OSWEGO — Once upon a time, movies and live music went hand in hand. Guitarist Alex de Grassi revives that tradition, performing his original score for the classic Japanese film “A Story of Floating Weeds” at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9, in SUNY Oswego’s Waterman Theatre.
At the height of the silent film era, movies provided one of the largest sources of employment for musicians — including pianists, organists and orchestra players. That changed rapidly with the introduction of “talkies” in the 1920s. Live music at the cinema languished from that period until a recent revival of interest.
In 2006, the New York Guitar Festival commissioned de Grassi to create and perform an original score for one of the best-known works of Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. Further work on the score preceded its presentation at the 2009 Guitar Festival at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois.
In Oswego, de Grassi will perform his entire 90-minute score onstage as the black and white film plays on-screen.
“While some scenes are tightly scored, others are based on a rhythm or a short melodic fragment that allows improvisation,” de Grassi said. As a result, each performance of the interdisciplinary project is unique, he explained.
“A Story of Floating Weeds” is among the most successful and critically acclaimed films by the legendary Ozu, whose work was honored with a major retrospective at Film Forum in New York City this summer. “Floating Weeds” is a familiar metaphor in Japanese prose and poetry and, in this 1934 film, it refers to a group of traveling actors who seem to drift aimlessly, carried by currents beyond their control.
The story revolves around the lovable ne’er-do-well character Kihachi, head of an itinerant Kabuki troupe visiting a small town where he had fathered a son years before. The son does not know that Kihachi is his father, but the leading lady of the troupe — Kihachi’s mistress — finds out and plots revenge.
The film comes to life with de Grassi’s score, based on a pentatonic — a scale of five notes — blues motif that suggests the sound of the koto, a Japanese harp-like instrument. Separate musical themes assigned to five central characters combine and clash as the drama unfolds and the characters’ lives intertwine.
The Wall Street Journal has called de Grassi’s playing “flawless,” and DownBeat magazine says, “His touch is as exquisite as his lyricism …” His solo recordings for the iconic Windham Hill label and his Grammy-nominated recording “The Water Garden” are considered classics of the solo steel-string guitar genre.
Detailed program information, video clips and ticket links for this and other performances of the Artswego Performing Arts Series are available online at www.oswego.edu/arts.
Tickets, priced at $18 ($5 for SUNY Oswego students), may be purchased at any SUNY Oswego box office, online at tickets.oswego.edu or by calling 315-312-2141.
Parking for this performance is included in the price of the ticket, and is available in the employee and commuter lots in front of and to the east of Culkin Hall.
This presentation is made possible by a grant from the Japan Foundation New York.