Music In The Air

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: A Film by Reiner E Moritz
LABELS: Arthaus Musik
ALBUM TITLE: Music In The Air
WORKS: A history of classical music on television
PERFORMER: Featuring performances by Glenn Gould, Herbert Von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein; John Hurt (narrator); dir. Reiner E. Moritz


With the rise of digital media and the growing popularity of opera simulcasts, now is a good time to explore the complex relationship that exists between musicians and the cameras that film them. That relationship lies at the heart of Reiner E Mortiz’s Music in the Air, a celebration of 50 years of IMZ – International Music and Media Centre, a global organisation that promotes and develops music through audio-visual media.

The film’s narrator, John Hurt, takes a whirlwind chronological tour of music on television, from Toscanini’s founding of the NBC Symphony Orchestra in the 1930s, via Glenn Gould’s documentaries on Bach, to revealing footage of Sergiu Celibidache in rehearsal and Boulez’s lectures on avant-garde music. The lineup of talking heads includes BBC veteran David Attenborough, BBC Radio 3 controller Roger Wright, and Boulez himself, among others, with clips chosen to emphasise television’s power to record for posterity and to popularise classical music: the Last Night of the Proms, the Three Tenors’s Nessun Dorma and Vienna’s New Year’s day concert from the Musikverein, for example. But perhaps the more interesting television is found in the rarer moments of observation: of Stravinsky using facial expressions to conduct his Petrushka, or Yan Pascal Tortelier totally immersing himself in an Elgar masterclass.

The documentary itself could use more information, labelling its commentators and repertoire more clearly. Moreover, its momentary diversions away from the classical tradition, into Pink Floyd in Pompeii and Thelonius Monk in Paris, make it seem more like corporate video made to reflect the diversity of IMZ’s members than a DVD that really gets to grips with the difficult relationship between music – what we hear – and the primarily visual medium of television.


Nick Shave