Maxim Vengerov: Living the Dream (2005)

by | Feb 5, 2008 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Maxim Vengerov: Living the Dream (2005)
Documentary on Maxim Vengerov, violin & viola, with NDR Philharmonic/Eiji Oue
Studio: EMI Classics DVD 5 03402 9
Video: Enhanced for 16:9; color
Audio: PCM Stereo
Length: 71 minutes
Rating: ****

Produced, directed, and filmed by Ken Howard, this 2005 documentary traces the musical and spiritual development of contemporary violin virtuoso Maxim Vengerov, the Siberian-born artist who approached his thirtieth birthday with some midlife trepidation. Having appeared consistently before the public since age six, Vengerov felt that he required a year-long sabbatical to re-assess his personal and artistic development.  In the meantime, between travels to Istanbul, Moscow, Israel’s Sea of Galilee, and his old home town Novosibirsk, Vengerov commissioned from composer Benjamin Yusupov a new, multi-media concerto called Viola Tango Rock Concerto, which Vengerov premiered in Hanover with Eiji Oue. The film goes behind the scenes for the various, arduous preparation for the world premier and interviews the principals, ending with Vengerov’s speculations on his relationship to the standard repertoire in the future.

The movie opens with “traditional” images of Vengerov in standard repertory, playing excerpts from Wieniawski (Scherzo-Tarantelle), Brahms (G Major Sonata), and Kreisler arrangements. He establishes his credentials as a world-class violin virtuoso who has “earned the right” to a leave of absence to re-energize, re-charge his personal batteries. “I adjusted the old joke about the violinist in New York asking directions,   ‘How do you get to Carnegie Hall?’ The answer, ‘Practice, practice, practice.’ Now, I ask, ‘How do you get back to Carnegie Hall: ‘sabbatical, sabbatical, sabbatical.’”  The film cuts to Abbey Road Studios in London, where Vengerov is taping a performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the late Mstislav Rostropovich. “The Beethoven Concerto is a testament of truth,” quips Vengerov, “a holy piece.” Rostropovich is a “musical father.  I so wanted to play this music with him; I knew I could learn much. . .his energy is so precious to me. . .his soul. . .Slava.”  They work on the G Major slow movement, a moment of infinite quietude.

Vengerov journeys to Istanbul, belly dancers, sightseeing, playing with the Istanbul Philharmonic. We hear a Kreisler transcription of the 18th variation from Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini; later we will hear in excerpt Massenet’s Meditation from Thais, Bazzini’s Dance of the Goblins, and Rachmaninov’s Vocalise. We see Vengerov in his old Siberian home town, accompanied by family photos and videos, reminiscences from his mother and old teachers; Vengerov speaks of Professor Bron, who taught him and Vadim Repin.  Bron challenged his pupils on a new level. Now, playing in the Siberian snow which Vengerov calls a “symbol of my freedom,” he challenges himself with a new concerto that requires a new development in himself as artist and man. He will learn jazz improvisation with Didier Lockwood in Paris; he will learn tango with his dazzling partner Christiana Pahla. Vengerov works directly with composer Yusupov, adjusting, arguing, working on fingering, even the application of lights for the jazzy section of the piece, which becomes kinesthetic, in the manner of Scriabin’s Promethee. Then, Vengerov must shed his musical instruments and utilize his arms and legs and torso in a sensuous dance, a four-minute tango in which he must “dance the violin” now abstract and transformed into his partner who evocatively lures him away from his mission only to abandon him. The music itself is ardent but screechy, volatile, melody-less, a series of gestures and riffs for natural and electric instruments and full orchestra.  Oue counts the beats down to the cadenza and through it, and Pahla enters for her passes and embraces. The Yusupov concerto is something to see; whether it is something to hear remains debatable. [This has got to be the most unusual final movement of any concerto ever! He’s certainly one very courageous violinist!…Ed.]

“Now that this ‘Everest’ is past, I must look at the standard repertory of Brahms and Tchaikovsky, perhaps to play them even better, with more love.”  Then, he hopes to see even another mountain to climb, for “you feel there is so much more in front of you.”

— Gary Lemco


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