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Laurie Niles

Life as a Musical Mashup: Downtown Express with Philippe Quint

April 17, 2012 at 8:37 PM

If you were to tell your life's story in one musical mashup, how would that sound?

Mine certainly would be an eclectic mix. It would probably begin with the Age of Aquarius, born as I was in 1968, peppered with some disco, the Seitz Concerto, Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony and Beethoven's Seventh, some Genesis, more 80's techno pop, a lot more orchestra music, the Wieniawski Concerto, Sting and the Dave Matthews Band, the first page of Strauss's "Don Juan," a parade of small children playing the Twinkle Variations. Then with the arrival of my own children, "Music Together," more orchestral music, the Tchaikovsky Concerto and all Bach solo violin, and a crazy hodgepodge of hip-hoppy-grungepop and Youtube clips as my kids become teenagers.

Life in a whirl of music. That's the way Philippe Quint's new movie, Downtown Express unfolds, and it's pretty compelling when a guy like Philippe is making the music, along with singer Nellie McKay. The movie opens Friday at the Quad Cinema in New York. I had a little sneak preview, and I hope you get to see it; it's the kind of thing musicians will appreciate. (This was our interview with him, back when he was working on it last year.)

The movie begins as a quartet of Russian immigrant family members plays Mozart's "Eine Klein Nachmusik" in the subway. This theme comes back, as the members drop out of their busking group, one by one.

Philippe's character, Sasha, is a Juilliard student who rehearses frequently with his steamy collaborative pianist. His overbearing but genial father keeps crashing the rehearsals, demanding fidelity to the Russian nature of Tchaikovsky.

Meanwhile, Sasha is attracted to a band -- or perhaps to its pretty blonde singer Ramona (Nellie McKay's character).

Downtown Express
Photo © Susan Meiselas

This attraction embraces many things, his draw to the city, its new music, its people, its spark. In the beginning, Sasha's virtuoso musical style clashes with the band's, but in time, he adjusts and they adjust. By the end of the film, classical and garage band merge, at least musically, for Sasha. Music unites the scenes, which pan back and forth between Sasha rehearsing the Joachim Cavatina Op. 85 No. 3 with his accompanist at Juilliard, and Sasha playing this same tune and harmony as accompaniment to Ramona's singing. This perhaps the best interlude in the film, both narratively and musically.

This message doesn't exactly reject old for the new; it doesn't strip away the geek to make room for the hipster, à la "Grease." The band certainly learns as much from Sasha as he does from them. Musically, the new emerges from the old, embracing them both. Not a bad idea.

Downtown Express OFFICIAL TRAILER from David Grubin on Vimeo.

From Paul Deck
Posted on April 18, 2012 at 3:44 AM
Looking forward to seeing this movie, when it comes out on BluRay.

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