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Concerto: A Beethoven Journey - Rounding up the Usual Suspects
Steve's Livejournal
Concerto: A Beethoven Journey
SIFF's capsule summary: "Shedding new light on a classic composer and his relationship to modern orchestras, pianist Leif Ove Andsnes spends four years attempting to understand and interpret one of the greatest sets of works for piano ever written: Beethoven's five piano concertos." (UK, 2015, 92 minutes, Phil Grabsky)
SIFF link: Concerto – A Beethoven Journey

The film is partially about Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, who spent four years concentrating on the five Beethoven piano concertos, and partially about Beethoven as a pianist and composer. The director, Phil Grabsky, also directed In Search of Mozart, so this isn't his first classical music documentary.

7 Good The film includes frequent commentary by Andsnes about the Beethoven pieces he's studying and playing. Initially, his language is not very informative, except to convey his enthusiasm for the music; it sounds like how a concert musician might talk about music with other concert musicians. Further on in the film, he becomes more accessible, conveying why the audience should be excited about the music, rather than why he is.

The most memorable narration consists of readings from Beethoven's letters. They are very well selected to give insight about Beethoven and the music.

The central attraction of the film is the music itself. I particularly enjoyed Concerto 1, first movement. I was somewhat familiar with Concerto 2 and Concerto 3, but the rest of the music was new to me. The film covered the five concertos in sequence, and it seemed like the film spent less time on the later ones.

Since the film was about the music and the musician, the visual side of the film wasn't a central concern, which made the excellent camera work an unexpected treat. Every shot was precisely in focus – from piano keys in the close foreground to orchestra musicians in the background – except when backgrounds were intentionally de-focused to highlight the foreground. There was a weird brown stain on the wall of Andsnes's house during all of the interviews, which sometimes drew attention to itself. But in the concert shots, the camera work was clear and about as dramatic as a piano concerto could be.

Overall, I rate the film good. The film succeeds as a classical music documentary, but doesn't transcend the genre to the point that it's likely to appeal to people unless they enjoy classical music.

Somewhat off-topic:
During one section of the film, Andsnes performs with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which is conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. That reminded me of the Amazon-exclusive streaming television show Mozart in the Jungle, a comedy about a young oboe player (Lola Kirke). Gael García Bernal has a major supporting role as a conductor who may be a spoof of Dudamel.

One annoying incident during the screening was an Amber Alert. The SIFF volunteers who present the press screenings ask everyone to switch off cell phones during the movies, but not everyone turns them off all the way. If a phone is switched to silent or vibrate, Amber Alerts still make the phone squeal. Phones need to be switched to airplane-mode or all the way off.

Languages: English.

Rating: I don't think this film has a US rating, but I don't recall any content that would be inappropriate for any age.

Screening: 10 am, Pacific Place (room 11).
Audience: a smallish SIFF press screening crowd, I'd guess about 75, in about 400 seats.

Snacks: tea from home.

Ads: none at press screenings; SIFF volunteers provide announcements.

Notes to myself:

SIFF statistics: 1 film (a feature), 1 time slot, no parties. ("J": same.)

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