Silent revolution for the Philharmonia Orchestra

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The Independent Culture

Carl Davis conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra in his own accompaniment to the original silent film Phantom of the Opera this month. In February he conducted his scores to Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush and Modern Times – and this is only a taste of the empire he has created over the past 30 years.

It began with his score for the restored version of Abel Gance's 1927 epic Napoleon: those of us present at that event in the Dominion in 1980 had no idea what it would lead to. Neither did Davis: it was only when Jeremy Isaacs at Thames TV invited him to score further silents that he realised how he might revolutionise the way we watch them.

Up till that point, going to a silent movie meant a visit to a club with a pianist slaving away in the shadows: now the world is awash with silent film festivals where his scores are performed. Each Davis score is tailor-made. "For Garbo in Flesh and the Devil I saw my job as being part of the make-up and lighting department, ensuring that she glowed on screen," he says.

'Phantom of the Opera', Royal Festival Hall, London SE1 (0844 875 0074) 27 March 3pm