The risks of opening ourselves up to film

From our diarist Anthea Kreston:

With more than 15 concerts under our belts with this set – Barber Adagio, Britten 2 and Death and the Maiden – performances are comfortable, although still exhausting. Especially Barber and Britten. These are the kinds of pieces which really take on an individual flair, changing from night to night, each member‘s inspirations of the moment feeding into a fresh interpretation. Both are so unlike Beethoven or Schubert – classical works are set in rehearsal and rarely divert (and shouldn’t divert) from a rigorous and controlled plan. I often think the best Beethoven performance is the one where you just do exactly what he writes down – any change and it weakens the work. Of course we must be emotionally committed, inspired, but it is within a firm boundary which has seemingly endless minuscule rules to attend to.

Days spent in Stockholm, Copenhagen, outside in smaller cities (Malmo, Aalborg), this week is mainly Scandinavian, which somehow feels closer in culture to the Pacific Northwest than any other area of Europe. I’m not sure why – could it be the humor or flexibility in the food, the clear expectation of “hanging out“ (low, slouchy couches, candles, blankets), a sort-of floppiness in the way some people walk? There are more dreadlocks here, people who look different from one another, and an ease, a random chattiness.

For several months now, we have been followed by a Dutch film crew. There is a documentary being made – originally conceived as the story of a German Quartet in its 30th year, it has taken on a surprising new path as the documentarian incorporates not only this intended story, but also the intricacies of a search and the paths the four current members, the former, and future members (and our families). They come to our houses (all of which are extremely different, reflections of our life choices and character), speak to our kids and spouses. They come to our hotel rooms and watch us steam our clothes, fly with us, eat and film rehearsals and concerts. It puts an extra squeeze on the already non-existent time on tour, but the freshness of this wonderful, complex group of people more than makes up for any slight inconvenience.

My favorite times are when the cameras are away – those intimate, post concert dinners, where I get to know these people – their travels and world-views. The questions in our individual interviews are very personal, sometimes too personal – but they need to be asked, thought about. I had felt that I had been very present for these past years, but it is clear that an outside, thoughtful mind can see more than we can see of ourselves, and it has been good for me to think about this experience in new ways, to process it all.

The main cameraman, Paul Cohen, has a wonderful documentary he created about Jeanine Jansen – the opening scene, where she is simply waiting for her entrance, listening to the beginning orchestral tutti of the Beethoven Violin Concerto in rehearsal, is breathtaking in its ability to draw us into her mind, her commitment. Head sound man, Mark Wessner, is very easy to be around – his other projects currently involve traipsing around the world (from yachts in the NYC harbor to the Louvre Abu Dhabi) in search of Rembrandt for the upcoming 350th anniversary of his death. The documentarian Hester Overmars, whose recent works include The Principal Wife and Forbidden Flight, has a firm and flexible hand on the project – allowing for a natural flow. She has a large (too large) subject – many possible story lines – and yet she maintains focus, clarity. Her previous work is compelling in its silent moments – Forbidden Flight follows an East German family in the 80’s as they attempt to escape by building a single-engine airplane. The results are catastrophic – an arrest by the Stasi, and a 30 year prison sentence – Hester‘s film pulls apart the tangle of repercussions from this moment in time – the effects on the family and the future.

It will be fascinating to see what she can discover about our lives – what she can see that we, ourselves, cannot.