The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Ethan Hawke’s documentary film “Seymour: An Introduction” about pianist Seymour Bernstein, is now playing at the Sundance Cinemas. Go see it. Don’t miss it. | April 4, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday brought an event The Ear has long been waiting for: The opening at Sundance Cinemas of Ethan Hawke’s 80-minute documentary film about the 81-year-old New York City-based pianist, writer and teacher Seymour Bernstein (below).

Seymour Bernstein close at keyboard

Bernstein, you might have heard, was a child prodigy and critically acclaimed adult concert artist who, beset by stage fright plus other mid-life crisis-like thoughts, at 50 decided to drop out of the concert life to devote himself to teaching, composing and writing.

Famed actor Ethan Hawke (below left, with Bernstein), who has also struggled with stage fright, met Bernstein at a dinner party and decided to make a movie about this extraordinary man. (At the bottom in a YouTube video you can hear Bernstein play a lovely and well-known Intermezzo in A major — Op. 118, No. 2 — by Johannes Brahms for his new friend Hawke at a tribute during the New York Film Festival.) 

Ethan Hawke and Seymour Bernstein

And by all standards, the film is an outstanding success.

For example, it gets a rating of 100 percent from the public website Rotten Tomatoes.

I don’t think I have ever seen a 100 percent rating at that particular website.

Yet it is not surprising.

The professional critics for major media are indeed no less unanimous in their praise than is the general public.

I offer proof. Here are samples, each of which touches on certain specific aspects of the film, but all of which praise the film unequivocally:

First, here is a previous post from this blog. It whetted my appetite and maybe yours:

Seymour bernstein 1

Here is the backstory about Ethan Hawke and Seymour Bernstein from The New York Times:

And here is a five-star review from The New York Times:

Here is another five-star review from Roger Ebert’s website:

“Seymour” also gets high praise from The Wall Street Journal:

And from Rolling Stone magazine:

And here is one from The Denver Post that I like and expect you will too:

That should be plenty to convince you to go see “Seymour: An Introduction.” I don’t know how long it is scheduled to play at Sundance. But if enough people go and see it, it may be kept there for another week or two.

Then The Ear could see it twice.


  1. Hi Jacob,

    I’ve been an avid reader of your blog ever since you had Mikko Yutevsky chronicle the WYSO tour a few years ago…I greatly appreciate the many ways you bring attention to the Madison classical music scene and especially appreciate your highlights of UW School of Music performances that might otherwise escape my eye. But your recent “must see” recommendation of “Seymour: An Introduction,” compelled us to go the other night before it left town… What a delightful treat! This was a loving, yet honest, introduction to a most fascinating musical life. Thank you for your recommendation.

    Regards, Harry Webne-Behrman ________________________________________


    Comment by Webne-Behrman, Harry — April 12, 2015 @ 11:13 am

  2. Thank you for letting us know about this great artist and teacher, and profoundly moving film !

    I studied piano with Carroll Chilton years ago, and have considered starting lessons again.
    I am working slowly on Gabriel Faure’s Romance Without Words. Must check the pulse, beautiful phrasing, and practice !


    Comment by Catherine Stephens — April 5, 2015 @ 1:27 pm

  3. Martha and I went to see the film this afternoon…thank you so much, Jake, for the heads up…we’ve been waiting for it to come to Madison. What a beautiful experience!..Mr. Bernstein eloquently and humbly expresses how great music has the power to transform lives on so many levels. His story and his wisdom are wonderfully inspiring and as you say, a must-see for anyone who cares about music, creativity, and the life of the spirt. Get to Sundance before it is gone!


    Comment by Bill Lutes — April 4, 2015 @ 6:50 pm

  4. I am anxious to see the documentary in Madison. I have taken 2 lessons with Seymour and he is a real inspiration. I have several of his books and collections of pieces which I refer to often to teach my students.


    Comment by Susan Peterson — April 4, 2015 @ 8:10 am

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