Saturday, February 20, 2016

Seymour, Extraordinary Wisdom

Seymour Bernstein is an extraordinary pianist, an extraordinarily teacher, and an extraordinarily wise human being. The new-ish documentary film simply titled Seymour was produced and directed by Ethan Hawke who also appears it in at times as  interviewer. Seymour Bernstein lives in New York City in a studio apartment although he was once given a ten room house to which his patroness regularly sent gifts, and supported him in a manner most people think would make them very happy.

But Seymour, even early in his career, when he has just begun to concertize and receive glowing reviews by the major critics, realized this was not where he was comfortable living; he stayed less than two years. His concert career was about to take off in a very major way when he realized that before any concert he was a total nervous wreck. He hated performing for a large audience. He stopped concertizing and became a brilliant teacher and has done so for about thirty years now.

The movie shows us a man who has found the key to his own happiness. He is shown teaching the subtlties of the great piano repertoire to very talented students. He has a sense of humor, he is kind, and his enormous love of music is evident at every moment. He is contrasted with Glen Gould who was, Bernstein says (and most people would agree) a confounding genius pianist -- he was also a confounding neurotic who once was so difficult at rehearsals that Leonard Bernstein, (no relation between the Bernsteins), spoke to the audience before conducting Beethoven's Emperor (#5) piano concert with Gould to tell the audience that he and the pianist did not agree about aspects of the concerto but  they would play it together, mostly Mr. Gould's way.

I saw Glen Gould once and was struck, as audiences usually were, by, first off all, the ratty, old wooden chair he chose to use instead of a normal piano bench, and then by his physical mannerisms while playing. Genius, says Hawke and Seymour, can be accompanied by many kinds of neuroses. What this movie shows is that it can also lead to wisdom when the musician loves the music more than he loves the conventions of the world around him. And, it seems clear in this documentary, that the music loves him back. He is a beautiful human being. Plus the film uses many of my personal favorite pieces of piano music, especially Schubert and Schumann. I loved every minute of it.


barbara judge said...

June -- So glad you mentioned this movie. You have introduced me to another great in the music field. Netflix has the movie if anyone wants to watch it -- it is a wonderful documentary. thanks -- barbara

June Calender said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it. I certainly did too.

Kass said...

I appreciate this referral. I'll look for it on my daughter's Netflix.

June Calender said...

I think you'll really enjoy it, Kass.