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UVic's Bruce Vogt begins final stretch of Faculty Concert Series

In Bruce Vogt’s performance tonight, the UVic prefessor will provide improvised accompaniment to the Buster Keaton short, The Scarecrow (1920), and Ernst Lubitsch’s transgressive comedy, The Doll (1919).
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University of Victoria professor Bruce Vogt will provide improvised accompaniment to two silent films, The Scarecrow (1920) and The Doll (1919), at Phillip T. Young Recital Hall tonight. MICHELLE MCDONALD

THE SOUND OF SILENCE

Where: Phillip T. Young Recital Hall (MacLaurin Building), University of Victoria

When: Wednesday, Jan. 17, 8 p.m.

Tickets: Pay What You Can ($12-$35) from tickets.uvic.ca or at the door

Bruce Vogt’s performance tonight marks the end of an era for the pianist, performer and professor, who has only a few months left on staff at the University of Victoria.

Vogt, who joined the school in 1980, and has been head of the piano department since 1991, is set to retire in April. After he leaves the school, solo concerts by the 73 year-old — who has performed in countries ranging from Japan and China to Germany and Italy — will continue for years to come, at home and abroad. However, performances like the one he is giving tonight, under the School of Music’s Faculty Concert Series banner, are soon to be extinct.

Vogt’s performance tonight at the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall will see the Cornwall, Ontario, native provide improvised accompaniment to the Buster Keaton short, The Scarecrow (1920), in addition to Ernst Lubitsch’s transgressive comedy, The Doll (1919). Vogt said he will do little work in advance of the screenings, preferring instead to make a few mental notes for later reference.

“I get to know the films very well, and if it is a more substantial film, I will think of themes,” Vogt said. “There’s quite a bit of dancing in The Doll, so I need to figure out the music for those scenes. I will think of four or five notes, and improvise after that.”

He performed his first concert of this kind in the 1970s, when he was an undergraduate student at Western University in London, Ontario. Vogt was forced to improvise during the last-minute gig — “I didn’t have the chance to see the films beforehand,” he said — but would not revisit for the format for another 20 years or so, when was he was asked to provide improvised accompaniment for a selection of Charlie Chaplin films during a concert in Paris.

The process eventually became one of his creative calling cards, resulting in bookings in cities across Europe and North America. He now performs four or five concerts of this kind annually. His performance on campus tonight accompanying silent films will be his last as member of the faculty of the school of music, he said.

“I’m certainly not retiring from playing. I just won’t be teaching any more. I’ll still be around, until I hear the chimes at midnight.”

In some cases, Vogt has a roadmap to follow; he accompanied a screening of Nosferatu, a silent film from 1922 with a very famous score by German composer Hans Erdmann, at Cinecenta in 2022. However, that is a luxury not always afforded to him. “There were scores for some of these films, but three-quarters or more [of the silent film canon] are lost. Interestingly, the ones that came at the end of the silent film era is where the most loss occurred. As soon as sound came in, they threw everything out.”

Vogt said he will keep himself active during post-university life, and expects to be busy on the concert front. He has two more Faculty Concert Series performances at the Phillip T. Young recital Hall — one with soprano Anne Grimm and tenor Benjamin Butterfield on Feb. 11, and a solo performance March 2 — before he walks away.

“I’m not being morose about it,” he said. “It’s time to do more of what I’ve always done, but without the teaching. I hope to do at least as many if not more concerts when I leave.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com