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MSPIFF: If it's music you want.... part 1 - Berlin Philharmonic

Posted at 12:36 PM on April 21, 2009 by Euan Kerr

One of the more fascinating movies I have seen from this years MSPIFF is "Trip to Asia:Quest for Harmony." Don't let the title worry you. It's an excellent documentary about the Berlin Philharmonic tour of several Asian cities, at least on it's face.

The film blends interviews with Sir Simon Rattle and his musicians in several languages with stunning cinematography, not just of the orchestra but the good and the bad of the cities they visit.

There is always something happening in "Trip to Asia," sometimes without the audience being aware until they have watched several scenes. The orchestra is working on a complicated modern piece which challenges Rattle and the musicians. It's hard work and the piece is clearly not to the liking of several of the players, but they put their feelings aside to do the piece as perfectly as possible.

Even as this is going on we learn that several of the musicians are on probation, a process which will end with the orchestra voting on whether to offer them a job for life, or to reject them.

"Trip to Asia" becomes an eloquent exploration of the creative process and the joys and terrors of being in one of the world's top orchestras, placed in the context of cultures very different from where the performers live and work. A discussion on what it is like for a musicians to lose herself in the music might be paired with a shot of construction workers digging up a street in Beijing, or a man smoking on a street in Seoul, South Korea. It's mesmerizing.

April 2009
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