Heddy Honigmann

As she prepared for her next film, Heddy Honigmann graciously took the time to answer several email questions prompted by her superb documentary about the Royal Concertgebouw's 125th anniversary season, Around the World in 50 Concerts (now on view at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema until August 21).

Author: Paul Ennis
For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
More from this author:

Double bassist Dominic Seldis of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra In her captivating documentary celebrating the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra's 125th anniversary year (2013), Around the World in 50 Concerts, filmmaker Heddy Honigmann focuses on the human element.

The movie concentrates on four of the orchestra's musicians, a percussionist, flutist, bassoonist and double bassist, as well as concertgoers in three cities on the tour: Buenos Aires, Johannesburg and St. Petersburg.  Each of Honigmann's subjects describes what music means to them, from the orchestra members who play it, to the Argentinian taxi driver who can't live without it; to the Soweto girl for whom playing in a youth orchestra provides self-worth and to the man who fell in love with the violin as a poverty-stricken child, learned to play, and now leads that orchestra (the Soweto Youth Orchestra); to the Russian with a connection to Mahler's music so personal that when he hears the Concertgebouw play the Symphony No. 2 and Stravinsky's The Firebird, we see his tears.

Honigmann's camera lingers on faces. It's the main way she draws us into her subjects. And she gets inside the orchestra by keeping her camera on the instrumentalists even after they play; it's unusual to see musicians at rest this way. You really get a sense of what it means to be a symphonic musician on tour.

Mostly conducted by Mariss Jansons, the film is carried by a judicious use of Bruckner's Seventh, Rachmaninov's Paganini Variations, Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony and Violin Concerto, Verdi's Requiem, Mahler's First, Second and Eighth, among others. The emotional connection is intensified by Honigmann's subjects' evident joy in music.

Honigmann's direction can take on a musical life of its own. For example, there is a section that begins with a dinner conversation between the flutist and the bassoonist. The flute player reveals that he is easily moved by folk music, that the melancholy nature of the tango makes him feel warm; he finds folk music in The Rite of Spring, Mahler and Dvořák. Suddenly it's the next day and the film has taken us into the bassoonist's hotel room where he's calling home. As we hear the famous minor key funereal version of the Frère Jacques folk song in Mahler's First Symphony, the camera seamlessly pans through the streets of Buenos Aires ending up in the concert hall where the orchestra is playing the Mahler – it's a very musical montage that grows organically out of the material.

The power of music to elevate, soothe and communicate is at the core of this moving documentary.

Around the World in 50 Concerts plays August 14 through August 21 at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.

Author: Paul Ennis
For a list of writings by this author, click the name above
More from this author:

Neil Young

Journey through the Past (1972), the invaluable collection of footage from 1966 to 1972 documenting the early years of singer-songwriter-guitarist-filmmaker Neil Young's prodigious career, peels back the layers of the onion that was at the centre of 1960s counterculture. Built around a trip to Nashville, the film cuts between old footage of Buffalo Springfield classics For What It's Worth and Mr. Soul, by Stephen Stills and Young, respectively; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young elevating Young classics Ohio and Southern Man; manager Elliot Roberts worrying about concert ticket prices going up to the colossal price of $10; Crosby analyzing the Nixon-Billy Graham ruling class nexus; and outright hippie talk from Stills (“We reassure ourselves with words. Someday the reassurance won't be necessary. Soon.”)


Amy Winehouse – Somerset House July 2007. Copyright: Rex Features

In 1998, 14-year-old Amy Winehouse was already a confident, talented performer who considered herself a jazz singer. In a video at a friend's birthday party she revealed her admiration for Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Tony Bennett and Thelonious Monk. She would die 13 years later, a victim of alcohol poisoning, her body ravaged by bulimia, crack cocaine and heroin, her principal personal relationships with her self-serving father, her drug-addled husband and her exploitative manager all stacked against her profound creative life.


Morton Subotnick performing Silver Apples of the Moon at Moogfest 2012 in Asheville, N.C.

A light and fog pre-Apocalypsis vision of mid-20th-century industrial detritus, the bones of the Hearn Generating Plant – its worn steel girders exposed along with its upper floors towering over pools of muddied water that were like giant stepping stones to be avoided – welcomed 82-year-old electronic music pioneer Morton Subotnick to its environs June 20 at the Luminato Festival for a historic performance of his seminal 1967 work Silver Apples of the Moon.


Back to top