Relâche adds new music to an old marriage at the Penn Museum

Relâche accompanies Max Linder onscreen. (Photo by Florence Holdeman.)

Known for performances that travel through time and across musical genres, the innovative octet Relâche will transport listeners through a range of emotion on February 5 at the Penn Museum. From moody compositions by Mark Hagerty and Gavin Bryars, the group will shift into elation, accompanying the 1921 silent comedy Be My Wife. The group's repertoire spans classical, jazz, rock, electronica, and world music.

Relâche, the Sublime and the Ridiculous begins with two commissioned pieces, High Octane by Hagerty and Creamer Études by Bryars. Though similarly pessimistic in outlook, bassoonist Chuck Holdeman says the pieces differ in style: “High Octane was so named because we’re an octet. It’s a high-energy piece, lurid and vaguely upsetting. It’s hard to play, a challenge to musicians and the audience. Creamer Études is quiet. It unfolds very gradually, and everything is tinged with melancholy.”

In other words, sadly, scarily sublime -- after which something ridiculous will be welcome. In the second half of the program, Relâche will perform a score by Chris McGlumphy, playing along to Be My Wife, a 55-minute silent film featuring Max Linder, the comic pioneer on whom Charlie Chaplin based his Tramp character. Relâche previously performed to a portion of the film at the 2011 PIFA festival; the full film was thought to be lost. When McGlumphy discovered the restoration, he expanded the score.

Though eventually eclipsed by Chaplin and others, Linder was hugely successful in his own time, producing work that Holdeman describes as “extremely imaginative and improvisational, expressive and outrageous,” words that presumably will characterize the conclusion of Sublime and Ridiculous, sending audience members home with a smile.

Relâche, From the Sublime to the Ridiculous, is coming up on Sunday, February 5, 2017, at 3pm at the Penn Museum, 3260 South Street, Philadelphia. Tickets ($10-$15) are available in advance online or by calling 215-898-4000. Student rush tickets are available at the door with ID for just $5, with an accompanying student admitted free.