Solo Film Accompaniment

            Philip Carli brings both prodigious musical talent and a committed scholarly outlook to his lifelong passion for the music and culture of the turn of the last century. He discovered silent film at the age of five and began his accompaniment career at thirteen, with a performance for Lon Chaney’s 1923 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. While at college he programmed and accompanied an annual series of silent films, and also organized and conducted a 50-piece student orchestra using 19th-century performance practice. Since then, he has continued his studies of the film, music and culture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, earning a doctorate from the Eastman School of Music. He has at the same time toured extensively as a film accompanist throughout North America and Europe, performing on keyboard and with orchestra at such venues as Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery in Washington, DC, the Cinémathèque Québécoise in Montreal, the National Film Theatre in London, and the Berlin International Film Festival. He is the staff accompanist for the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, and performs annually at several film festivals in the United States as well as at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Italy.

            In matters of musical style, Dr. Carli’s central dictum for film accompaniment is that the score and performance should serve the film above all, regardless of the particular genre of the music. In an ideal performance, the audience should be caught up in the excitement – or humor, or pathos – of the drama without specific awareness of the accompaniment, even while it is helping to intensify the film’s emotional message. For his own accompaniments, he draws on his deep knowledge of “period” musical materials, including both popular dance forms of the 1920s and the highly chromatic music developed for nineteenth-century opera. The colorful scores, whether they are organ or piano improvisations conceived on stage in tandem with the film or original compositions for full orchestra, help the audience to bridge the cultural gap between their everyday lives and the film images produced and edited generations ago. An exciting score in an idiom that would be familiar to the original audience for the film leads the modern viewer to accept dramatic conventions that might otherwise seem stilted or even unintentionally comical, rather than highlighting these as more “modern” scores can do. The musical translation pulls viewers deeply into the world of the film by engaging their emotions in musical terms that are still familiar and strongly compelling today.

            Dr. Carli has accompanied hundreds of films over the years on piano and organ, and recorded piano accompaniments to over seventy films for video release by the Library of Congress, a number of film and video companies, and for broadcast on the American Movie Classics and the Turner Classic Movies cable channels. In 1996 his orchestral score to Herbert Brenon’s Peter Pan (1924) received its world premiere under his direction at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, performed by the Flower City Society Orchestra of Rochester, New York, which Mr. Carli founded in 1993. His score for full orchestra to Mary Pickford’s Stella Maris was recorded by the Moravian Philharmonic orchestra for video release by Milestone Films and the Mary Pickford Foundation in 1999. The Flower City Society Orchestra has also recorded his scores for Captain Salvation, commissioned by Turner Classic Movies, and The Poor Little Rich Girl, commissioned by the Pickford Foundation. Dr. Carli is available to accompany silent films on either piano or organ (as well as conducting orchestral scores for gala occasions), and improvises elegantly finished scores even to films he has never previously seen -- as he often does at festivals dedicated to showing rarities and new restorations. He is also able to provide expert programming assistance, including help with choosing appropriate and crowd-pleasing films, avoiding or resolving rights issues, locating and renting the best quality prints, and promoting silent film to audiences of all ages. You may contact him by e-mail at, by telephone at (585) 527-9632 or by post at 199 Warwick Avenue, Rochester, NY  14611. 



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