariot race while never losing sight of the tale’s underlying themes of hope, love and redemption. 


According to Copeland, who grew up for the first 14 years of his life in Lebanon, he summoned his earliest musical impressions to bring a strong ethnic element to the score using Middle Eastern rhythms, modes and instruments.  

At the April 19 premiere, Copeland will perform with the 90-member Virginia Arts Festival Orchestra conducted by Richard Kaufmann.

But Copeland’s involvement with the project goes beyond the music. When Warner Bros granted him the right to digitize the 80-year old celluloid print of the film (which took two weeks to defrost – last seen in the 1960’s), he found himself with two hours and twenty three minutes of ungraded images in a format and speed that are both now defunct. So he embarked on a painstaking process of analyzing which scenes and sequences could create an effective 90-minute palimpsest of the original masterpiece. "Mr. Niblo adapted Lew Wallace’s original material for his medium with great respect," says Copeland, "and I have approached the film for my medium with similar deference."

There are few musicians who have worked in as many distinct settings as the legendary drummer and composer, Stewart Copeland. As the founding member of his seminal proto-punk band The Police, Stewart has certainly mastered the stadium rock genre, most recently in a global reunion tour in 2007 and 2008. But after his work with The Police paused in 1984, Stewart wrote the music for Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumblefish and Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, which was the beginning of a long and much lauded career composing for film and TV. Now commissioned by the likes of the Cleveland Opera, the San Francisco Ballet and Seattle Symphony Orchestra to compose operas and symphonic scores. Stewart has immersed himself in the “serious music” world. Throughout it all, he has maintained his trademark humor and lack of pretense, and is only too happy to impart his unique wisdom to students of music, film, business and media in a way that will certainly appeal to young minds who resist pigeonholing and crave wisdom from an artist who “has been there.”  Stewart Copeland describes himself as the progeny, in equal measure, of Stravinsky and Jimi Hendrix.  Where these two strains come together is about where you’ll find his music. 
Since 1997, the Virginia Arts Festival has transformed the cultural scene in southeastern Virginia, presenting great performers from around the world to local audiences and making this historic, recreation‐rich region a cultural destination for visitors from across the United States and around the world. The Festival has presented numerous U.S. and regional premieres, and regularly commissions new works of music, dance, and theater from some of today’s most influential composers, choreographers and playwrights. The Festival’s arts education programs reach tens of thousands of area schoolchildren each year through student matinees, in‐school performances, artists’ residencies, master classes and demonstrations.

Source : Press release

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