Sunday, August 28, 2016

'Maestro' looks into the world of classical music through the eyes of world-renowned conductor Paavo Järvi

Imade Borha

Filmmaker David Donnelly and Frederick native Curtis Jewell intended to make the documentary “Maestro” on how classical music is dying until they hit a wall. Donnelly even wrote a Huffington Post article on the demise of classical music and utilized Jewell as a consultant to create the production company Culture Monster. But something was missing.
“When we first started making the creative process, I really went broad and started focusing on classical music as a genre and the challenges it’s facing, as far as orchestras failing, and it became very dismal. And also, it really felt like a PSA spot,” Donnelly said. “So, after testing it to different audiences, this was about a year and a half into it, it hit me, you know what, there’s no human element and that’s really what we need.”
Thanks to Donnelly’s decision to regroup, the more personal “Maestro” can be pre-ordered for a Sept. 5 iTunes release. There are even hopes for a Frederick screening. The film has already received a flood of international attention. It’s been translated in 10 languages and it’s been airing on networks across five continents. The film has supporters in Japan, Australia, Germany and South America who have sent fan mail.
All this came after Donnelly went next door to find the subject of his documentary. “I had moved back to Cincinnati from Los Angeles. Paavo Järvi, who is the star of the film, was my neighbor in the condo building that I lived in,” Donnelly said. “Paavo kind of introduced me to classical music again by telling the stories of the music. So he was really putting it into context for me and each week, I would come to his performances and I was so excited because he was selling me on a story.”
Järvi is the chief conductor of NHK Symphony Orchestra and served as the music director for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 2001 to 2011. Donnelly’s film crew followed Järvi on his world travels, where he directs several orchestras, including Orchestre de Paris. But before all of this, Donnelly had to address Järvi’s concerns. “You know, it’s very taboo in classical music to be personal and vulnerable, whether you’re missing a note or [exposing] your personal life,” Donnelly pointed out. “Lines are drawn between that in the classical world which hurts them in many ways in connecting with people.”
Jewell witnessed Donnelly’s enthusiasm win Järvi over. “I think Paavo realized the passion that Dave was bringing to the project and that allowed more doors to be opened on his end.”
Donnelly and Jewell, who are former Washington University football teammates, tapped into their athletic background to capture the prodigious skill of classically trained musicians including Lang Lang, Joshua Bell and Hillary Hahn. “So what I tried to do with the film is show classical music in a new way,” Donnelly said. “I did that by illustrating classical musicians like professional athletes, showing the discipline and the training and sacrifice that is required.”
Sometimes, these world-class musicians would outsmart the camera. “For our sound mix, we had syncing issues all the time because the classical musicians, they play so fast that sometimes the camera would not pick up the movements for closeup shots and so forth so we had some sync issues we had to keep reworking.”
Donnelly poured his life into completing the complicated process of filming and post-production. “I lived out of a suitcase and traveled to six different countries and 25 cities while we were filming ‘Maestro.’” Once the cameras were put down, colossal problems emerged. “There were 50 music cues in the film, of which each one requires master rights and sync rights clearances and publishing rights clearances. There was over 1,000 contracts for this film.”
The seemingly endless red tape was for a greater cause. DVDs of “Maestro” are available for classroom use. Donnelly witnessed this impact first hand in surveying 300 Ohio students. Only a handful previously attended a classical music concert. “Eighty-three percent of them, they were more likely to go to a classical music concert after the film. Most of them, I think the average was, on a scale from 1 to 10, how much they liked it, 1 being they hated it and 10 being they loved it, it was 8, I think that was the average. That feedback means so much more to me than anything else.”
Jewell hopes that “Maestro” will one day be shown in his hometown since he still benefits from the lessons he learned as an orchestra student. “I wound up developing interests in philosophy and literature and other places that helps me educationally ... that I can pass on to future generations.”
This goal to enrich lives through classical music is what kept Donnelly and Jewell going despite film setbacks. “It’s four years of my life and I have 58 minutes to show for it,” Donnelly said. “It’s a grind. You have to wake up and hustle, but what I love about it, it’s all passion. All passion.”

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