Violinists March 31, 2012

Terje Toomistu about Alex Gentelev's film
Enchanting classical music. A lady wearing a brown sweater is vigorously playing a piano. Four child violinists are fiddling with Schubert. They are not allowed to make any mistakes; they are giving their very best. The audience is observing, nodding approvingly - not that they know much about Schubert or violin playing; and after an about-five-minute-piece the performers are sent off the stage with mandatory applause.

Five minutes of concert performance. Five minutes of exquisite Schubert. Applause. And then it is over.

The minds of these children are sharply alert: what is going to be the comment of the violin teacher?  Praise or criticism? Because as ever, something has gone awry.
… and the children resume their everyday routine, meaning at least four to five hours of rehearsals per day, musical scales and etudes, sore fingers, and endless nagging from the teacher. And all that in the name of stepping up on stage once again on one beautiful evening to present the audience five minutes of Schubert. (Yet, seriously, not solely for this.)

What takes place in reality behind this five minute performance? Alex Gentelev tried to unlock this world for us in his Violinists. In the midst of this story is an amazing violin teacher Anne, who after 30 years as a soloist in a philharmonic orchestra relocates to a small town in northern Israel, where no one knows anything about violins or apparently not much about classical music. And there she begins to teach violin to the children. And to change lives.

 For me this film brought to life some ambiguous memories from my childhood. For many years I was one of the children confined indoors, stuck behind a piano for endless hours to hone my fingers repeating ‘Bach and Polyphonies’ while all the other children were carelessly playing hopscotch in the playground. I recall my frustration when my brother really wanted to watch TV during the rehearsal; or the occurrence when just few days before an assessed academic concert the lady next door, taken ill, asked for absolute silence. With eyes at the brink of tears. I remember the shadowy corridors and chilly halls of the music school, where prior to the piano lesson I had to warm up my fingers against a radiator and put the gloves on just in case. I remember the passion with which my teacher tried to explain the dynamics of a crescendo to me, a 10-year-old girl. I remember the dizzying uneasiness prior to assessed performances. I remember the sweat, tears, endless scales, and etudes. Yet I also remember the satisfaction I got from the music that was born from the chemistry between me and my musical instrument. These experiences I would trade for nothing.

One can make films of any phenomena or people. Alex Gentelev spent more than a year working on Violinists; however, he found the topic so intriguing that he would have liked to film it for 20 years, as was revealed during the post-screening discussion. And although the main theme of the film is far from anything deemed to be sexy, hot, politically intriguing or personally crucial, it was able to turn what is ostensibly one of the most boring topics in the world into a movie that speaks to the viewer, is distinguishable, and attracts. With all my respect.