The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical Music: Today is the last day in Madison to see the film “A Late Quartet.” It gets mixed reviews but brings classical music to the Big Screen and The Ear liked it a lot. What do you think? | December 18, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

This is the second week that “A Late Quartet” (below is the film’s poster) is playing at the Point Cinemas on Madison’s west side. But its run will be curtailed and end today, unfortunately, to make room for all the new holiday film releases.

a late quartet poster

A friend reported that one showing had only two people in the audience. So it is not surprising that this art film about chamber music (the masterful late quartet, Op. 131, of Beethoven) and about a string quartet turning 25 won’t stay in Madison after today, as far as I know.

The Ear has heard both good things and bad things about the film. Then he went to see and hear it for himself.

For the most part, the cast is terrific and the acting by quartet members (below, from left) first violinist Mark Ivanir, second violinist Philip Seymour Hoffman, cellist Christopher Walken and violist Catherine Keener is very good and convincing.

A Late Quartet frontal

But the acting weakens, my musician friends tell me, during the scenes where they actually play music. Perhaps that is not surprising since even though, the stars were given lessons on their instruments professional musicians can be especially and deservedly picky about how the act of playing or making music is portrayed. It is kind of like watching TV shows about the law with a lawyer, or about medicine with a doctor, or about police work with an officer. “That’s not the way it really is” they invariably say. And they are correct, for the most part. That’s what makes it entertainment.

A Late Quartet rehearsing all 4

On the other hand, the script for the 1 hour and 45 minute-movie (the trailer or preview is at bottom) generally receives good reviews. Myself, I am all in favor of almost anything that brings serious attention and a relatively mass audience to classical music these days, even though certain scenes and plot points seem to me too melodramatic and predictable or banal, more worthy of opera than of chamber music. But that verdict is not unanimous, and reviewers don’t always agree on which scenes are the weakest. Still, I enjoyed it and recommend it.

Anyway, if you can manage to see it today, visit the website for Point Cinemas for showtimes and ticket prices (today’s are 1:25 p.m.; 4:05; 9:25 p.m.).  And for more info, visit:

In the meanwhile, here are several reviews to consider:

Here is one from The Washington Post (below is Philip Seymour Hoffman):

a late quartet-philip seymour hoffman

And here is a review from the New York Times:

Here is how the Chicago Tribune weighed in (below is Christopher Walken):

A Late Quartet Christopher Walken

And the rock magazine Rolling Stone reviewer took this view:

A New Orleans reviewer saw the film somewhat differently:

A Late Quartet toasting

Here is how the Huffington Post reviewer saw the film:

And Roger Ebert, the dean of American film critics, had this to say:


  1. OK, we’ll go tonight, if only to support anything that brings good music to the public. But I don’t suppose movie theatres, let alone the film industry, have questioned why a film on serious music isn’t more well-attended by lovers of said music — could it it be we don’t trust Hollywood not to turn it into a silly melodrama?


    Comment by Susan Fiore — December 18, 2012 @ 8:30 am

    • Hi Susan,
      I suspect you will very much enjoy the movie overall. Do let us know.
      As for your observation, I think you are right.
      Also, I would add, marketing being what it is, studios are not about to spend big money on advertising a non-blockbuster, niche movie.
      But it makes me think back to the old studio days with their bio-pics of Liszt, Chopin and others.
      As always, thank you for reading and replying.


      Comment by welltemperedear — December 18, 2012 @ 2:45 pm

      • When we arrived at the theater, we were informed the 6:45 PM showing had been cancelled to be replaced by a “special showing,”; but we could come back at 9:25 PM for the last showing. That’s too late for us, especially given the accumulating snow and our drive home on country roads. Very disappointing, but we’ll get it on a DVD — I’m sure it will be available at some time.


        Comment by Susan Fiore — December 19, 2012 @ 7:56 am

      • Hi Susan,
        Well, that just stinks on the part of Marcus and Point’s management.
        There is a state law about truth in advertising, after all.
        But I hope you do get to see the film “A Late Quartet” somehow.
        I think you will enjoy it — or at least most of it.
        My regrets for the inconvenience and my role in it.


        Comment by welltemperedear — December 19, 2012 @ 11:39 am

  2. I think it’s a first-rate film. If some reviewers found the interpersonal dramas a bit far-fetched, my guess is that they have not played chamber music themselves. It is in my opinion a uniquely soul-baring experience to merge your soul, as it were, as an equal partner in a a shared enterprise. It is in fact a kind of love-making — intimate, intense, releasing, deeply rewarding.


    Comment by Jess Anderson — December 18, 2012 @ 12:20 am

    • Thank you,Jess,
      I agree with you for the most part. There were one or two scenes that seemed a bit over-the-top to me — but only a bit. Otherwise, it does indeed capture the intensity of such highly-knit ensemble music-making,
      I actually was quite moved by it. And it is a story movie after all, not a documentary.


      Comment by welltemperedear — December 18, 2012 @ 5:38 am

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