The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: On Oscar weekend, The Ear asks: How realistic are the “quartet” films – “A Late Quartet” and “Quartet” – in dealing with classical music and the lives of classical musicians? Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times offers his level-headed assessment. Plus Steven Bryant’s Concerto for Wind Ensemble gets its Wisconsin premiere tonight at 8.

February 23, 2013
3 Comments

ALERT: Just a reminder that a Wisconsin premiere takes place tonight — for FREE and with   composer Steven Bryant ( below) present — at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus by the Wisconsin Brass Quintet (below) and the UW Wind Ensemble. Here are some links: http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/February-2013/The-Most-Successful-Composer-You-Never-Heard-of-Is-Here/ and https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/classical-music-qa-american-composer-steven-bryant-explains-why-wind-and-brass-bands-dont-get-more-respect-as-serious-music-ensembles-even-as-he-prepares-for-a-residency-and-a-premiere/

Steven Bryant 2

By Jacob Stockinger

It is Oscar weekend.

On this Sunday night at 6 p.m. CST on the ABC TV network, the Beautiful People, in their Beautiful Gowns and Beautiful Jewelry, will line up to collect the gold-plated statuettes knows as The Oscars.

It is the Academy Awards, and after a record-breaking box office year at the cinemas, it should be interesting to see who takes home an Oscar.

Here is a link to all the nominees in the many categories:

http://oscar.go.com/nominees

YL Oscar foods statue

Curiously, this has been a terrific year for classical music in the movies. That comes as something of a pleasant surprise, given how much negative coverage is written about the declining state of classical music today.

The film “A Late Quartet” stars (below and from left) Mark Ivanir, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christopher Walken and Catherine Keener. It examines the individual lives and collective life of a string quartet. I really liked it, despite some awkward moments. And it centers on the late Op. 131 String Quartet in C-sharp minor by Beethoven. That is the same sublime work of chamber music that a dying Franz Schubert asked to hear played.

A Late Quartet frontal

Then legendary actor Dustin Hoffman (below) made his directing debut in “Quartet,” about retired opera singers and instrumentalists living in a retirement home for musicians in England. This romantic comedy starred Maggie Smith, she of “Downton Abbey” fame right now, and was a lot of fun to watch and listen to. (“Quartet” is still playing the Point Cinemas on Madison’s far west side.)

dustin hoffman directing

“Quartet” stars (below and from the left, in a photo by Kerry Brown for the Weinstein Company) Billy Connolly, Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay and Pauline Collins. It features opera music and chamber music by Haydn, Rossini, Puccini and others,  but the film centers on a quartet from Verdi’s “Rigoletto” plays an especially pivotal role.

QUARTET Large

And the shattering, much nominated film “Amour,” by Michael Haneke, featured the story of the decline and death of a piano teacher. (Haneke also directed the unsettling film “The Piano Teacher” several years ago, and seems to have something with pianos and pianists.)

“Amour” (with screen vetefans Jean-Louis Trintignant (below top) and Emmanuelle Riva (below bottom) is playing in Madison at the Sundance Cinemas at Hilldale.

Amour Jean-Louis Trintignant

amour emmanuelle riva

It also uses piano music of Bach-Busoni, Beethoven and Schubert (below bottom), played by the young and wonderful French pianist Alexandre Tharaud (below bottom), who is best known for his playing of Baroque music (Francois Couperin, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Johann Sebastian Bach and Domenico Scarlatti ) on the modern piano although he has also recorded Chopin, Ravel, Satie and others. His playing is a model of clarity and fluidity.

Alexandre Tharaud  Marco Borggreve Virgin Classics

Anyway, I have heard somewhat mixed reactions to the various films, although the shattering “Amour,” comes the closest to being unanimous in the acclaim it has received and it is up for several Oscars, including Best Picture.

As for the two “Quartet” films: a very perceptive and understanding appreciation was published several weeks ago by Anthony Tommasini (below), the senior music critic for the New York Times.

tommasini-190

Here is a link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/03/arts/music/a-late-quartet-and-quartet-with-music-making-on-film.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

What do you think about the resurgence of classical music in the films, as both plot and soundtracks?

And what do you think of the films and of Tommasini’s take on them?

The Ear wants to hear.


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