Bernadette playing Mahler for the cows near Lucerne.

The music of 

the film.

 

Every musical piece in our film tells a story that unfolds in the scene in its own way. The music was our editor Stefan and director Bernadette’s guiding principle in the story-telling process. Instead of a composer, they used the original music of the most incredible classical music composers from Mozart, Rimsky-Korsakov to Mahler, Bernstein, Copland, and Auerbach. All of the music was either performed live by Marin Alsop and one of her orchestras as visible in the scene or had been recorded by her. 

The cows listening to Mahler.

Bernadette playing Mahler for Cows in Osttirol, Austria.

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Marin Alsop conducting at Lucerne.

Symphony No. 1, 1889

 

Gustav Mahler

Drängend bis zum Schluss — Pushing Until the End

Mahler was seen by many as an outsider, and sought to establish his identity as an Austrian Jew born in 1860 in Bohemia, at the time part of the Austrian empire,  through his music. The first movement of Symphony No. 1, Langsam, schleppend (Slowly, dragging) takes the listener through a journey in the Austrian country sides, early in the morning. Harkening back to nature, through the lens of his childhood, Mahler takes the viewers on a journey, using uncommon techniques to bring the viewer into his vision: the sound of a cuckoo here, or the distance bellows of a shepherd blowing a horn there (played by offstage trumpets). 

It’s minimalist opening allows for contemplation and peace, alluding to a spiritual quality that Mahler saw in nature. The piece begins with what almost sounds like the ‘Concert A’ of the concertmaster before the beginning of a piece, and slowly opens itself towards the outdoors, welcomed with the offstage horns.

Marin Alsop on a boat at Lucerne.
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"My two symphonies [First and Second] contain the inner aspect of my whole life; I have written into them with my own blood everything that I have experienced and endured – Truth and Poetry in music ... Creativity and experience are so intimately linked for me."

 

- Gustav Mahler to Natalie Bauer-Lechner (1893) 

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The score from The Magic Flute

The Magic Flute: Overture
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Performed by: The Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo

Bernadette wanted to use the Overture of Mozart's Magic Flute in her film because she had this strong childhood memory attached to this opera: 

“My memory is of being five years old and going to see the Zauberflöte together with my mother at the Wiener Staatsoper in Vienna. My very first live opera ever. I was so excited. I remember people asking my mother if I was ready to sit still through an entire opera at such a young age, and she shook them off with a short ‘absolutely and why not?’ When we entered the opera building a guard stopped us though, and asked my mother, ‘how old is your daughter? We only allow children as of six years into the opera house.’ And my mother responded without a blink, ‘she is six’ and walked past him. It was my proudest moment, and that evening I inhaled every single image and musical note from the Zauberflöte like the best piece of Apfelstrudel or Gugelhupf.”

The Overture is one of Bernadette’s favorites as there is a repetition built into it that reminds us of the excitement of a young child when telling a story: just when you think “the big secret” has been spilled out, it starts over again, as if “Wolferl” (the Austrian diminutive) Amadeus was saying “just kidding, now this is the REAL secret!” In the edit, we thought it would create a strong tension to use Mozart’s famous overture to Marin’s memory of “girls can’t become conductors.”

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A horn player at OSESP.
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Scheherazade, 1888

 

Rimsky-Korsakov

Performed by: The Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo

The Romantic composition Sheherazade, written by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, is based on One Thousand and One Nights and is named after its main character, Scheherazade. Built on variations of similar musical themes, the piece plays out like a story, capturing the feeling of a narrative. A melodic piece, filled with dramatic moments and dotted with solos throughout, Sheherazade takes the audience through an incredibly emotional journey.

 

The piece’s emotional and vibrant tones fit well with Marin performing it in São Paulo with the famed São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra (OSESP), where she was welcomed with open arms and celebrated as she transformed the orchestra to become the most important Latin American. Maestrina Marin, as the Brazilians call her, took the symphony to new heights, culminating in becoming the first Brazilian orchestra to appear at the BBC Proms, in 2012.

Marin Alsop conducting at OSESP.
Bernadette and Valentina behind the scenes at OSESP

“Scheherazade is such a wonderful piece. It's exotic, it's colorful, but most importantly it's about storytelling. You know, the storytelling of this woman Saltana Sheherazade who was put in this impossible position of: if she finishes her story, she's going to be murdered. So she keeps weaving these tales of suspense and intrigue so that her “husband,” the Sultan, will somehow not murder her, and indeed she triumphs. So this is a piece of endless variation and endless intrigue.”

 

- Marin Alsop

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The 2018 Production in Baltimore featured over 540 musicians, dancers and singers, featuring members from The Peabody Symphony, the Morgan State Choir, multiple Baltimore High School Choirs, The Peabody Children’s Chorus, and community choirs, as well as the students from the BFA Peabody Dance Program. The famous  marching band that features non-professionals, according to the score, was formed with the Peabody Preparatory Wind Ensemble where some of Marin’s OrchKids performed. In the middle of them all was Curtis Bannister, a Peabody vocal graduate from 2010 and cast member of NBC’s Chicago Fire, who performed the 2018 Celebrant.

We wanted to honor Mass because our production took place during the Bernstein commemorative year of 2018, Bernstein’s centenary, but also because Leonard Bernstein himself loved it so much. When he came to Vienna for a European premiere of Mass in 1973 he said: “I cannot stress too strongly how impressed I am with these young people, and what they have given back to me for my Mass.”

Mass: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers, 1971

 

Leonard Bernstein

Considered one of Leonard Bernstein’s most polemic pieces, Mass is a union of jazz, classical music, and modern pop. The piece presents itself as a Latin Mass, where the participants are made of a street chorus, rock singers, dancers, a Celebrant (who is dressed like a priest), and children (among others) to discuss their various degrees of belief, the existence of God(s), and the status quo of humanity. Of course, Mass  only faintly resembles the Catholic Mass, which has been taken apart and put together in the most unusual, and often very funny way including a “non Credo” to the “Credo.” 

 

In the Credo, in fact, an angry rocker gives up on a seemingly absent God, redirecting his belief to the one thing he knows exists, music: “I believe in F Sharp / I believe in G.” But the mood in Mass quickly shifts from humor to philosophy. At the end of Mass, the Celebrant asks a profound question, any of us have asked in our existential moments of doubts: “I wonder, was I ever really young?”

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The Choir at Leonard Bernstein's Mass.
The stage at Leonard Bernstein's Mass
The Celebrant at Leonard Bernstein's Mass

“You know, when I was told I could conduct any piece I wanted during the centennial year, Mass was the only piece I wanted to do—being part of that revival thrills me to no end.”

 

- Marin Alsop

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Vita sitting at the steps in the Vienna Concert Hall.
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Marin Alsop conducting in Vienna.

Eve's Lament,

O Flowers, That Will Never Grow, 2019

 

Lera Auerbach

Lera Auerbach stands as the one living composer featured in the film. Lera is a modern composer, conductor, and pianist. Her composition, Eve’s Lament, which had its world premiere in Vienna during Marin Alsop’s debut concert in 2019, was inspired by John Milton’s Paradise Lost. The piece seeks to give individuality to new voices in the orchestra by writing in solos for the last stands of each section as if they were the “forgotten voices” or the “flowers that never will grow.” Putting the focus on them, in turn, brings a sense of magic out, where the melodies are coming from places that the audience would not normally expect.

Performing Eve's Lament in Vienna

For our film, we wanted to honor the magical sound of this piece and its tenderness through the eyes of the children that we cast for a re-enactment of Marin’s memory from her own childhood. The children were 9 to 10-year-old students from the famous Viennese school of the Vienna Boys Choir (Wiener Sängerknaben), and were all musicians themselves, or were exposed to music at an early age like Marin in her own childhood. We had an open call and responded to children of Jewish, Croatian, and other minority backgrounds.

Young Marin Alsop in a publicity photo for String Fever.

Fever Pitch 1991

 

David Rimelis

String Fever

Always exploring new ways to break barriers,  Maestra Marin Alsop created String Fever in 1981 to liberate herself from the classical tradition and what is written on the page. She formed an all women, all string swing-jazz band that lit up jazz clubs throughout New York City. Prior to String Fever, none of its sixteen classically trained members had ever played jazz before, and had to practice for months on end before they felt like they could “swing” with the beat. Drawing inspiration from classical, pop and jazz, String Fever presented a new fusion of genres, unheard of at the time that led to recurring gigs at night clubs and local television programs throughout New York. They became staples of New York City, performing every Sunday 10pm at Mikell’s, participating in jazz singer Mel Torme’s concert series, and recording backing tracks for Billy Joel. 

String Fever in the 1980s
Newspaper clipping of Marin Alsop's String Fever
The logo of Marin Alsop's String Fever
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OrchKids

Funded by her MacArthur Genius Award, Marin Alsop founded Orchkids in 2008, shortly after becoming conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The program began with 30 first graders and now works with seven public schools in Baltimore City, serving over 1,800 students from Pre-K to 11th grade. OrchKids provides students throughout Baltimore with instruments and music lessons and the opportunity to work with other BSO musicians. The OrchKids 10th-anniversary celebration, held at the Baltimore War Memorial, included performances by the OrchKids Bucket Band, orchestral pieces conducted by Marin Alsop, and a celebration of the first OrchKids seniors admitted to college.

 

You can download the Naxos score of the film here. 5% of the proceedings will be donated to OrchKids

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Purchase the Score