As classical music fights for attention (and financial survival) in a pop-culture world, a documentary exposing the inner workings of a professional orchestra is a great idea—to try to make the art form more approachable by removing some of the intimidation and stereotype standing between concertgoers and those unsmiling tuxedoed armies.
But Daniel Anker's look at the Philadelphia Orchestra comprises 90 minutes of missed opportunities—starting with a confused sense of just who this film's target audience is. Interviews with the musicians turn up insights of startling superficiality: You can express emotions through your instrument; your playing style can reflect your personality; music can say things words can't. But anyone even peripherally involved with any form of music, as practitioner or fan, already knows this. And anyone not interested in classical music is hardly going to bother seeing this movie.
Important matters skimmed here long to be examined more deeply. The big issue for orchestra members, reconciling the artist's imperative for self-expression with the need to be a team player, is only just touched on—as is the larger issue for all musicians: how to relate interior music-making to real-world career choices. We meet concertmaster David Kim, groomed from age 3 to be a soloist until the day of reckoning when he decides to join the orchestral world. Yet Anker dashes off elsewhere just as the conversation's getting interesting, with almost no discussion of the pros or cons of either path, or of the rewards of playing chamber music, despite a long sequence of Kim offering some ravishing Schubert. (There's lots of music in the film, but none of it's identified; if an unfamiliar piece grabs you, and you want to get better acquainted with it, you're SOL.)
Actually, this smoothly crafted doc would probably work wonders shown to kids—an audience not yet exposed to classical music, but who might embrace it eagerly if it's presented to them in a package that takes just the first baby steps toward answering the question "Why is this important?" Adult music lovers will only ask why Anker didn't go beyond that starting point. (NR)