The Master and His Pupil

Director: Sonia Herman Dolz

2003| Colour/B&W| 87 mins| The Netherlands

When the Russian maestro Valery Gergiev conducts, he makes the western classical tradition look like a force of nature. We see him in this movie from the perspective of the orchestra and it’s as if every part of him is wired into the music. Sonia Herman Dolz’s brilliantly simple film shows just how easy this isn’t, as she escorts three young conductors – one Spanish, one Dutch, one Anglo-Chinese
– through a Gergiev conducting masterclass. They work through Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy and Prometheus, pieces chosen, one assumes, for their furious intensity and rich variety of tone. The master watches and listens, then cajoles, corrects, teases, chastens and encourages his three awed and avid pupils. As he breaks down their inhibitions, pulls their heads out of their scores and compels them to communicate with the players, the handing on of a potent expressive tradition becomes indistinguishable from the transmission of vitality itself.
Gergiev himself is a living legend: an unkempt , eccentric and unpredictable virtuoso who commands respect and attention. Described as a ‘madman of music,’ he is the chief conductor and general director of St Petersburg’s Kirov Opera and Mariinsky Theatre . Gripping, comedic and enlightening, The Master and His Pupil presents the creative struggles faced by conductors.

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