Carl Davis keeps silent film alive

As the movie world pushes ever forward towards amazing technologies like 3D and BluRay, conductor Carl Davis is keeping a little corner of film history alive. With the Philharmonia - Classic FM's Orchestra on Tour - he's reuniting silent movies with their live orchestral soundtracks.

Carl Davis

On Monday Davis conducted the Philharmonia in Charlie Chaplin's The Goldrush at the Royal Festival Hall, and he's taking the same show on to Bedford and Leicester next week.

But how usual was it to have an orchestra for a silent film?
"If you went to a West End cinema you would have heard it played by an orchestra, live, and we have all the evidence of this - the music, the memoirs, the photographs. And then because this started to get expensive it was replaced by the Mighty Wurlitzer, which is an organ with a lot of tricks so it could imitate a lot of sound effects as well. It was only in the declining years of the silent films that it became just a piano."

Asked how audiences react, Davis says:
“The degree with which I can synchronise with the film is the success of the evening. The audience knows that everything is going to come together and relaxes. The whole thing merges as one experience."

Listen to the interview now