John Cage - Journeys in Sound documentary film. Directed by Allan Miller and Paul Smaczny to mark the composer's centenary. The film has interviews with Wiliam Anastasi, Irvine Arditti, Dove Bradshaw, Brian Brandt, Merce Cunningham, Julia Henning, Toshio Hosokawa, John Lennon, Mayumi Miyata, Yoko Ono, Wolfgang Rihm, Steffen Schleiermacher, Calvin Tomkins, David Tudor, Christian Wolff, the Ensemble Modern, Schlagquartett Köln, and others. Written by Anne-Kathrin Peitz; edited by Steffen Hermann; produced by Paul Smaczny. Released 2012, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: BRead More
Karajan, Maestro for the Screen documentary by Georg Wübbolt. This 52-minute film, produced by Bernhard Fleischer, explores Herbert von Karajan's long interest in making motion picture films of classical music performances to be shown in movie theaters and over TV. There is also a 32-minute bonus performance (directed by François Reichenbach and never released before) of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 and Suite (Overture) No. 2 in B minor (BWV 1067) by the Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by Karajan. Original language German; subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Korean, and Japanese. Released 2015, disc has stereo sound (much of which started as mono). Grade: NARead More
Mahler: Origins and Legacy documentary and concert package, part of the "Keeping Score" series. Michael Tilson Thomas directs the San Francisco Symphony. Produced by Michael Bronson; directed for TV by Gary Halvorson. This is a two-disc set. Released in 2011, music was recorded at 48 kHz/24-bit, and discs have 5.1 surround or 7.1 Dolby TrueHD surround sound. Grade: A for the documentary Origins and Legacy and D for Symphony No. 1Read More
Ballet 422 documentary film directed 2012-13 by Jody Lee Lipes. Follow young choreographer Justin Peck, who has 2 months to create a new work for the New York City Ballet. The title comes from the fact that the project will lead to the 442nd new ballet piece created for that company.
Director Lipes, working in a manner somewhat similar to the style of Frederick Wiseman, just records what happens with a minimum of explanation or other metadata. It appears that the music used for the dance is not revealed until the credits run and that the title does not include a recording of the finished work as it appeared to the audience when performed. (I assume that you do see substantial parts of the new work in early and dress rehearsals.) This will likely be absorbing for folks who love ballet but have never experienced the dancing life themselves.
We were excited to see that this documentary is in wide-screen and has surround sound. Were only stereo sound provided, we would probably have excluded this title from our Journal. Otherwise we know little about this---not even if it's in color or black and white. Grade: NARead More
Herbert von Karajan 1965-1966 Movie Documentary. This title begins with a 1965 motion picture of Karajan conducting the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 5 with the Wiener Symphoniker and Yehudi Menuhin. Then comes the 1966 motion picture of Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmoniker in the Dvořák Symphony No. 9 ("New World"). Finally, there are two bonus items in which Karajan discusses the art of conducting with Menuhin and Prof. Joachim Kaiser as well as a few minutes of Karajan in rehearsal. The filming was the work of motion-picture director Henri-Georges Clouzot. Released 2010, the entire title is in 4:3 black and white. It has PCM stereo sound for the music and mono sound for the extras. Grade: X-B-Read More
In memoriam: Lorin Maazel recently died (July 13, 2014) at age 84. He conducted and led many of the world's most famous symphony orchestras, published more than 300 classical recordings, and earned 10 Grand Prix du Disque awards.
Perhaps Maazel's most singular and unusual achievement was his appearance in 2008 conducting the New York Philharmonic at a concert in North Korea at the request of the Communist Government of that country. We happen to have an interesting HDVD title about that appearance called The Pyongyang Concert. This title has been, I fear, neglected in recent years. So in honor of Maazel, I thought I should re-review The Pyongyang Concert and provide some screenshots.
The concert in Pyongyang was played and recorded on February 26, 2008. The program was:
1. National Anthem of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea or Wongyun's Aegukka
2. The Star-Spangled Banner
3. Lohengrin: Prelude to Act III
4. Dvořák Symphony No. 9 (From the New World)
5. Gershwin An American in Paris
6. Bizet Farandole from L'Arlésienne Suite No. 2
7. Bernstein Candide: Overture (encore)
8. Arirang, a Korean folksong popular in both North and South Korea (encore)
The concert video was directed for TV by Michael Beyer. The music was recorded with 48kHz/24-bit sampling (probably state-of-the-art considering the traveling required) and provided in PCM 5.1 sound. Still, I doubt the concert would have been released as a recording based on the musical performance alone. The program is rather odd, is afflicted with a brutal case of DVDitis, and is of greater historical than musical interest.
The heart of this title is a unique and impressive documentary called Americans in Pyongyang, directed Ayelet Heller. The documentary was filmed in HDTV and has Dolby Digital stereo sound. It shows the work done by Maazel, Zarin Mehta (President of the New York Philharmonic), the musicians, and back-stage staff of the orchestra to make this outreach to the people of North Korea. It also covers all the activities of the musicians while in Korea, the concert itself, and further gives us rare glimpes of life in hermit North Korea. To me the documentary is the real story here and the concert is a bonus extra.
This title was produced by Paul Smaczny. He combines the vision of an artist, the wisdom of a philosopher, and the killer instincts of a reporter to help give us what still may have the potential to be the most significant entertainment video ever made. We don't know exactly why the North Koreans asked for this concert. But the reason the New Yorkers went is clearly explained: It might do some good!
The disc was released in 2008. Grade: A for the documentary. I decided not to review or grade the the concert recording itself. It does no harm. You might want to buy the disc for it's Dvořák Symphony No. 9 (From the New World) or some of the shorter numbers.Read More
This title includes two films relating to Wayne McGregor:
Going Somewhere is an 80-minute documentary about McGregor as choreographer and is reviewed here.
A Moment in Time is a 30-minute performance film, offered as a bonus extra, with three short pieces by McGregor. It has nice music from folks like Joby Talbot, Olafur Arnalds, and Kaija Saariaho recorded at 48kHz/24 bit specs. But it will not be reviewed because it only has stereo sound (and the video also suffers from VHS or DVD-level quality).
Going Somewhere considers the choreographic techniques of Wayne McGregor illustrated by recordings of his work with his own dance group, Random Dance. There are also recordings of his work with stars of the Royal Ballet, experimental work with high school students, and several "science" segments. Directed by Catherine Maximoff; photography by Samuel Dravet; sound by François Waledisch and Henri Maïkoff; editing by Emmanuelle Baude. Released 2014, disc has PCM stereo sound. Grade: D+Read More
Lang Lang Dragon Songs piano concert and documentary. This title has 3 segments:
1. A documentary and compilation of interviews made in 2005 and 2006 when Lang Lang (then age 23) returned, after making his way for years in the West as a child and young adult, to visit old haunts in China.
2. The "Dragon Songs." This is a recital of about 40 minutes with 6 solo pieces by Lang Lang and 3 pieces in which Lang Lang serves as accompanist backing musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments.
3. A performance by Lang Lang of the Yellow River Piano Concerto made in 2005 at a special patriotic performance.
The documentary and song recital were recorded in HDCAM 1080i and 5.1 digital sound. The Yellow River Piano Concerto was probably recorded for distribution on VHS tape. Released in 2013, the disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: C-Read More
Universe of Sound documentary about a special performance of the Holst The Planets and Joby Talbot's Worlds, Stars, Systems, Infinity. Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra. This is the first HDVD from the Signum label (or is it Signum Vision). Released 2013, disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B as a documentary only. (As a concert disc, the grade would be "F".)Read More
Stravinsky Rite of Spring and music from The Firebird by Stravinsky. Michael Tilson Thomas directs the San Francisco Symphony in a recent performance of Stravinsky classics as part of the "Keeping Score" outreach program of the San Francisco Symphony. In addition, Thomas narrates an educational program about Stravinsky and Rite of Spring. The concert is in HD; the documentary is in SD. The concert was directed by Gary Halvorson. Otherwise, title was directed and produced by David Kennard, Joan Saffa, and Michael Bronson. Released 2013, disc has 5.1 Dolby TrueHD sound. You should not be especially impressed with the claim that has "up-sampled 96kHz24 bit sound." See our discussion of this gimmick at our review of San Francisco Symphony at 100. Grade: NARead More
Steve Reich Phase to Face film by Eric Darmon and Frank Mallet. This is a documentary film detailing the career and music of Steve Reich. Includes bonus featurettes Talks in Tokyo with Steve Reich and A Brief History of Music by Steve Reich Grade: B
For the novice just getting into classical music, it may seem, on first glance, that classical music is dead. Not dead in the sense that it isn't being played, performed, and loved by millions of people, but dead in that seemingly no new classical music is being written. One need only visit this site to see that the interest for watching classical music exists. But an inspection of the titles shows that the music being played is distinctly older. While there are plenty of new ballets being produced and new operas being performed, it seems that new classical music is highly underrepresented.
But as the novice digs further, he will find that modern classical music does exist. It just doesn't sound much like the works of Beethoven or Mozart. A fine example of this is the work of Steve Reich. A modern, minimalist composer, he has been writing and performing from the mid-1960s and is still composing today. His work is marked by the use of phasing - a technique where two of the same instrument play the same piece of music, at steady but not identical tempos. The result is a sound unlike most in the classical tradition. This technique, and Reich's works, have been highly influential in the direction of modern classical and popular music. When the history of late 20th century music is written, Reich's name will appear as one its key figures. Here are a few screenshots of Reich in his trademark olive baseball cap:
The film itself is only about 50 minutes - a bit on the short side. But both the topic and the man himself are so engaging that the running time is an afterthought. The film follows Reich as he travels the world from concert to concert and into recording studios where he continues to perform new music. Interspersed between the concert footage are sections with Reich discussing his life and influences. He discusses several of his most well regarded works, namely Music for 18 Musicians and Different Trains, as well as other pieces. While not exhaustive in detail, there is definitely enough to get a feel for the type of music Reich composes. Here are a few shots of the types of musical interludes in the film - both live performances and video montages made for the film:
The disc also contains two extras - a brief "Q & A" after a performance in Japan, and a short discussion of "The History of Music" as seen by Reich. These are just as illuminating as the main feature. Honest and thoughtful, Reich is an excellent subject for a documentary. His passion for music is readily discerned from his discussions, but he never ventures into avant guarde pretension.
My only disappointment with this disc is that there is no extra of a complete performance of one of Reich's works. If this documentary does well in the market, perhaps HDVD producers will be encouraged to release complete concert discs. But I'm aware that this disc is advertised as a documentary only. As such it teaches the novice much about Reich and the future of classical music, and it deserves the grade of "B."
This title has stereo sound only. We normally don't cover discs with only stereo. But we often make exceptions for documentary films that would not benefit from surround sound.
It's impressive to see and hear Reich himself talk about his own life's work. This will preclude a lot of discussion later about what Reich was trying to do. I was especially interested in Reich's comments in "A Brief History of Music." Reich explains that he is working as a successor to Bach, the classical composers, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, and Copeland in that he is merely introducing new methods based on traditional concepts of tonality and rhythm. Stated differently, he states he does not belong the de-constructionist school of Schoenberg and his followers.
This documentary suggests that Reich put a lot of emphasis in this career on providing video content to augment his music. This should appeal to HDVD fans! For example, see 14:39 where Reich got interested in a street preacher shouting out about how "It's gonna rain!" You hear this on a taxi cab radio---and you see the text on the taxi meter! It took some work to get that shot! Later at 16:31 the preacher is shown with some sophisticated artwork. Then at 18:24, there are two dancers (and their shadows) choreographed by Anne Teresa de Keermaeker in an "out-of-phase ballet." At 36:10, in the "Different Trains" segment, there is clever artwork including a display of the notes being played and the lyrics appear on street signs. Sometimes it's difficult to see if this emphasis on visuals was there at the beginning or added by the documentary film makers. But in "The Cave" segment [Track 8], we can see that the original production included big screen visuals and text displayed on the screens in three languages. And in the "Theater of Voices" segment beginning about 50:34, Reich seems to be starting a new career in the art of typography.
I'll point out that we do have some modern music in HDVD. The works of Tōru Takemitsu reminds one a bit of Reich because Tōru was another percussionist who was interested in serendipidously "found" sound. From him we have the My Way of Life concert spectacular and the just released From me flows what you call time. We also have the Tributes-Pulse recording from Decapo which in part is a tribute to Steve Reich. Finally, we have several titles that might be considered to be from the de-constructionist school: the Ives Holidays Symphony and the Boulez Notations for Orchestra.
Pina dance film by Wim Wenders. (We know, the title of this is "pina," but we will still use the capital letter "P.") This is a heavy-weight documentary about the choreography of Pina Bausch. The film includes recently commissioned segments of stage performances, original shooting of dancing on locations around Wuppertal, interviews with dancers who knew and worked with Bausch, and archival footage. The package has a 2D movie, a 3D movie + a "making of" extra. There has been massive confusion over the marketing of this title. (It is being sold like a movie; not like a ballet title.) It is available in German, French, Spanish, and Italian releases, all limited to Region B. There is also a Canadian version, a 3-disc box set (2D, 3D, and DVD), limited to Region A. This may be the best option for those living in the United States with Region A players. We have also learned that the Criterion Collection is planning to release this in the American market in early 2013. By the time you read this, things may have changed further, so beware. Released 2012, discs have 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: ARead More
Gerhard Richter Painting documentary film. Written and directed by Corinna Belz; edited by Stephan Krumbiegel. The main film lasts 97 minutes. It was shot while Richter was preparing for an exhibition (shown late in 2009 and early 2010) at the Marian Goodman Gallery in New York. Title also includes as extras (1) a 23 minute interview with art historian Benjamin HD Buchloh, (2) 10 minutes of "fragments of a conversation" with Hans-Ulrich Obrist, and (3) a 9 minute clip showing Richter getting ready for an exhibition in Munich. Released 2012, there is a soundtrack presented in 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: D+Read More
Vincent Van Gogh plastic arts title and documentary about the work and life of Vincent van Gogh. Eline Timmer directs the main film showing about 100 paintings from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam as well as images of famous paintings located in other museums around the world. The film is has interviews in which art history experts discuss in detail each stage in van Gogh's life and of his development as artist. A bonus feature explains what happened to the paintings van Gogh left at his death and why some 200 of the best paintings are still in two museums in Holland. Released in 2011, title was shot with digital cameras in "Full HD 1080P" at 30 fps; disc has 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Grade: A-Read More
Music Is the Language of the Heart and Soul: A Portrait of Mariss Jansons and Mahler Symphony No. 2. Here's the content:
1. Portrait of Mariss Jansons. Documentary by film maker Robert Neumüller on the life and career of Mariss Jansons. Produced by Felix Breisach; camera by Robert Neumüller.
2. Mahler Symphony No. 2 with Jansons conducting the Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Netherlands Radio Choir in 2009 in Amsterdam. Ricarda Merbeth sings soprano and Bernarda Fink is the mezzo-soprano. Directed for TV by Joost Honselaar; camera by Marlies Puijk; lighting by Pascal Naber; sound by Everett Porter; edited by Ronald be Beer; produced by Ronald Kok.
Released 2012, the documentary has stereo and the concert has 5.0 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: C-