The first time Sheldon Mirowitz saw “Nosferatu,” F. W. Murnau’s 1922 silent black and white German thriller, he was a student at Dartmouth College, among a wave of new enthusiasts in the late 1970s who ushered in a renewed interest in silent films.
But it was seeing the film “Napolean” a few years later, accompanied by a live score by Carmine Coppola at the old Wang Center in Boston that led to his decades-long, critically acclaimed career in film scoring.
Mirowitz, who grew up in a Jewish family in St. Louis, is a professor at Berklee College of Music’s film scoring department, a prestigious program that boasts some 400 students. The Emmy award nominee’s credits include “Missing in America,” “Outside Providence” and “The Nazi Officer’s Wife,” as well as several other Holocaust films.
Now, Mirowitz, of Dover, has returned to his earliest silent film inspiration, leading a class of Berklee’s top film scoring students in composing an entirely new symphonic score for “Nosferatu,” in a partnership with the Boston Pops and its famed conductor, Keith Lockhart.
Under Lockhart’s baton, the Pops will perform the students’ score for “Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror,” in a screening of a newly remastered version of “Nosferatu,” in a single performance on Friday, October 30, at 8 p.m., kicking off the Halloween weekend.
While the orchestra has accompanied other film scores, including Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story,” conducted by David Newman, this will be the longest, continuous piece of music the Pops has ever performed. Michael Bierylo, Berklee’s department chair of electronic production and design, will join the Pops on the Moog Modular Synthesizer.
In a statement, Lockhart said he sees this project as a way to introduce audiences to this influential silent film and others. It also “puts a spotlight on the special role a film score plays in the silent movie genre.”
“The role of the score is to tell the story, to make the film come alive emotionally,” Mirowitz emphasized.
Based on the story of Dracula, “Nosferatu” is considered the most influential silent film of all times and many suggest it is among the most influential of all films. While a dark and frightening film, Mirowitz sees Nosferatu as a story about the power of love.
Not many know that its screenplay was written by Henrik Galeen (1881-1949) a noted Jewish actor who also wrote, directed and acted in “The Golem,” the classic 1915 thriller inspired by the 16th century Jewish mystical tales of a supernatural creature made from clay. With the rise of Hitler, Galeen fled Nazi Germany and eventually resettled in the U.S.
The Berlin-born Jewish actress Ruth Landshoff, played the role of Annie. Like Galeen, she fled Nazi Germany and eventually settled in the U.S., where she became a writer.
Among the film’s champions is Sol Gittleman, the Alice and Nathan Gantcher professor of Judaic Studies at Tufts University, where he’s a professor of German studies. Gittleman has been watching and teaching “Nosferatu,” for fifty years, he told the Journal. It’s one of the classics of German Expressionist films, dark, intensely emotional movies that played with dramatic lighting that distorted reality. There was nothing comparable, he said.
“For the first time, film became art,” he said.
“Oh my goodness. To have a score [by students] performed by the Boston Pops in Symphony Hall, the greatest place to hear acoustic, before 2,400 people. It’s a dream come true,” said Mirowitz, in a conversation outside a Berklee studio where on a recent weekend he met with students to review the score before rehearsals with the Pops.
All but one of the eight rising composers are international students who were selected after a highly competitive application. One is from Israel, another a Jewish student from Russia. Others hail from Malaysia, Canada, and South Korea.
They completed the entire score in a 10-week course last summer. To ensure its cohesion, Mirowitz composed themes for each student’s section. Lockhart met with the students and reviewed each student’s score, with an eye on practical and logistical issues.
Amit May Cohen, a graduate of Israel’s prestigious Thelma Yellin School of Arts, had never seen “Nosferatu,” before beginning this class.
Cohen’s score accompanies a transition scene in the middle of the film, where the character Thomas Hutter discovered that Count Orlok is a vampire. “It’s not the scariest part of the film, but it’s the creepiest,” Cohen observed.
While not a fan of horror films, Elena Nezhelskaya, who has performed Jewish music recitals at Berklee, embraced this project, she told the Journal in a phone conversation. A senior in her last semester at Berklee, Nezhelskaya’s score accompanies the dramatic scene in the second half of the film, when Count Orlock arrives by ship in a German port town, unleashing a cargo of rats that invade the town.
Her aim was to evoke a montage of feelings, evoking elements of fear, anticipation and suspense.
Mirowitz’s high energy was matched by his high professional standards, both students said. Late night emails asking for revisions sharpened Cohen’s skills, she said.
In addition to Cohen and Nezhelskaya, other student composers were Wani Han, Emily Joseph, Victor Kong, Matthew Morris, Hyunsoo Nam, and Joy Ngiaw Jing Yi.
In conjunction with the project, Brigham and Women’s Hospital will host a blood drive on October 30, from 2-7 pm, on Saint Stephen’s Street, next to Symphony Hall.
For tickets and more information, visit bostonpops.org. Video highlights of the performance will be featured on the Boston Pops website shortly after the performance.