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Using the 1922 silent movie Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror for inspiration, pianist Mick Rossi composed an original film score for the historic work. The film was one of the earliest depictions of the vampire phenomenon made universally famous through novelist Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897 and crystallized by the acting of Bela Lugosi in subsequent Dracula films starting in the 1930s and continuing into the present era. F. W. Murnau directed this version, which was shown on Halloween 2000 at Rowan University, and Rossi’s score was performed live as musical commentary to the speechless action on the screen.
The music is commanding and powerful. Rossi and clarinetist Andy Laster are the prime soloists. The Rowan University Percussion Ensemble, consisting of ten percussionists and eight bassists, lavishly embellish the dark and light passages with all manner of interpretive speech. Rowan University Music Department Chairman Dean Witten conducted the massive undertaking.
The intrigue of this performance is pervasive, but its imagery is startlingly realistic and communicative. Rossi scurries over the keys depicting lighter film moments and then seeps deeply into the darkness with ponderous thunder as the action becomes morose. Laster intertwines clarinet passages that spring freely from his instrument to cloak the mood swings. The clarinet has the capacity to evoke numerous feelings, and Laster sets the shifting scenes with his conceptual outpourings.
The percussionists play an extremely important role in this presentation. Lighthearted vibes and marimba tones transform into segments portraying sinisterness. Similarly, the bassists add their brand of aural description of the action, such as during stalking scenes and other stealthy, heart- stopping sections. All of these emotions are suggested by Rossi and the orchestra without one needing to be actually watching the movie.
As the film progresses deeper and deeper into its ghoulish plot, the music realistically relays the images to the mind. Rossi ponders over the keys and Laster portrays cautiousness that soon erupts into a state of frightening agitation when the inevitable consequences of the storyline unfold in full. The kettledrums explode, the bassists become frenzied, and Rossi and Laster continue to transport the visions in compelling musical terms. Rossi often steered the ensemble into sections of free improvisation to provide spontaneity to the action.
Although this gigantic effort was done in support of the silent film, it stands on its own as a significant artistic work. Rossi’s score and improvisations contain all the elements necessary to stimulate a demanding musical appetite, and the intricate blending of Laster’s clarinet with the percussionists’ and bassists’ nuances cum overt outbursts makes the recording an emotionally charged, cross-genre event.
Track Listing: Original Score in Five Movements (65:29).
Personnel: Mick Rossi-piano; Andy Laster-clarinet; Mark Barber, Laura Bryan, Barry Capelli, Jr., Joseph
Donnelly, Andrea Lustig, Christopher Pastin, Suzanne Smalley, Daryl Updike, Matthew Witten,
Edward Zaryky-percussion; Douglas Mapp, Paul Klinefelter, James Barber, Joseph Jacobs, David
Mensch, Nicholas Recuber, Robert Smith, Matthew Turowski-basses. Recorded: October 29, 2000,
Frank has been a writer of live and recorded music for decades, having published in both hard copy and on-line magazines, and currently he documents the live jazz scene through photography, as evidenced by his AAJ photo collection of about 2,000 shots.