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
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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:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/?s=seymour+bernstein

Seymour bernstein 1

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

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/27/arts/ethan-hawke-films-seymour-an-introduction.html?_r=1

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

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/13/movies/review-seymour-an-introduction-is-a-lesson-in-perseverance.html

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

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/seymour-an-introduction-2015

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

http://www.wsj.com/articles/seymour-an-introduction-review-striking-resonant-chords-1426186052

And from Rolling Stone magazine:

http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/reviews/seymour-an-introduction-20150311

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

http://www.denverpost.com/movies/ci_27831096/ethan-hawke-film-chronicles-career-top-classical-pianist

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.


Classical music: Oscar got it wrong for the Best Picture in 2006, but that Academy Awards mistake has been corrected and now, for a couple of months, you can hear the new opera version of “Brokeback Mountain” for FREE.

March 1, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Tomorrow, on Sunday night, March 2, the annual Oscars, the 86th annual Academy Awards, will be given out starting at 6 p.m. CST on ABC-TV, which will also stream the awards broadcast live.

The Ear hopes that this time Oscar gets it right.

YL Oscar foods statue

I recall one memorable year when they got it wrong.

That was in 2006 at the 78th annual Academy Awards.

Even the late, great and popular film critic Roger Ebert (below, in a photo by Vince Bucci), whose choices I usually admired and concurred with, got it wrong.

50942748VB024_afistreep

In 2006, two of the top contenders for Best Film were “Crash” and the heavily favored ‘Brokeback Mountain.”

“Crash” dealt with race and racial tensions in Los Angeles, and focused in interrelated stories that were well told and well acted by some fine names, including Thandie Newton (below left), Sandra Bullock, Matt Dillon (below right) and Don Cheadle.

crash 1 thandie Newton, matt dillon

“Brokeback Mountain,” based on the short story by Annie Proulx that was first published in The New Yorker magazine, dealt with two young modern-day cowboys in Montana struggling to deal with and acknowledge their gay identity and their love for each other.

Late in the game, Roger Ebert came out in favor of “Crash” as the most deserving film to receive the Best Picture award.  His influence may well have set the upset in motion.

But Ebert was wrong.

“Brokeback” deserved the honor. It was a moving film with great music and great cinematography. Most of all, its story and character study were very poignant and bittersweet, even heartbreaking. And it was masterfully acted by Jake Gyllenhaal (below left) and by the late Heath Ledger (below right).

brokeback mountain 1 jake gyllenhaal and heath ledger

Not that Crash wasn’t a fine film. It was. But race had been dealt with very well in a many other films over the years.

On the other hand, “Brokeback Mountain,” directed by the incomparable and eclectic Ang Lee, was a break-though work of art, a pioneering achievement that proved nothing less than revolutionary in the way it introduced gay subject matter and characters into mainstream Hollywood cinema in a sympathetic way.

brokeback mountain 2 Jake Gyllenhaal (l) and Heath Ledger

And the current move of public opinion towards approving of marriage equality – or gay marriage or same-sex marriage – just goes to prove the point.

“Brokeback” did win three Oscars – but NOT the one for Best Picture, which went instead to “Crash,” a good movie but not a better movie than “Brokeback.”

But American composer Charles Wuorinen also found something inspiring in the story of two lonesome gay cowboys up on an isolated Montana mountain. So he asked the author to rework the story into an opera libretto while he went to work composing the music. (Below, in the title roles, are Tom Randle, left, and Daniel Okulitch, right):

The results are an opera based on the revised short story. 

brokeback mountain opera tom randle (left) and daniel okulitch

How good are the results?

Here is a balanced and insightful review of the opera’s world premiere at the Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain, from senior music critic Anthony Tommasini for The New York Times, who rightly thinks a love story calls for a little more singing and melody. He seems to be saying: Right story, wrong composer.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/30/arts/music/lyrical-cowboys-in-love-on-stage.html?_r=0

And here is an overview, with a link to a streaming site for the opera, from the famed radio station in New York City, WQXR-FM:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/brokeback-mountain-opera-critics-weigh/

http://www.medici.tv

But more to the point, you can judge for yourself. You can now hear the opera FREE via streaming for another 60 days or so thanks to Medici TV. (You can get a taste in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here is link to the story on NPR’s “Morning Edition” that features an interview with Proulx (below) and also give some background as well as a link to the opera broadcast on Medici.

Here is a link to the NPR story:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/02/06/272533010/seen-the-brokeback-mountain-movie-now-watch-the-opera

Annie Proulx

So let’s hope The Academy gets the right movies for the right awards Sunday night.

Here is a link to much more information about the Oscars.

http://www.oscars.org

And you can return here tomorrow where you will find more Oscar-related stories about music top serve as background before you tune into the always endless live broadcast with this years; host, Ellen DeGeneres –- an out lesbian whose appearance attests to the prescience of “Brokeback Mountain.”

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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
6 Comments

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:

http://movies.msn.com/movies/movie/a-late-quartet/

In the meanwhile, here are several reviews to consider:

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

http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/notes-on-film-classical-music-on-the-big-screen/2012/12/13/2bd9d2c2-4456-11e2-8061-253bccfc7532_story.html

a late quartet-philip seymour hoffman

And here is a review from the New York Times:

http://movies.nytimes.com/2012/11/02/movies/a-late-quartet-directed-by-yaron-zilberman.html

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

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-11-01/entertainment/sc-mov-1031-late-quartet-20121101_1_jules-beethoven-cellist

A Late Quartet Christopher Walken

And the rock magazine Rolling Stone reviewer took this view:

http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/reviews/a-late-quartet-20121101

A New Orleans reviewer saw the film somewhat differently:

http://www.nola.com/movies/index.ssf/2012/12/a_late_quartet_movie_review.html

A Late Quartet toasting

Here is how the Huffington Post reviewer saw the film:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-kim/rethink-review-a-late-qua_b_2063862.html

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

http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20121031/REVIEWS/121039992


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