Last night, PBS aired “Virtuosity” an hour and a half documentary of the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. G. and I were disappointed by how little footage there was of individual pianists playing. Here’s a review I wrote about it posted on Amazon this a.m.
Title: “SO much time . . . so little piano!”
“My husband and I are both pianists and we looked forward to watching this documentary on PBS which aired on July 31, 2015. We are familiar with other films made of this world-famous Van Cliburn piano competition. The repertory requirements are rigorous: many individual pieces, playing with a chamber group if you advance to the semi-finals; and performing a concerto with an orchestra if you make it to the finals.
Human interest soundbites monopolized the hour and a half film as we waited to hear individuals play long enough to be able to discern differences among them as pianists and as musicians. Way too much footage was given to two particular pianists whose facial grimaces detracted from the music they were playing – and there were FOUR separate instances of the same pianist grimacing through a piece that even a third-grader could manage (Chopin’s “Raindrop” prelude that Jack Nicholson played on the back of a truck in the movie, “Five Easy Pieces.”). The redundancy of that Chopin clip illustrates the filmmakers’ naivete while denying us the ability to discern true talent.
So, I guess this was journalism with all the human interest stuff and glitzy film pyrotechnics superimposing images of multiple pianists playing the same piece. Pianists don’t play pieces the same way as suggested by the montage – and we don’t get a chance to hear the differences. There was so little footage of individual playing that it was virtually impossible to glean why the First Prize Gold Medal winner was chosen.
Perhaps this film was what the Van Cliburn foundation wanted as PR. Too bad they forgot the piano playing that everyone wants to experience in the first place. It was produced by people who aren’t pianists – and I was thinking that if Van Cliburn were still alive, it wouldn’t have been allowed to happen for sure. This film was a true disappointment and a missed opportunity.