Tuesday at Dallas City Performance Hall, the Dallas Chamber Symphony continued its highly commendable series of silent cinema from the 1920s accompanied by new, live music. This time around, one of the masterpieces of that era, Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid, met up with new music specially composed by Craig Safan (whose long list of credits includes Stand and Deliver and The Last Starfighter, to name only two) for an event that was both revelatory and unforgettable.
Working with a small acoustic orchestra of barely more than a dozen players—in contrast to the vast digital and symphonic resources available in Hollywood today—composer Safan creates a sound world to match Chaplin’s epic emotional range. Appropriately, Safan evokes, without slavishly imitating, the rhythms and energy of ragtime and Gershwin-esque, 1920s jazz; obvious but effective appropriations include Chopin’s Funeral March, “Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay,” “Blessed Be the Tie that Binds,” and “There’s No Place Like Home.” Still more significant and admirable are Safan’s creation of several broadly emotional melodic motifs, winding their way meaningfully through Chaplin’s plot, as well as his striking use of silence. No swooping violins when child-star Jackie Coogan pleads; masterful Hollywood hand Safan, experienced with intergalactic battles and epic car chases, knows exactly when to let what’s happening on the screen speak for itself.