A Taste for the Organ: Nosferatu at Disney Hall

A baleful band of costumed guests congregated for the viewing of a classic.

The 6th annual silent film on the organ series at Disney Hall enchanted the chamber Halloween night with the return of Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror. A crowd of zombies, witches, cowboys, Strarfleet Captains, Medusas, and the obligatory naughty nurse, lion, and policewoman nearly filled the 2,265 capacity concert hall to behold the black and white horror classic.


Count Orlock lurked the big screen on Halloween

After a brief monologue and warnings of plague-bearing rats at the feet of the frightful ghouls in attendance, organist Clark Wilson took to the bench at the portable console on the floor–connected to the towering pipe organ–and bestowed a most ominous and skull-shattering accompaniment arranged from a cauldron of favorites, opening with Saint-Saëns’ “Danse Macbre,” and instantly established a menacing, yet good-humored atmosphere with it’s dark waltz.

Menacing indeed–with 6,134 pipes, the organ at Disney Hall weighs over 40 metric tons and looms a colossal three stories from its perch on the back terrace.  Projected onto a backdrop not quite as tall, the timeless silent flick by F.W. Murnau lit the theater for over an hour with traditional 20’s era vignettes, darkened dialogue boards, and a death toll of just fewer than fifteen–surely not as common in those days.

The score itself, as Wilson described, was compiled from a myriad of popular compositions (some more than others) including a particularly sinister variation of Chopin’s “Marche funèbre” and about twenty seconds of the life-changing “Vocalise” by Rachmaninov.  The organ compliment was a merciless assault of demonic drones and torturous barbarism at the core, beautifully executed by Wilson, who brought the patrons of the event to their feet while he drowned their raucous uproar with his finale.

Watching a silent horror classic with live organ accompaniment is the perfect way to get hyped for a night of ghastly activity, and the organ at WDCH does not disappoint.  The Plus, Halloween night is probably the only time at Disney Hall where you can see a dominatrix with her slave at leash-length discussing vampire eating habits with Cookie Monster.  Although, the award for best costume definitely goes to the five-year-old Charlie Chaplin–adorable.

Not solely used to accompany silent film, the organ will present a number of promising recitals and concerts this season featuring works from Bach, Mendelssohn, and Mussorgsky (to name a few), some of the original masters of darkness.