Bristol Film Festival, curated by Owen Franklin stopped in at Bristol on 11 – 13 March.  Bristol Ensemble performed as part of the festival, alongside silent film Sherlock Jr.  We spoke with conductor Roger Huckle.

Roger Huckle, born in Bristol, is something of a violin virtuoso.  In 1994 he established the Bristol Ensemble (then known as the Emerald Ensemble), this musicians’ collective brings together the best of the region’s performers.  Their reputation often precedes them, and they have worked on audio-visual projects including the Oscar winning Peter and the Wolf animation in 2008.

The Bristol Ensemble have put together a unique performance based on the silent film by Buster Keaton.  Sherlock Jr will be accompanied by Bristol’s prestigious chamber orchestra – a challenge, but the result of which will be an audio-visual treat for audiences.

“The score that we are putting together is not specially composed, but what we’ve done is put together a score that is a bit unusual for a silent movie of that period.  It won’t be as prescriptive as scores for that time which tend to be very detailed.  We’ve put together a score of music that is already composed and would work with the film.”  Roger explains.

Conductor Nicholas Bromilow will lead the performance, featuring Roger Huckle, Simon Kodurand and Paul Barrett on violin, George White on viola, Jane Fenton on cello, Jub Davis on bass, Roger Armstrong on flute, David Page on clarinet and Paul Isreal on piano.

“What we’ve done is created a timeline from different scenes within the film – matching up operatic pieces with the film.”  Roger explains.

Sherlock Jr is something of a cult classic, released in 1924, director and actor Buster Keaton adapted the screenplay by Clyde Bruckman, Jean Havez and Joseph A. Mitchell.  The film follows Keaton as a film projectionist who dreams of becoming a detective.  In competing for the affections of the girl of his dreams (Katherine McGuire) he is framed for a crime he did not commit.  Rejected and heartbroken, he falls asleep watching a movie – and the film tracks his dreamlike adventures as he embodies the characters on screen, thus acquiring his lifelong dream of becoming a detective (albeit in some quasi-reality).

“When one is in a concert situation, for me, then it becomes a purely emotional experience.”

The Bristol Ensemble have been working with silent film for quite some time, having worked with Bristol’s Slapstick Festival for the past eight years.  It can be a challenge to perform to the correct tempo when playing along to a visual cue, but there are always rewarding moments, as Roger Huckle explains:

“Especially with silent movies, you get a lot of audience engagement.  It’s a different atmosphere, it’s lighter and there is laughter.”  Roger says.

They will be performing at Bristol Cathedral – which will undoubtedly add to the atmosphere:

“It’s a very atmospheric space, especially at night with the lighting.  They tend to light the inside of the cathedral.  It will be a really special evening.”  Roger says.

Roger himself was born in Filton, and trained professionally as a violinist, following predominantly classical music training.  However, he has gained much experience in various genres including folk, pop and jazz music.

“I listen to a lot of jazz music, I like Ella Fitgerald.  I also enjoy listening to a lot of pop music as well.  I enjoy Queen.”  Roger says.

It might be difficult to separate the roles of a performing musician and a conductor – with that ‘all seeing eye’ required.  However, for Roger, it is his wealth of experience that stands him in good stead:

“I’ve been doing it for well over twenty years, directing and playing at the same time.  It’s something that I’ve just got used to doing.  I feel quite at home doing it.  It’s quite interesting, if someone else is conducting then playing violin becomes a lot easier.  If you are just conducting, you can pass on some of the responsibility.  Without a conductor, very often the players have to offer more, and contribute more to keeping the group together, so it’s a very useful developmental tool for playing, too.”  Roger explains.

Importantly, it is the emotional resonance that drives Roger’s own musical competencies, and the Bristol Ensemble as a collective.

“When one is rehearsing and learning a piece, that is predominantly a technical discipline to ensure it is as accurate as possible.  But there is a huge difference between a rehearsal and a concert.  When one is in a concert situation, for me, then it becomes a purely emotional experience.  Communicating with the audience.  They are very different disciplines.”  Roger says.