SIFF Face The Music 2016 Preview: Concerto – A Beethoven Journey

Carsten Holler Cover

Concerto – A Beethoven Journey
(Directed by Phil Grabsky, UK, 2015, 92 minutes)

Festival screenings:
Monday, May 23rd at 6:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown
Wednesday, May 25th at 4:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

Have you ever loved a band so much, you couldn’t stop playing their music? Maybe it’s the same song over and over, or maybe it’s their whole discography… Well, for Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, that favorite artist is Beethoven, and from 2011 to 2014, he studied, listened, and performed each of his piano concertos in 55 cities in 22 countries. Obsessed, much?

And, Andsnes himself is pretty obsession-worthy. Since I’m not a classical music fan, I didn’t know his name, but apparently he’s been nominated for eight Grammy Awards, five Gramophone Awards, and in 2013, he was inducted into the Gramophone Hall of Fame. So, he’s no slouch either.

Director Phil Grabsky previously directed the 2007 film In Search of Mozart, so he clearly knows a thing or two about classical music. In a press statement, Grabsky says, “I knew this exclusive journey with Leif Ove would allow me access to great performance – but I had no idea it would be this great. These became the best reviewed concerts of the past few years and I was on stage to record them. Even more importantly the music and Leif Ove’s intelligent and accessible insight creates a staggeringly interesting new biography of arguably the greatest composer of all time.”

Talking head shots with Andsnes are interspersed with performance pieces. And over a painted portrait of Beethoven, an actor reads from the musician’s correspondence in an unintentionally comical way. His inflections and emoting are right on the line of hammy. In one letter, Beethoven complains about the local music scene, later dissing hard on his sworn enemies: Viennese pianists. In another letter, he ecstatically asks an “adorable” friend to knit him a woolen waistcoat. Scene rivalries, fashion, hitting on the ladies: is this the 18th century or today?

Admittedly, since I’m not a fan of classical music, I may not have gotten the full experience of the documentary. There’s a scene in particular where Andsnes, sitting at a piano during a talking head clip, nimbly plays a piece from a concerto, saying, “Hear that? Beethoven was making a little joke, ha, ha!” Uh… ha, ha? But as fans of music, you can appreciate Andsnes’ passion for the music that inspired him, the music he performs now, and the music he will compose in the future.

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