The Sounds of Silence: Two Star Symphony Scores The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

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Houston’s most theatrical string quartet, Two Star Symphony, is at it again. That is, defying the usual boundaries of string music. At the MFAH this October they’re scoring The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari the 1919 classic German Expressionism film about a carnival hypnotist and a girl-snatching somnambulist. “It’s a match for us; it’s creepy, dark, and almost funny,” says Margaret LeJune, the quartet’s outspoken spokeswoman and cellist. “The scale of the set is wonderfully distorted with weird skewed angles. Plus, scoring films is what we love to do.” Are you listening Hollywood?

Marian Luntz, Curator of Film and Video and Director of the Film Program at the MFAH, invited the quartet to score 19 silent films for Unseen Cinema last season. “They were great and it was a true silent film concert,” says Luntz. “They were game for expanding their expertise with silent films and we needed a Halloween film.” All Two Star members contribute to the score. Don’t expect Mozart; the troupe plays only original music. LeJeune and Jo Bird (viola) have been playing their instruments since childhood while violinist Debra Brown is mostly self-taught. Bird prefers heavy metal and is rarely seen without her motorcycle boots. “I hear sounds that I didn’t know were possible coming out of Jo’s instrument,” says Brown. “Sometimes I think she just might catch on fire.”

For this event Two Star will expand to also include Jerry Ochoa (violin), Cathy Power (marimba, bells), Kirk Suddreath (percussion), John Duboise (clarinet), and Chris Bakos (bass).

For a troupe that started out playing pirate tunes at Oscar’s Creamery, they’ve gathered an impressive following. They often fill the house, whether at the MFA or Rudyard’s Pub. Their fan base—all over the map age-wise—spans socialites to art rock kids. “Some people come just to see Debra, everybody has a crush on her,” says LeJeune about the hottie of the band. “We call her our secret weapon.”

These babes with bows play at bars, underground venues like Helios, with theater and dance groups, openings and benefits, and even on the street. They landed a big gig playing at a top ten ad firm party when an executive heard them playing on the Manhattan streets. “You can’t deny there’s something sexy about seeing girls playing stringed instruments in a bar,” says Chronicle blogger Sara Cress about their unusual choice of venues. They even charmed the folks at the opening of Body Worlds 3 at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and have even played at a Houston Symphony after party. But film is there favorite place to strut their stuff. “We are very visual musicians,” says LeJeune. “I always have a story in my head when I play.”

Two Star are Houston’s go-to girls for original music. Dominic Walsh commissioned a score for his piece, Alchemy, for American Ballet Theatre Studio Company. Last season Two Star rocked the house in their 3rd collaboration with Bobbindotrin Puppet Theatre’s gothic exploration of life from the grave, Danse Macabre, in full zombie garb no less. Artistic director Joel Orr wrote the scripts around their entrancing original scores. “Living with their music and writing for it has to be one of the most fully satisfying artistic endeavors I have ever experienced,” says Orr about the fruitful collaboration. “Every year we challenged ourselves to look deader than the year before,” says LeJeune.

Two Star’s big dream is to be able to do more original music for film and they fully intend to explore some less ghoulish themes just as soon as Halloween is over. For now, the question of the evening: Will the notorious leather and boot clad musicians be in dressed for the spooky occasion? You bet, and they expect you to be as well.

Learn more at www.twostarsymphony.org/

The MFAH Film Program presents The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari), Directed by Robert Wiene, with live accompaniment by Two Star Symphony Orchestra on Friday, October 27, 7:00 p.m. and Sunday, October 29, 7:00 p.m. Visit
www.mfa.org/film.

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