The Northwest Sinfonietta, whose usual domain is the classical chamber orchestra repertoire, had a brief flirtation with Charlie Chaplin four years ago, playing the score live to his silent films “A Dog’s Life” and “Shoulder Arms.” The affair was a success on all sides, and this weekend the ensemble is giving the silent movie maestro another chance to lead them into silliness and mayhem, playing live to a screening of Chaplin’s famous “The Gold Rush” in Seattle, Tacoma and Puyallup.
But they’re choosing different venues to do it. For Seattle they’ll stick with Benaroya Hall, but to give the film (and the audience) full capacity they’ll be playing in two historic theaters: Tacoma’s Temple and Puyallup’s Liberty, each built in exactly the same era as the Chaplin film.
By 1925, just one year before the Temple was built, Chaplin had seen great success with “Shoulder Arms” and “The Kid,” as well as dozens of short films. By then, too, the Klondike gold rush was turning from recent memory to romantic history. Chaplin was inspired by books, as well as a stereoscope card collection belonging to Douglas Fairbanks. Moving from elaborate on-location shooting at the Chilkoot Pass, with some 600 extras, to just-as-elaborate studio sets made of wood, burlap, chicken wire, plaster, salt and flour, Chaplin created his story of a Lone Prospector (Chaplin’s famous tramp character) who washes up in the Yukon and has every adventure from dance hall brawls to having to eat boots for sustenance, plus the famous scene of a fight in a cabin teetering on a precipice.
To all this cinema magic the Northwest Sinfonietta will play live an arrangement by Timothy Brock of Chaplin’s own score, led by director Christophe Chagnard. Silent movies rely almost completely on the score for emotional drama, and the performance, as Chagnard explained last time the orchestra presented a Chaplin program, requires a lot of rehearsal with the film itself to get every musical moment synchronized with the visuals.
For the audience, though, it’s a unique way to recreate the roaring ‘20s – a historic hall, a live band and Chaplin himself on the big screen.