Trip to Asia: A film directed by Thomas Grube

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Trip to Asia
LABELS: Axiom Films
PERFORMER: Berlin Philharmonic/Simon Rattle
CATALOGUE NO: AXM 583 (PAL system; Dolby 5.1; 1:78 picture format)

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This extended portrait of the Berlin Philharmonic on its 2005 Asian tour is concerned mainly with the dynamic of one of the world’s great orchestras and the interplay of its 120 separate personalities. It’s their input, together with that of Simon Rattle, which allows the film such fascinating insights.

What comes across is how tough life is for an orchestral musician at the top. Talent without will and determination is worthless, says one of the players, but all these strong characters have to subsume their personalities into the single organism which is the Berlin Philharmonic.

There are stories of social maladjustment, drinking, nerves, and – mainly among the older players – decreasing confidence which goes with an increase of experience. At the other end of career curve are some younger players on probation, trying to cut the mustard with their potential colleagues. But all round is fierce pride in the musical achievements of the Orchestra.

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There are images of local colour from the Far Eastern countries the Berliners visit, where the new-agey soundtrack is wearing and unnecessary. But there’s plenty of footage of rehearsal and performance – a complete recording of Adès’ Asyla is one of the extras, together with a telling interview with the director. Most extraordinary is the post-concert scene in Taipei, where a crowd of 30,000 chants ‘Si-mon, Si-mon’, to the bemusement and delight of the Orchestra and its principal conductor: pop-stars for a night. Martin Cotton