Sey­mour: An In­tro­duc­tion

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - — James M. Keller

Sey­mour: An In­tro­duc­tion , mu­sic doc­u­men­tary, rated PG, The Screen, 4 chiles

The name Sey­mour Bern­stein will not ring a bell for most con­cert­go­ers, though back in the 1950s and ’60s the mu­si­cian gained con­sid­er­able ac­claim as a pi­anist on the rise. But when he was about fifty, as he re­counts in the be­guil­ing film Sey­mour: An In­tro­duc­tion , he ar­ranged a recital at New York’s 92nd Street Y and told no­body — not even his mother — that it would be his farewell con­cert. “The hor­ror I felt be­fore and dur­ing a con­cert!” he re­calls. “I had ter­ri­ble blocks, phys­i­cal blocks in my play­ing, fear of mem­ory slips.” Ap­palled by the com­mer­cial as­pect of the mu­sic in­dus­try, he de­cided to live his life dif­fer­ently, ded­i­cat­ing him­self to pon­der­ing mu­sic, per­form­ing only oc­ca­sion­ally — and then away from the spot­light — and teach­ing stu­dents who were in­ter­ested in be­com­ing some­thing other than the next whiz-bang vir­tu­oso. He is now eighty-eight years old and ap­par­ently a very happy man. “I’m not so sure that a ma­jor ca­reer is a healthy thing to em­bark upon,” he ob­serves.

The ac­tor Ethan Hawke found him­self in Bern­stein’s com­pany at a friend’s din­ner party. Smit­ten with this kind, hon­est, and in­trigu­ing gen­tle­man — how could he not be? — he de­cided to di­rect this doc­u­men­tary. Hawke pre­dictably in­serts him­self into the film a few times, con­fess­ing that he, too, suf­fers from stage fright and in­tro­duc­ing the pi­anist at a pri­vate recital at Stein­way Hall in New York, where one wishes he had pro­nounced the man’s name cor­rectly: Bern-“stine,” like the con­duc­tor (no re­la­tion), rather than Bern-“steen.” But mostly this is about Bern­stein talk­ing and teach­ing, some­times in the one-room apart­ment he has oc­cu­pied for 57 years on Man­hat­tan’s Up­per West Side, some­times in the base­ment of Stein­way Hall, where he be­comes ec­static upon dis­cov­er­ing a newly com­pleted in­stru­ment he finds to be well-nigh per­fect — and Bern­stein is a man of very high stan­dards. With his pupils he is re­spect­ful and com­pas­sion­ate, di­rect­ing their at­ten­tion to over­looked de­tails, shar­ing his en­thu­si­asm for the pi­ano’s una corda pedal (which most play­ers use less than he does), and help­ing them achieve things they never imag­ined.

He plays won­der­fully, thought­fully shap­ing the phrases of the sort of works that be­come more es­sen­tial as one grows older: Beethoven’s Op. 110 Sonata, Schu­mann’s Op. 17 Phan­tasie, a late Brahms In­ter­mezzo. His life seems in­sep­a­ra­ble from his mu­sic. “The real essence of who we are re­sides in our tal­ent,” he in­sists. He projects child­like charm, yet his ob­ser­va­tions, ar­tic­u­lated with log­i­cal per­fec­tion, are filled with wis­dom. “When you reach my age,” he says, “you stop play­ing games … you just say what is in your heart.”

In tune: Sey­mour Bern­stein and Ethan Hawke

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.