02 May 2006


Passion for music is hardly rare, but it is welcome to hear it espoused in public, especially by some of the art’s strongest proponents.

It is possible to find a fine expression of this in Attrazione d’amore, a film by the director Frank Scheffer, which features the work of the world-renowned conductor Riccardo Chailly. The series of Juxtapositions DVDs released by Ideale Audience offers pairings of music films that are often unique. Scheffer’s work is already represented on a single disc that collects Conducting Mahler and I Have Lost Touch with the World, and in the present DVD he returns to Mahler’s music and also explores the work of Luciano Berio. In the notes that accompany the disc, Jessica van Tijn states that in the former film, “Scheffer wants to introduce the viewers to the great tradition of classical music and exciting innovations of modern composers through the eyes and ears of a passionate conductor and his fantastic orchestra.” To do so, Scheffer draws on various works, including Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, which frames the film, Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor, K. 466, Stravinsky’s Petrouchka, Puccini’s Tosca (from a production that involved Malfitano, Margison, and Terfel), Varèse’s Ameriques, and Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. In fact, Scheffer carefully placed examples from the works at strategic points in the film, so that excerpts from Tosca are not found in one segment, and music from all five movements of Mahler’s Fifth intersect the beginning, middle, and concluding segments of this carefully constructed film.

While Scheffer devoted a portion of his film I Have Lost Touch with the World to the work of Chailly, Attrazione d’amore offers further documentation of the conductor’s association with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. The tenth anniversary of Chailly’s work with the Concertgebouw provided the opportunity to make this film, which serves as a fine tribute to the relationship. While the music is paramount in the film, Scheffer also provides a judicious selection of interviews with Chailly to convey a sense of the conductor’s perspective on his art and its relevance.

Chailly’s love for the music emerges in his work, and the comments that the late Luciano Berio contributed to the film reveal the esteem the great modern composer had for a conductor who simultaneously embraces tradition and also champions new music. Such passions are not incompatible, and the fact that Chailly feels so strongly about both is further evidence of his devotion to music. His comments about the nature of music as an art that must emerge dynamically out of the air leads him to believe in the importance of individual experience in apprehending it. Beyond the physical limitations that exist with paintings and sculpture, music is recreated each time it is heard, and that element underscores the importance of tradition with regard to performance. At the same time Chailly makes it clear that he prefers musical substantiated than novelty that exists for its own sake, and his candor on this matter is quite welcome.

Yet the value of this video is not just in preserving Chailly’s expressed credo, but also in his work as a conductor. In the various clips, which come mainly from performances, it is possible to see his enthusiasm and watch him interact with performers. This gives a sense of Chailly’s charisma as a conductor, an element that emerges in the performances excerpted here. While the film is overtly about Chailly’s work with the Concertgebouw, it also offers a wonderful survey of important works that are essential to the repertoire. The choice of music seems difficult, especially when both the conductor and his ensemble exhibit a wide range of strengths. Yet it is important to view the chosen works for their historic breadth, which extends from Bach to Varèse, with an effective performance of the St. Matthew Passion framing the video.

One of the critical works represented is Varèse’s Ameriques, which shows Chailly’s enthusiasm for the piece, as well as his ability to give it shape. His insights about the position of Varèse have yet to be borne out, and it may that convincing performances like his will help to establish a stronger place for the composer in the repertoire. Chailly’s openness to new music and contemporary composers may be also perceived in the comments about him by the late Luciano Berio. Berio qualifies his judgment about Chailly in expressing his esteem for the intelligence with which the conductor approaches music, and it is, at bottom, this deeper knowledge that ultimately emerges in Chailly’s expressed comments and the leadership he brought to the Concertgebouw.

With the other film, Voyage to Cythera, Scheffer explores modern music by using the work of Berio as a point of departure. This film is, perhaps, more cinematic than some of his others about music, with some memorable nature images underscoring the sounds. In contrast to the images of the Berio shaded blue, the golden-hued scenes that involve water or nature scenes seem surrealistic. Moreover, the shots of Berio in his studio, with the camera capturing the names of various composers on the spines of scores aptly matches some of the passages of his Sinfonia, where the music relies on traditional ideas from Mahler and others in its expressive modernism. The flickering of the light that Scheffer uses for other images sometimes approximates the tempos of the music, to create a fine synthesis of sound and image. Effects like these lend further interest to the film.

Beyond that, Voyage to Cythera serves as a tribute to Berio’s contributions to the musical tradition that Mahler represented with his eclectic style. Berio exhibits a similar eclecticism in his use of various elements within his own pieces, which also reflect the continuities he espouses in the course of the interviews Scheffer included in this film. Moreover, Riccardo Chailly attests to the significance of this aspect of Berio’s work in an excerpted interview. Yet the segue between his comments about Berio and the example from Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra seems to be a bit of a leap without some further explanation of the linkage seems out of place, especially with the interjections from various pieces. The sound-montage returns to the Sinfonia, which certainly deserves the kind of attention that Scheffer offers, and it would have been ideal to include a performance of that work with the present DVD.

That aside, this is a fine DVD, which forms an intriguing set wth Scheffer’s other release in the Juxtapositions series, the one which collects Conducting Mahler with I Have Lost Touch with the World. There is another short subject, though, which the packaging of Attrazione d’amore/Voyage to Cythera, a piece entitled Ring that is listed on the DVD cover. Yet the piece is not included with the track listings and the navigation on the disc. No matter, the stated contents have much to offer in the two films by Frank Scheffer, who promises to be a fine source for capturing the attraction of classical music in images. Those interested in Berio’s music will want to consult Voyage to Cythera, particularly for the interviews with composer himself and also Louis Andriessen.

Yet Attrazione d’amore is, perhaps, a stronger film for the enthusiasm it contains about classical music and the living tradition in which Chailly and the Concertgebouw belong. It is rare to find such a spirited film about music which can be appreciated by a wide range of viewers. For some, it can serve as an effective introduction to classical music, while those familiar with the composers and works represented should enjoy the level of performance that Chailly achieved with the Concertgebouw in the music as found in this film.

James L. Zychowicz
Madison, Wisconsin