Allentown Band member Stephen Reisteter composes original score to accompany silent film classic ‘Nosferatu’ screening at Miller Hall
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With perfect timing, just five days before Halloween, “Nosferatu” the original vampire film, comes to Miller Symphony Hall at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26.
The Allentown Band will play an original score composed by one of their own to accompany the classic silent film that introduced the concept of a vampire inspired by Bram Stoker’s gothic horror novel “Dracula.”
Universally recognized as one of the greatest horror movies ever made, the 1922 German silent film brings Count Orlok, a terrifying vampire, to the big screen.
“This high-definition remastered movie is probably better quality than the original,” says Ronald Demkee, conductor of the Allentown Band. “The audience gets to see the film on the big screen and we play in the orchestra [pit] like they did in those days.”
It’s the second year that the oldest civilian concert band in the United States has accompanied silent films at Miller Symphony Hall.
Last year, the band played for “The Phantom of the Opera” and this year returned with two films this fall, Buster Keaton’s “The General” and “Nosferatu.”
For the first two, Demkee had the 32-member band play existing music that seemed to match the action. But for “Nosferatu,” Demkee was excited when the band’s principal clarinet player Stephen Reisteter asked if he could compose an original score for the band to play to accompany the silent classic.
Reisteter had never seen the German Expressionist horror film that stars Max Schreck as Count Orlok, but he was familiar with “Nosferatu the Vampyre,” a 1979 West German horror film written and directed by Werner Herzog and starring Klaus Kinski as Count Dracula. That film was a stylistic remake of F. W. Murnau’s 1922 film.
“I really enjoyed the film, but was disappointed that Herzog didn’t have an original score,” Reisteter says.
He says the film featured excerpts of existing music like Richard Wagner’s prelude to “Das Rheingold,” and Charles Gounod’s “Sanctus.”
When he heard that the band would be accompanying the 1922 “Nosferatu,” he wanted to take a crack at composing a full-length score for the one-hour, 35-minute film.
“I had done scores for other films, but never to this extent,” Reisteter says. “This was my first time writing a score to be played by the entire band. But it’s always fun to write music.”
Reisteter says that when he thought of German Expressionism, he thought of extreme emotion. He worked to convey that in his score and said it is very dissonant in spots.
The project took him six weeks to do the composition and he ended with a score of more than 300 pages with 30 parts.
He says that at a recent rehearsal, Demkee perfectly matched the score to the film using visual cues.
Reisteter also plays with Allentown Symphony Orchestra. His published compositions and arrangements have been played worldwide by such ensembles as the Philadelphia Orchestra, Danish Concert Band, Amherst Saxophone Quartet and Michigan Philharmonic Orchestra.
As a pop musician, he has played for such artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Hope, Aretha Franklin, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Barbara Cook, Joel Grey, Bernadette Peters and Johnny Mathis.
He also has been music director and conductor for productions at the Civic Theatre of Allentown, including “Young Frankenstein,” “Follies,” “The Addams Family” and “Carrie.”
Reisteter retired in 2017 as an elementary school music teacher in the Whitehall-Coplay School District.
He says, despite all the work, he enjoyed composing the score for “Nosferatu.”
“I’d do I again in a second,” Reisteter says. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall box office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; millersymphonyhall.org; 610-432-6715