Present Music and Quasimondo Haunt the Milwaukee Art Museum
“When I found out that there would be an exhibit featuring German Expressionist films and art from the Weimar Republic my mind lit up,” Present Music Founder and Artistic Director Kevin Stalheim stated about his ensemble’s Friday, Oct. 21 concert, “because I knew it would be a perfect time to bring back one of the greatest hits from our past: music written by Eric Segnitz and John Tanner to the classic horror film, Nosferatu.” Present Music has performed concerts in the Milwaukee Art Museum many times before, but never before in such an effectively and thoroughly immersive manner.
As maestro Stalheim mentioned, part of the event involved a screening of F.W. Murnau’s 1922 vampire film, Nosferatu—a silent film that surely terrified audiences when it was new and today can still chill, but it needs the right score. Segnitz and Tanner’s is described as “a deliberate pastiche, in the tradition of the great theatre organists who might have accompanied the original film.” And that it is, but with thoroughly modern elements, such as a recurring electric guitar motif whenever the titular vampire is stalking victims. Their score modernizes the film and superbly underlines its romantic, scary and (unintentionally) comedic scenes.
Another film set to live music was The Somnambulist—an original score/film commissioned by Present Music—which could have been made in Weimar Germany as an Expressionist’s nightmare. Also, Ross Monagle’s No/Mi/Tropōlis, something of a rock video take on Fritz Lang’s immortal Metropolis (1927) was excellently realized and expressively performed.
The first half of the evening’s activities involved solo and chamber-sized performances of modern instrumental music taking place within three of MAM’s galleries; attendees, thence, could listen to the music and view the artworks at their leisure. Meanwhile, the entire scene throughout was spookily graced by costumed, wandering actors from Quasimondo Milwaukee Physical Theatre.