Stewart Copeland from The Police Returns to L.A. with Ben Hur

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925) Orchestral Score Composed & Performed by Stewart Copeland

So the NoHo Arts District dot Com team is a HUGE fan of The Police. We are also strong supporters of the arts in NoHo as well as The Valley. (Go #818!) We also admit to being huge film aficionados. So when The Police’s percussion guru Stewart Copeland reworks the music from a classic film at the gorgeous Valley Performing Arts Center, we pay close attention. Get ready for Ben-Hur, A Tale of the Christ on March 16, but as you’ve never seen it…or heard it.

WHAT: Ben –Hur A Tale of the Christ
Stewart Copeland composed the entire musical score to the 1925 silent film Ben Hur. The Pacific Symphony, under the baton of Richard Kaufman, plays the music, along with Copeland on a massive drum set and percussion, while the film is shown on a gigantic screen above the orchestra.

WHEN: Wednesday, March 16 at 8PM

WHERE: Valley Performing Arts Center
Cal State University, Northridge (CSUN)
18111 Nordhoff St.
Northridge, CA 91330


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You may know Stewart Copeland when he garnered the world’s attention when he captured the raw energy of the London punk rock scene by forming The Police. But he has since spent three decades as an acclaimed film composer, filmmaker and creator of opera, ballet and chamber music. Another thing to note, he’s a Los Angeleno.


ABOUT THE WORK by Stewart Copeland

“When the 2009 Ben-Hur Live arena production of the Wallace novel finished its run in 2011, I felt strongly that the score I had composed for this project deserved a life of its own. My manager Derek Power had shown me Fred Niblo’s classic original version of this famous story and we were struck by both the freshness of the film on the one hand and overwhelmed by its scale on the other. Watching those same scenes that I had scored for a different medium, I couldn’t help but hear my music working with Ramon Novarro’s portrayal of Judah, Francis X Bushman’s Messala and Fred Niblo’s vigorous interpretation of General Wallace’s book. Film-makers are a strange breed, and none more so than editors. During the twenty years I spent working closely with them in post-production, they taught me a thing or two about cinematic story telling: above all that pacing is crucial, and this is where my concert version will diverge most profoundly from the original cut. The full-length version of the film is 143 minutes long. At two hours and twenty three minutes therefore it’s best enjoyed at rare cinema screenings, although it still packs a punch on a flat screen at home. But in a concert hall or at an outdoor festival, I believe this new version will be an accessible and exciting mix of story, film and orchestral performance.”



Stewart Copeland has spent four decades in the forefront of contemporary music as a rock star, acclaimed film composer and film maker, and a much sort-after collaborator in the disparate worlds of opera, ballet, world music and concert music composition.

As the three members of The Police were winding down in 1984 after a seven-year career culminating in multi platinum success, Copeland was contacted by the celebrated filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola and asked to visit the set of his latest film Rumble Fish (“an art-movie for kids” as Coppola described it) to provide percussive accompaniment. Copeland turned this opportunity into the creation of his first score. Featuring a strikingly original mixture of traditional percussion and unusual prior recordings, which came to be called “samples,” Stewart’s work pioneered the field of sound-designed scores and earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Score. Soon afterwards Oliver Stone called on him to write the music to Wall Street, and a unique and prolific career in composition for film and television was well on its way. Subsequent assignments included a second Oliver Stone film Talk Radio, three films for Ken Loach, the CBS series The Equalizer, the Showtime series Dead Like Me, and a teen hit for Miramax, She’s All That. In 1998, Bruno Barreto’s Four Days in September, featuring Copeland’s score, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.

Shortly after Stewart began his film music career, he was requested to write a new ballet, Lear, for the San Francisco Ballet. When asked at a press conference what he was doing next, joking, he answered “You mean after I’ve finished my opera?” Thus was born Copeland’s first Opera Holy Blood and the Crescent Moon, staged by the Cleveland Opera in 1989. Generating considerable amounts of press, the production was greeted with enthusiasm by both his Police fans and the broader music community. Since then Stewart has been commissioned to compose and/or perform works for the Chicago Symphony (2014), the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic (2014), the Cleveland Orchestra (2013), a Concerto for Gamelan and Orchestra for the Dallas Symphony (2011), a short ppera for the Royal Opera House in London (2011), the Tromp Percussion Festival (2010), chamber works for La Jolla’s Summerfest (2008) and the Savannah Music Festival (2008), as well as other earlier performances with the Fort Worth Opera, The Trento Festival, the Seattle Symphony, the Albany Symphony and Ballet Oklahoma.

The Police went on hiatus in 1984, and three years later Stewart teamed with bassist Stanley Clarke and singer Deborah Holland to form a new band, Animal Logic. The band released two albums to an enthusiastic response from both the press and the public. In 2000, Stewart formed Oysterhead, a power trio with Primus bassist Les Claypool and Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio. The band, like The Police, was a melding of distinct virtuosities that formed a sound unto itself. Their album, The Grand Pecking Order, was a hit and the band toured extensively.

In 2003 Stewart began a fruitful collaboration in Italy at La Notte della Taranta, a festival in the Pugliese city of Melpignano on the Salentine peninsula. His appearances with the large folk ensemble which began at that festival have been exhilarating and hugely enjoyable. He has returned to Melpignano several times and toured in Europe and Latin America as an honorary member of the tribe.

In 2006 Copeland premiered a film conceived, edited, narrated, photographed and directed by the composer: Everyone Stares, The Police Inside Out which also featured his score and Police “derangements. Everyone Stares was a compilation of 8mm film episodes documenting the ascent of The Police and the band’s dramatic highs and lows. The three old friends found themselves together at the Sundance Festival in 2006, and, as they celebrated their legacy in this compelling film, the notion of a reunion tour was broached. That highly anticipated reunion tour proved to be the highest grossing tour of 2007/8 and went around the world and back again and extended several times, as it became clear that The Police’s appeal had far transcended the decade with which it was originally associated. It was a triumphant reminder of the strength of Sting’s songwriting and the muscular yet sparse virtuosity that Andy and Stewart brought to the ensemble. It also revived the volatility that can arise when three accomplished professionals are asked to re-join a collective some twenty years after their initial run. So it was in 2008 that the members of The Police announced, with relief, that The Police was, once again, no more.

In 2009 Copeland composed, narrated and recorded the music to an enormous arena show based on the original 1880 story of Ben Hur by General Lew Wallace. It ran for over four months in several European arenas, including a highly successful series of shows at the O2 Arena in London. In 2011 “Ben Hur Live” was revived for a three month run in Rome.

February 2011 brought the premiere of Copeland’s Concerto for Gamelan and Orchestra as commissioned by the Dallas Symphony. “Gamelan D’Drum” is a three movement work featuring the celebrated percussion quintet D’Drum. Then in April came a short opera based on the Edgar Allen Poe story, The Tell-Tale Heart, which premiered at the Royal Opera House in London, revived again in 2013 by the Long Beach Opera Company. The production’s director Jonathan Moore had previously collaborated with Copeland on his first Poe opera: A Casque of Amontillado, as well as Horse Opera—a piece composed directly for UK’s Channel 4.

Stewart Copeland’s list of awards includes The Hollywood Film Festival’s first-ever Outstanding Music in Film Visionary Award, as well as awards from BMI, Billboard Trendsetter, Keyboard Magazine, Cable Ace, Cinequest Maverick, Mobius, People’s Choice, Pollstar, and Telly, as well as nominations from the Golden Globes and the Emmys. Performances of his symphonic repertoire earned Stewart a Grammy nomination in 2005 in the best rock instrumental category for his piece “Birds of Prey” from his Orchestralli album.

Stewart’s autobiography: Strange Things Happen: a life with The Police, Polo and Pygmies was published by Harper Collins in October 2009. In it, Stewart describes his childhood as the son of a CIA agent growing up in Beirut, through his days of rock-superstardom and his subsequent film and new music activity, including two seasons as a judge on the BBC1 TV show Just The Two Of Us. Other pursuits included a notable period as a polo player. In 1987 Stewart’s team, the Outlandos, won the Archie David Cup at Windsor, defeating, among others, Prince Charles’ team, in the presence of the Queen. Through it all, his sense of humor and appreciation for his unique career has shone through as he has enjoyed working in a blinding array of genres. Stewart lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Fiona, and their three daughters, while continuing to enjoy being father of four grown sons out in the world.


The Ben Hur Storyline

Judah Ben-Hur is a wealthy Jew and boyhood friend of the powerful Roman commander, Messala. When an accident leads to Judah’s arrest, Messala makes sure he and his family are jailed and separated from each other. Judah is consigned to the galley of the Roman Admiral Quintus Arrius. As he staggers in chains through a small town–Nazareth–making his painful way to the galleys, he unknowingly encounters Jesus Christ, the carpenter’s son who offers him water. When the galley is attacked and sunk by pirates, at risk of his own life Ben-Hur saves himself and the Admiral from drowning, and they are recovered by another ship. In gratitude for saving his life Arrius decides to adopt Ben-Hur as a son. Over the years, the young man grows strong and becomes a victorious chariot racer many times over. Eventually these events lead to a climactic showdown with Messala in the iconic chariot race. By the time Ben-Hur’s mother and Tirzah, his sister, are finally released from prison, however they have contracted leprosy. Esther, the daughter of Simonides, the Hur family’s former majordomo, finds and persuades the two women to come with her to see Jesus Christ in the hope he may cure them. Condemned to death and surrounded by the crowd, Christ carries his cross towards Golgotha, the site of his crucifixion. Pushing through the crowd, Ben-Hur shouts that two legions of men are coming to avenge Him. But a voice comes to Ben-Hur and tells him to put down his sword. The women kneel besides Christ as he passes by, His hand reaches out and miraculously they are cured of their leprosy. At last the family is reunited. Outside of Jerusalem the legions that Ben Hur has raised are told of Christ’s death but instructed to put away their swords and instead pray for peace. Love conquers all. The film ends with Ben-Hur, his mother and Tirzah standing against the backdrop of Calvary with the three crosses visible in the distance.


MGM’s 1925 film Ben-Hur: A Tale of The Christ is the most expensive silent film ever made. Produced by Abraham L. Erlanger, Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B Meyer and Florenz Ziegfeld, and an uncredited Irving Thalberg, it was eventually directed by Fred Niblo at a cost of almost $4,000,000.00—some $200,000,000.00 in 2016. With an enormous cast and crew the film possesses a visual scope that is breathtaking and hugely impressive, even by today’s standards.

According to The Guinness Book of World Records (2002), the movie contains the most edited scene in cinema history. Editor Lloyd Nosler compressed 200,000 feet of film into a mere 750 feet for the chariot race scene, a ratio of 267:1 (film shot to film shown). This film had an extras cast like no other. Among well-known and soon-to-be-well-known names working in the film as extras at the chariot race in Los Angeles were Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Gary Cooper, Marion Davies, Myrna Loy, John Gilbert, Douglas Fairbanks, Harold Lloyd, Mary Pickford, Colleen Moore, Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, Samuel Goldwyn and Rupert Julian.

The first attempt to film the race was on a set in Rome, but there were problems with shadows and the racetrack surface. One of the chariot’s wheels came apart and the stuntman driving it was thrown in the air and killed; however, Louis B. Mayer was disappointed with the Italian version as he felt it was too tame. Mayer then offered a prize of $100 (worth about $5000 today) to the winner in Los Angeles. This led to a much more competitive race that ended with a horrific crash that can be seen in the film. That crash, and the prior fatality in Rome, resulted in permanent changes in the rules of filming safety.

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Lisa Bianconi
Author: Lisa Bianconi

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