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The Orchestra - Claudio Abbado and the musicians of the Orchestra Mozart
A film by Helmut Failoni and Franvesco Merrini
Aspect ratio 16:9; NTSC; Region code 0 Worldwide;
PCM Stereo; Languages: German, French, Italian, Korean and English
EUROARTS DVD 2060738 [60:00]

This film is a fitting testament to one of the last passions of the wonderful and much missed Claudio Abbado: the Orchestra Mozart. It’s a very personal and intimate look at the maestro and his orchestra at work and at play and it’s a very enjoyable experience. Abbado himself appears fleetingly throughout but the stars of the show are the musicians with their naturally delivered insights into what life is like in an orchestra. Nothing appears to be rigidly scripted. This approach provides a series of cameo appearances by a handful of the players with their own stories to tell. This could so easily have been self-indulgent and tedious but what we get is an excellent insight into how the orchestra works, how social lives are put on hold and how they individually made their way into the profession.

The orchestra is based in Bologna, hence the Abbado connection. As a native of Bologna he was the natural choice as Artistic Director and he personally recruited the players from all over the world. This is a world class ensemble, a group of highly talented musicians who meet on an ad hoc basis to work together as an orchestra. This isn’t their “day job” so to speak. The orchestra’s opening concert was in November 2004 and this film follows them during the 2012/13 season in Bologna and other places whilst on tour - especially Vienna and Lucerne.

The most heart-warming aspect of the film is the diversity of the orchestra’s personnel. There are no age limits and no barriers. They are drawn from countries all over the world. This is a team and the overwhelming bond of friendship is tangible. Actually for “team” you can read “family”. Listening to individual contributions it is clear that they hold Abbado in the highest esteem and love working with him. He’s unfussy, friendly but a master conductor who never used a score. This gave him the freedom to get fully involved with the players and to make eye contact with each and every one of them. He explains that if you need a score you really don’t know the music well enough. That’s all well and good but his skill is remarkable. I urge anyone who hasn’t seen it to search out his Lucerne Festival Orchestra performance of Mahler’s Resurrection symphony. It’s a master class in itself. On this current film he’s shown to be a team player. He cajoles his musicians and he is a leader, guide, father figure and a colleague on an equal footing.

The cameo interviews are fascinating and these include bass players from Norway and Venezuela, a jovial first trumpet and a timpanist who was advised by his teacher to move onto percussion because he couldn’t master another instrument properly. It’s all very good humoured. Don’t expect much in terms of rehearsal sequences or actual music-making. That’s not what the film is about. There are short examples of individual players practising and tantalising shots of Abbado in action but these are few and far between. The film is about orchestral life and as such it’s an excellent production.

Technically this is a beautiful piece of work, mixing up shots of concert halls, one-to-one interviews, fly-on-the-wall footage and some lovely countryside thrown in for good measure. The audio quality is also very good. Abbado’s interview can be read in full in the booklet notes. The only downside is the short playing time but maybe the film would have outstayed its welcome had it been any longer. This is maybe not a DVD to return to very often but as a memorial to Claudio Abbado and his musicians it's very rewarding. It’s only right and fitting to finish with some words of wisdom from Abbado: “Be passionate about what you do or it’s better not to do it at all”. There’s plenty of passion to be seen and heard here.
John Whitmore



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