As I tiptoe my way in and around the genre known as silent films, I have constantly come across the name of Laura Rossi from management and artists who know the industry. So, acting on the advice of those who know, I got some Q+A time with writer and composer Laura Rossi.

PB: For those readers who aren't familiar with your work, would you mind introducing yourself?

LR: I compose music for film and television, silent films and concert music

PB: When did you begin writing musical scores?

LR: My first job was writing music for silent films for the BFI for ‘Silent Shakespeare’ (a lovely collection of seven short Silent Shakespeare films from 1899). This led on to composing for more silent films, concert commissions, TV and film music including ‘London to Brighton’, ‘Song for Marion’ and ‘The Eichmann Show’.

PB: What was your initial reaction when you were commissioned by the Imperial War Museum to write an orchestral score for the 1916 film ‘The Battle of the Somme?

LR: I was very excited by the prospect of scoring such an important historical film to be recorded and performed live by the Philharmonia. It was such a huge responsibility to get the right tone and emotion, so I did an enormous amount of research on the battle and went over to the Somme battlefields and also discovered that my great uncle was a stretcher bearer attached to the 29th division on July 1st 1916, so it is possible he could even be in the film. This really brought it all to life for me and helped me to write the music from the soldier's viewpoint.

I am very passionate about this film, and I feel it is important that everyone should watch it. We are planning a tour for the film’s centenary in 2016 -aiming for a hundred performances of the music live with the film by amateur and professional orchestras nationwide.

PB: With your recent UK tour of the 1915 film ‘Jane Shore’, what was the audience feedback as you played afternoon and evening sessions?

LR: We have had great feedback from the tour. The combination of live music and film creates a 3D experience, with the music filling the auditorium and the music helps the audience to connect with the film. It is a very magical thing to be a part of and incredibly exciting to have helped revive an old forgotten silent film and bring it back a hundred years later to a new audience.

PB: Which composers are your source of inspiration?

LR: I love Ennio Morricone. He has a unique ability to sum up the entire emotion of a scene with his very direct and emotional music that always really gets to the heart of the film.

PB: From a commercial perspective, how should silent films be marketed to gain a wider audience and subsequent fan base?

LR: It is always great when you get a mix of ages in the audience. People seem to appreciate and enjoy watching silent films on many different levels. Some are interested in the actual film and its place in history. Some are interested in the craft and the way it was shot and how people acted then. Some are interested in the way music interacts with the images and others want to enjoy the combination of the two.

So, the great thing is you get a music and a film audience and usually the people who've come to hear the music end up enjoying the film and vice versa. I think putting on screenings as part of an event or festival is a good way of promoting silent films and reaching a wider audience.

Silent film clubs tend to attract an older audience, but new scores attract a younger audience too and this is key to broadening silent film audiences. It's become a bit of a trend to go to multi-media events, and so this is one way of tapping into younger audiences.

PB: Orchestra Celeste is an interesting mix of piano, cello, glockenspiel, guitars and electric violin and electronics. What was your thinking behind the set-up of instruments and musicians?

LR: I really wanted a combination of acoustic and electronic instruments, and this combination seemed especially appropriate for ‘Jane Shore’ which needed a direct and emotional score. It's a very ambitious film and quite advanced for 1915, so I really wanted the music to add to this and give a modern edge to help audiences a hundred years on connect with it. At the same time I wanted to still use quite traditional methods with motifs and melodies so the music connects with what is happening on the screen and to help engage you with the story.

The piano is so good at creating a wide range of moods, emotions and textures, and the electric guitar and electric violin give the ensemble a modern edge and blends well with the electronics. The cello is such a resonant and expressive instrument, and perfect at creating the right atmosphere for those darker moments or romantic brooding love. We mic it up to match the intensity and power of the electric guitar and electric violin. The glockenspiel adds an element of magic and brightness and contrasts with darker moments.

Getting the right musicians makes such huge difference, as a very expressive and characterful player really adds another dimension and they bring their unique voice to both the music and the film.

PB: What other projects are you working on for the remainder of this year?
I have just finished two feature films ‘Learning to Breathe’ and ‘We are Tourists’, which are to be released soon.

LR: I have a commission for an alto sax and piano which is being premiered at Kings Place, London in October by the brilliant Hannah Marcinowicz.
I also have a commission from Shaldon Festival, writing a piece for children’s choir and musicians from Chetham's School of music and I’m also organising a centenary live film and music tour of ‘The Battle of the Somme’ for 2016. We are hoping to have a hundred performances nationwide from amateur and professional orchestras, as well as an education project, so please get in touch if you are interested. Check it out at – www.somme100film.com

PB: To the uninitiated, what would your message be to those people pondering the merits of attending a silent film presentation?

LR: Go! You'll be surprised at how much the music draws you into the film creating a captivating experience through the combination of music and images. Silent films can be enjoyed on so many different levels: through the acting, the camera techniques, the sets and costumes as well as the story and often some beautifully hand tinted colours on the film. It's also a unique way of stepping back in time and capturing a moment in history and experiencing what it felt like to go to the cinema a hundred years ago.

PB: Thank you.









Related Links:

http://www.laurarossi.com/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laura_Rossi
https://twitter.com/thelaurarossi


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