Police Drummer Stewart Copeland Joins the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to Perform His New Score to Silent Film ‘Ben-Hur’

By Louise Burton on Oct 09, 2014 04:13 PM EDT

For rock drummer and composer Stewart Copeland, there has been musical life after The Police.

Copeland, who once drove the rhythms of that iconic '80s rock band, has quietly been composing film scores, chamber music and even operas. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra will perform one of his biggest projects to date, an original score for the classic silent film Ben-Hur: a Tale of the Christ, during a screening of the film at Orchestra Hall on Tuesday, October 14 at 7:30 p.m.

"It's a silent movie, which is catnip for a composer, and the wild action scenes are nitroglycerin for a drummer," Copeland has said about the 1925 film. Copeland will sit in on drum set with the CSO during Tuesday's performance, under the direction of conductor Richard Kaufman.

This performance marks the Chicago premiere of Copeland's original film score. "Having a chance to bring the full power and intensity of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to this music will be a once in a lifetime experience for me and the audience," he said.

Copeland will also play a host of traditional Middle Eastern percussion instruments, designed to add unique color to the music of this dramatic story set during the time of Jesus Christ.

Ben-Hur is based on the popular 1880 historical novel by General Lew Wallace and tells the story of the Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur, who is enslaved by the Romans but saves a Roman general. He goes on to gain a powerful position within Roman society, ultimately restoring honor to his family. The movie was directed by Fred Niblo and features the 1920s matinee idol Ramon Novarro in the title role.

Copeland, who lived in Lebanon for the first 14 years of his life, summoned his earliest musical impressions when composing the score for Ben-Hur, using Middle Eastern rhythms, modes and instruments. His score blends these influences with many others, including classical music, funk and rock.

As a composer, Copeland has described himself as a mix between Jimi Hendrix and Stravinsky, saying "film takes you to every type of music: jazz, techno, pop, everywhere."

Silent film purists may not agree with his approach. And others may find it hard to believe that a visceral rock musician like Copeland, who has described himself as an "animal" on the drums, would be capable of expressing the full range of emotions and subtle nuances required in writing music for film.

But Copeland has been quietly honing his craft for 20 years, working with directors such as Francis Ford Coppola on the movie Rumble Fish and Oliver Stone on films such as Wall Street and Talk Radio.

"After 20 years of doing that, you learn how music and drama work," Copeland said during a recent interview on WTTW's Chicago Tonight.

To sample some of the music Copeland wrote for Ben-Hur, here is the famous chariot race scene from the world premiere of Copeland's score earlier this year:

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TagsStewart Copeland, The Police, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Ben-Hur, silent film, Orchestra Hall, Richard Kaufman, Chicago

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