I hate snarkyness. But sometimes, it is just too fun not to wade into the cesspool and get your hip waders fully immersed. Observe, gentle reader, the following video:
It’s a video from the 1998 Jerusalem Music Center’s quartet masterclass with violinist Isaac Stern and friends. The quartet that is performing is the very young Miró Quartet (one of the finest of the currently playing quartets). I’m going to make a couple of wussy disclaimers in advance. First, the Miró Quartet is amazing, and I’m sure that they had an equally amazing time at this masterclass, it was an honor for them to be chosen to take part. Second, Isaac Stern is a venerable figure in the classical music world, and we owe much to what he was able to accomplish in his role as an impresario. Capiche?
Ok. Aside from what I say in the preceding paragraph, I find this video to be one of the most self-serving and hagiographic documents that I’ve ever had the privilege to witness. Some of the stuff that comes out of Stern’s mouth simply defies credulity. And we wonder why classical music sometimes has an image problem?!
None of this is the fault of the coaches or the quartet, of course. This document was produced by someone who had a viewpoint that they wanted to put forward, and the result is an unfortunate one. In their haste to worship Isaac Stern, they missed out. The other three coaches listening in (and I assume they also
talked taught, but there’s little evidence of that in this bit of video) are each legends in their own right, with Leon Fleischer being at LEAST as eminent a musician (ahem) as Stern. I know that I’m seeing just a portion of whatever larger documentary this clip was culled from, but I have little hope that there would be anything other than additional adulation of the maestro.
What I miss in most arts documentaries (except for the incredible Power of Art series by the BBC and Simon Schama) is any sense of how this stuff matters to you and me. How does this great art, or teaching, or learning contribute to society? At least Daniel Barenboim is pushing boundaries in the real world with his West Eastern Divan Orchestra project. Barenboim doesn’t just make a proclamation about not playing in the former Nazi Germany, he plays Wagner there, and gets Israeli and Palestinian musicians together on the same stage to highlight the similarities of us humans – not the differences (which are largely artificial and/or manufactured for political purposes). So, if you’re thinking about making a documentary about any sort of art, first think of what purpose the art serves, then produce a document that further illuminates that purpose.
Here endeth the snarky rant.