Bernstein might have ranked alongside such classical pianists as Alfred Brendel
and Van Cliburn. His recitals were glowingly reviewed and he had a highly
supportive patron. Yet, at the significant age of fifty, he voluntarily
withdrew from the world of public performance to concentrate on teaching. When
it comes to piano technique and music theory he clearly has much to offer, but
he also has insight into how one best pursues an artistic career in general, or
at least that is what one future Oscar nominee thought we he happened to meet
Bernstein at a dinner party. The music teacher gets a low-key but satisfying
ovation in Ethan Hawke’s documentary profile, Seymour: an Introduction (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York at the IFC Center.
Hawke found in Bernstein an empathetic counselor-guru who could well understand
his bouts of stage fright and the general career uncertainty that was currently
plaguing him. Perhaps he was also frustrated about that film he had spent over
ten years on, but had yet to come out. Regardless, Bernstein had a knack for
saying reassuring things.
a variety of master classes and private lessons, we observe Bernstein at work.
He is indeed a calm and constructive instructor, but also firm and specific. If
you have the talent, he will refine it. Should you doubt it, several of his
former students, including pianists Joseph Smith and Kimball Gallagher, offer
their reminiscences and insights into Bernstein’s lasting influence on their
his documentary directorial debut, Hawke was not out to rake any muck. While
not exactly hagiography, his Introduction
is unflaggingly nice and polite. Fortunately, Bernstein is a New Yorker
(albeit a really pleasant one), whose experienced, down-to-earth personality
keeps it all real and grounded.
who knows pianos will not be surprised to see the prime placement for American
Steinway in Seymour. As always, their
concert models look and sound lovely. It is also cool to see they still
consider Bernstein a Steinway artist thirty-some years after his last public
performance. Fittingly, Hawke coaxes Bernstein into a return performance in the
Steinway Rotunda on 57th Street, which naturally serves as the
closing sequence for the film. Obviously, he still has his touch.
an Introduction has surely received
considerably more attention because of Hawke’s involvement than it otherwise
would have, but that is a fine way for him to spend some of his accrued Boyhood and Before Midnight capital in a way that will generate further good
will. It is a very refined and civilized film that will probably have a number
of viewers checking out youtube for his original compositions (he has a number
of them posted, including The Hawke).
Respectfully recommended for classical connoisseurs, Hawke fans, and Steinway
admirers, the Salingerishly titled Seymour:
an Introduction opens this Friday (3/13) in New York, at the IFC Center and the Lincoln Plaza.
Labels: Documentary, Ethan Hawke, Seymour Bernstein