Red Cedar Chamber Music presents Brinton Surprise

Clockwise from left, Claudia Anderson, John Dowdall, Carey Bostian and Miera Kim, and historian Michael Zahs.
Clockwise from left, Claudia Anderson, John Dowdall, Carey Bostian and Miera Kim, and historian Michael Zahs.

Red Cedar Chamber Music is currently presenting our third program, featuring early silent films and magic lantern slides from the Brinton Collection.

Michael Zahs, a retired junior high science and history teacher from Washington, Iowa, saved the collection from the dump in 1981. The collection (The Brinton Entertaining Company Papers) is housed at the University of Iowa Library’s Special Collections and is one of the most used resource collections the university has. The collection is of significant international importance and contains many unique items thought to be lost to the world for 100 years.

When people think of silent films, they think of Charlie Chaplin, whose career didn’t even begin until about 10 years after the newest film in the Brinton Collection was made. The films we are presenting are from the very beginning of the film industry spanning 1895-1908 and were made by the early giants (the inventors) of the motion-picture industry. George Melies, Thomas Edison, Segundo de Chomon and Siegmund Lubin among them.

Another common misconception was that silent films were, well, silent. Early films were always accompanied by music and/or narration. Even the very first public showing of moving pictures (Lumiere Brothers, 1895) was accompanied by guitar. During the early film era, the primary occupation for musicians was accompanying film. Nearly every opera house had its own house “band,” whether it was a pianist, chamber ensemble or orchestra of some kind. Touring presenters would send ahead a cue sheet that gave directions like – 50 seconds of anguish – 18 seconds of excitement, etc. Song books existed that were indexed by emotion – Joy, page 56.

Over the last eight years and through three full concert projects, Red Cedar has commissioned 10 works, or film scores, for these films. The films are more than 100 years old but some of the music was just written. We have also arranged existing repertory to fit the films. Brinton Surprise features seven of the 10 works commissioned and three works that are world premieres.

Philip Wharton has created a magical score for "The Fairy of Springtime," a 1902 French film that features hand-painted color and the Library of Congress deemed “one of the best uses of color in early film.” Michael Kimber has scored "Venetian Tragedy," a nine-minute drama with a surprise ending. His masterful score includes leitmotifs for each character and dramatic effects.

New to Red Cedar for this project, a duo of French composers, Jean-Francois Charles (University of Iowa) and Nicolas Sidoroff (Lyon, France), have teamed up to create a major multimedia work that explores the life of the great French filmmaker Georges Méliès, known to most from the 2011 film "Hugo." Their work accompanies four films, three by Melies and one Melies knock-off by Chomon. Two of the Melies films are the only existing copy in the world (their discovery in 2017 turned the world on its ear). Historian Michael Zahs provides narration with music performed by violinist Miera Kim, cellist Carey Bostian, and guest artists guitarist John Dowdall and flutist Claudia Anderson for this entertaining program.

Between April 20 and May 15 there are 15 Brinton Surprise performances throughout eastern and central Iowa. Our final two performances will be Friday, May 13 at 8 p.m. at the Olympic South Side Theatre in Cedar Rapids (tickets and Sunday, May 15 at 3 p.m. at the FilmScene at the Chauncey in Iowa City (tickets

Carey Bostian is the Artistic Director of Red Cedar Chamber Music.

This article originally appeared on Iowa City Press-Citizen: Red Cedar Chamber Music presents Brinton Surprise