An Interesting but Limited Look at an Orchestra and its Music
GOING AGAINST FATE is a film documenting conductor David Zinman and the preparation of his orchestra, the Tonahalle Orchestra Zurich, for a performance and recording of Symphony no.6 by Gustav Mahler. The film is beautifully shot, with many images of gloomy mountains and melancholy landscapes meant as analogies for the music. We also see quite a few attractive shots of the city of Zurich. In conventional documentary style, we are also shown many brief interview segments with the conductor, members of the orchestra and the recording engineers. Most interesting are the orchestra players, who range widely in age and experience. They all show commitment to their work and to the orchestra itself. For Mahler fans, it's fun to see the lead percussionist trying out different hammer blows for the symphony's finale, as engineers react to the powerful sounds. This orchestra plays beautifully and expressively, when they are not being interrupted by the conductor. And therein lies the limitation of this film. Mr Zinman, obviously a capable musician, tends to remove much of the spontaneity from this performance by constantly tweaking every small detail. He certainly knows the work well, but his insistence on the most conventional views of Mahler and his music only ends up limiting the player's and the listener's appreciation. It's a cliché to see Mahler's themes as symbolic of himself, wife Alma Mahler, or their children playing, for example. Why can't the music speak for itself, as pure music? There is little doubt that the music does speak for itself, Mahler would not remain a very popular composer if we could only hear his symphonies as allegories for his personal life and career. Zinman's comments on the finale are more satisfying, he does speak of a "Hero" and his subjugation to "Fate", but those are abstract enough as terms that they can be used to describe what happens in the music. This film will attract the attention of Mahler fans all around, but for some it will be a disappointment.
- Jul 30, 2009
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