DRACULA Tod Browning's film (1931) with live music by Philip Glass and Kronos Quartet. Royal Festival Hall 23 October 1999
Philip Glass has already made a significant contribution to the genre of film music with his scores for Koyaanisqatsi (1982), Anima Mundi (1991), Martin Scorsese's Kundun (1997) and most recently Peter Weir's The Truman Show. Dracula is something of a departure - the film in question is a 1931 classic, starring Bela Lugosi in the title role. The composer himself joined the Kronos Quartet and Michael Riesman in the sold-out premiere at the RFH, playing to a predominantly black-clad, quasi-vampiric audience.
Dracula enjoyed world-wide popularity when it first opened. Now it can appear dated - the over-emphasised gestures of the actors were a source of great amusement to the 1999 audience, a pity when one considers that to swathe the film in late-twentieth century minimalist musical language is to immediately recontextualise what one sees. This effect was heightened by the musicians being situated behind the semi-transparent screen, appearing as late-1990s ghosts to the film's black-and-white 'reality'.
Glass shied away from obvious cliches in his setting, following the succession of scenes carefully but without detracting from the narrative thread. The repetitive nature of minimalism is the ideal tool with which to heighten musical tension throughout the film. Given the inexorable nature of Glass' musical materials, the moments when the music stopped were all the more effective and threw the action into vivid relief. To claim that the score made the film any more frightening (or frightening at all, for that matter) would certainly overstate the case for the defence, and I for one felt that on more than one occasion it was intrusive (it didn't help that the amplification for the quartet and keyboards was sometimes so loud that one had to strain to maintain one's concentration on the film itself).
It is a tribute to the Kronos to say that their concentration did not flag throughout the performance. They are obviously at home in Glass' harmonic language and in his compositional practices, a fact demonstrated by the success of their Glass recordings.
The soundtrack to Dracula (with Philip Glass on keyboards) is available on Nonesuch 7559 79584-2 (a video is also on sale).
review to come
The Kronos have recorded String Quartets Nos. 2-5 on Nonesuch 7559 79356-2.
Other of Glass' film scores are available - Koyaanisqatsi on 7559 79519-2
Anima Mundi on 7559 79329-2 and Kundun on 7559 79460-2 review(all Nonesuch).
For a taste of Glass in the concert hall, try the recent recording of his Violin Concerto on Telarc CD80494 (Robert McDuffie with the Houston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christoph Eschenbach, coupled with John Adams' Violin Concerto).
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