(AMHERST, Mass.) — The Jewish legend of the golem – a human-like creature created by man, not God — has inspired numerous creative works, from Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein to Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2001 novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. One of the most recent creations is Tom Nazziola’s soundtrack to Paul Wegener’s 1920 German silent film, The Golem, which will be performed by his ensemble, the BQE Project, while the film is screened at the Yiddish Book Center on the campus of Hampshire College in Amherst on Sunday, October 9, at 7 p.m.
Widely recognized as the source for the Frankenstein myth, the ancient Hebrew legend of the golem provided actor/director Paul Wegener with the inspiration for one of the most adventurous films of the German silent cinema. A classic example of German expressionism, the film recounts the story in which, suffering under the tyrannical rule of Rudolf II in 16th-century Prague, a Talmudic rabbi creates a giant warrior (played by Wegener) to protect the safety of his people.
Sculpted of clay and animated by the mysterious secrets of the Kabbalah, the Golem is a seemingly indestructible juggernaut, performing acts of great heroism and dreadful violence. When the rabbi’s assistant takes control of the Golem and attempts to use him for his selfish gain, the lumbering monster runs rampant, abducting the rabbi’s daughter and setting fire to the ghetto.
Originally founded by Tom Nazziola and John Florio, the BQE Project is an accomplished chamber ensemble that has quickly developed a loyal following for its original music scores and live performances to both silent and classic film. [Read Seth Rogovoy’s review of the BQE performing its soundtrack to Charlie Chaplin’s classic film The Gold Rush at MASS MoCA in North Adams here, and Seth’s interview with Nazziola here.]
The ensemble, which is usually seven or eight pieces, is comprised entirely of successful classical and jazz musicians. Each BQE instrumentalist also performs regularly with other classical orchestras (New York Philharmonic, American Symphony Orchestra, and Orchestra of St. Luke’s), as well as jazz artists (Ornette Coleman, Ravi Coltrane), popular artists (Paul Simon, Don Henley), and Broadway orchestras.
Tom Nazziola is the composer, orchestrator and musical director of the BQE Project. His music has been performed in France, Ireland, Slovenia, Guatemala, Croatia and throughout the United States. as well as broadcast nationally and internationally on radio and television. His score for BQE’s Golem was featured on John Schaefer’s New Sounds (WNYC); his compositions have also been aired on NBC, ESPN, ABC and CBS.
Nazziola’s orchestrations have also found an audience. He is responsible for the opening ceremony for the U.S. Open; he was also commissioned to orchestrate Edward MacDowell’s Woodland Sketches for a performance by the New York Philharmonic with guest artist Garrison Keillor. He has served as head orchestrator and conductor for Broadway Asia International’s Race for Love (2009) and Reel to Real (2010), both of which premiered in Huairou, China.
Nazziola has received numerous awards including the Bistro Award, the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Gold Seal Award, and the Erich Parker Parent’s Choice Award. He has received commissions from VocalEssence, Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts, American Composer’s Forum, Museum of the Moving Image and the New Jersey Youth Symphony among others.
As a performer, Nazziola has played with Michael Brecker, Gerry Mulligan, Rufus Reid, Dave Liebman, Bob Brookmeyer, George Russell, Terrence Blanchard, Mark Murphy, Susannah McCorkle, Jeff Beal, Richie Beirach, John Hollenbeck, Marvin Hamlisch, Gloria Gaynor and Terry Sliverlight. He has also played percussion in Martin Short’s Broadway play Fame Becomes Me and performed on the soundtrack for Paramount Picture’s Mad Hot Ballroom. Nazziola’s performances can also be heard on Disney’s Baby Einstein CDs and DVDs.
Nazziola is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music and holds a master’s degree in composition from Brooklyn College. He also studied composition and orchestration at the Juilliard School and at the Mannes School of Music.
For this performance of The Golem, the BQE Project’s instrumentation consists of violin, cello, upright bass, percussion, electric and acoustic guitars, and piano.
The Yiddish Book Center is located at 1021 West Street, in Amherst, on the campus of Hampshire College. Admission to the performance is $25/general admission; $20/member; $12/student. For tickets and more information visit the Yiddish Book Center or call 413.256.4900.
The Yiddish Book Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to rescuing and distributing Yiddish books and opening their contents to the world. Its headquarters houses exhibitions about Jewish literature, art, culture, film, and music and other resources for visitors.