Documentaries about classical music are valuable in at least two ways — as routes into a musical world for newcomers, and as insights behind the scenes of the more formal concerts and recordings for old hands. Three documentaries, all interesting in their different ways, illustrate the phenomenon.
The Art of Chopin was produced for the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth last year and is a sort of potted biography illustrated by clips from high-profile modern performances. Thus you see in action Yvgeny Kissin, Krystian Zimerman, Martha Argerich, Maurizio Pollini, Yuja Wang, Bella Davidovich, Ivo Pogorelich, Murray Perahia, and more, all looking very young, plus Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz and Sviatoslav Richter. It’s a little bit of a supermarket trolley, you feel, but marvelous for all that.
Continuity is provided by the American pianist Garrick Ohlsson, who won the International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition in 1970. He explains how Chopin expanded the possibilities of the piano, and at the same time combined a deep-rooted classicism with the new Romantic sensibility. A bonus disc has Ohlsson playing the two Chopin piano concertos with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra.
More memorable, however, is a film by Bruno Monsaingeon about another famous Polish musical figure, the pianist Piotr Anderszewski. You see him crossing Poland by train in winter, with a piano on board. He talks and plays, and in the process you get some way into the mind of this most introspective of artists.
Mozart turns out to represent his pinnacle of sensibility, and in one instance resolves for him a philosophical paradox. How could anyone express such profound feeling with such lightness of touch, he asks. And to hear him singing passages from The Magic Flute while playing a piano version of the orchestral accompaniment, exploding into ecstasies of wonder as he does so, is thrilling indeed.
But Anderszewski is anyway big on paradoxes. Poland is the Slavic soul in an impeccably cut French suit. The more you master something, the freer you are. And a barcarolle by Chopin is like a drunken gondolier, yet so beautiful (though elsewhere he proclaims he can only play Chopin in small doses).
This DVD, titled Piotr Anderszewski: Unquiet Traveler, is full of memorable phrases (plus phrases you sometimes think are meant to be memorable).
You see Anderszewski rehearsing a concerto by Brahms — once his favorite composer, and maybe he’ll come back to him one day — with Gustavo Dudamel. But Mozart! Ah, Mozart is life itself.
Thirdly there’s a very interesting DVD from Medici Arts about the Wagnerian tenor Max Lorenz. It’s called Wagner’s Mastersinger, Hitler’s Siegfried and centers on the 1930s in Bayreuth, the theater Wagner had built specifically for the performance of his operas. The artists who worked there were a mixed lot and included a fair share of gays and men and women of Jewish descent. They didn’t display much interest in politics, but the problem was that Hitler, unlike almost all his fellow Nazis, was a major fan, and attended performances rather frequently.
The leading Wagnerian tenor there was Max Lorenz, but his wife was Jewish and he was, in addition, something of a closet gay. Both these things could have spelled disaster under the Nazis, and indeed Lorenz was put on trial on one occasion for homosexual activity. On another, the SS arrived at their home to question his wife. But such was Lorenz’s celebrity, and Hitler’s enthusiasm for Wagnerian opera, that Hitler ordered the gay-related trail to be stopped, and Goering told the SS by phone from Berlin to leave Lorenz’s wife alone.
This DVD contains some wonderful clips. You see Lorenz being interviewed late in life (he died in 1975), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau saying that all modern tenors were “hot air” by comparison, and, best of all, you see Lorenz and Frida Leider singing part of the love duet from the second scene of Gotterdammerung. This is intensely exciting, and you appreciate immediately why Fischer-Dieskau and Rene Kollo today value him so highly, referring to his voice as “a clarion,” his habit of attacking notes “like a lion,” and so on.
You also learn that Lorenz’s relationship with his wife was genuinely loving, that he protected many Jewish colleagues from the Nazis, and that on some occasions he actually stood up to Hitler, and won, and that in later life he was the tutor of the American tenor James King.
The cycle of Shostakovich symphonies currently being issued on CD by Naxos is attracting widespread attention. They’re from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic under the young Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko, and their version of the Eighth Symphony has just won the symphonic category of this year’s International Classical Music Awards. At US$7.50, this item should be snapped up immediately.
It has been 26 years since Nicholas Gould hosted his last Issues and Opinions radio show for ICRT a recording studio on Roosevelt Road. He remembers the familiar ‘whoosh’ as the door to the soundproof room closes and recognizes the carpet, but the recording equipment is gone, with half of the space being used for storage. Gould is filled with nostalgia as he greets his guests, two financial writers who are here to discuss Taiwan’s post-COVID-19 economy for his new podcast, Taiwan Matters. Gould had been thinking of revisiting his old career for a while, but being allowed access to
The 22nd Taipei Arts Festival (臺北藝術節) opens tonight with three productions, a slightly scaled-down pandemic version that seeks to keep its tradition of big ideas, challenging programs and international connections alive and moving forward in an increasingly uncertain world. The theme of this year’s festival is “Super@#S%?” — as good a term as any when descriptives and superlatives seem not only inadequate, but somewhat irrelevant in a world where so many people cannot imagine being able to return to theaters, either as performers or audience members — they are too worried about having a job and their health. Technically, however, it is
Shuanglianpi (雙連埤) is both a Hakka outpost and a place of great ecological interest. The conjoined body of water from which it gets its name is the centerpiece of the 17.16-hectare Shuanglianpi Wildlife Refuge (雙連埤野生動物保護區). No waterways of significance fill or drain this scenic lake in Yilan County’s Yuanshan Township (員山鄉). During the 1895 to 1945 period of Japanese rule, the colonial authorities — struggling to secure Taiwan’s foothills — encouraged Han people to settle in areas adjacent to indigenous communities. Around 1910, a 49-year-old Hakka pioneer called Tsou Cheng-sheng (鄒成生) from what’s now Taoyuan decided to begin farming at
Wild Sparrow (野雀之詩) is simple and extremely slow paced, told through the eyes of Han (Kao Yu-hsia, 高於夏), an introspective, shy grade schooler who lives with his great-grandmother in the verdant countryside. Han has a fascination with sparrows, which are either flying high in the sky or trapped in cages and nets, providing a constant metaphor throughout the film. In the most ironic scene, a man catches the birds just to charge people to set them free again, taking advantage of Buddhists who engage in the ritual of “releasing” animals from captivity. Han takes a badly injured sparrow home and