Highly strung

June 17, 2018, 7:51 PM · A little venting. If you have Netflix you may have seen (or like me, missed until now) the documentary “Highly Strung”. I didn’t know anything about it and the first 5 minutes hooked me. However it left me with a foul taste in the mouth.
I didn’t like the documentary itself. I found it unfocused and patchy in the stories it was following but adding pieces, more than themes, it seems that the main goal of it was to give an image of classical string musician as insufferable brats. Not divas; Brats.
It starts really well, following the Australian String Quartet (ASQ), formed fully by Guadagninis. And just in the very beginning, 2 members fall in love and marry after just one week of meeting. Nice story. They talk about their instruments and how much they represent… Good. Should have ended there.
Suddenly, we go to New York and we follow 4 siblings, The Carpenters. We see them flashing their Stradivarius and Musafias among hedge funds while shopping 100.000$ suits and 500.000$ shoes. They only talk about money and brag about records on instrument prices in the ensembles they have played. Their attitude is really off-putting. Think “Capitol District” in Hunger games.
We go to Cremona, many video compositions of the museum. The Board of the ASQ commissions a copy of the Guadagnini Cello. Probably, the best of the documentary but even then, you get the feeling that they film the luthier with a tongue in cheek.
We jump through these stories. More shopping of the carpenters dressing like ‘20s mobsters and flashing the prices, some more work of on the Cello and then we get to the surprise: The ASQ is dissolving. The just married couple pressed the Quartet to follow their “artistic direction” and asked the board to dissolve the quartet and allow them to form a new one. The interviews with the main violinist and problem maker, Kristian Winther, are unflattering. He shows himself dismissive of his colleagues, the board and the Guadagnini he was loaned.
The couple returns the Giadagninis before the end of the contract, driving the board mad. They go even further and they decide to not fulfill their part of the contract and leave earlier, cancelling a scheduled concert.
You feel some gloating from the filmmaker when in the credits, they inform that Winther and his wife, Iona Tache, are currently working night shifts in a hotdog parlor.
Suddenly the documentary changes the story and focuses on Ulrike Klein, the benefactor of the ASQ who bought the Guadagnini Cello and supports the ASQ. She talks about her childhood and passion of music. She is a lovely lady with a beautiful back story that comes out of nowhere in the frame of the documentary…
I agree with one review of this documentary. Seems that the script of “ Highly Strung, in short, is to throw paint at the wall, and only some of it sticks. “
However, it left me sour. I found the clownish behavior of the Carpenters in the film, despicable. I wanted to shout to Kristian Winther and kick his stupidity away. But most of all, I felt horribly for his wife, Iona. During the film she shows a touching love for her Guadagnini and how happy she was playing in the ASQ. A dream for her, that she threw away probably to follow her husband to the hotdog stand…
There’s no love for music in this film (except from Ulrike Klein). I don’t know what message, if any, the director wanted to express but I really think that this documentary is a low punch to Classical String Music.

Did you watch it? What do you think?

Replies (1)

June 18, 2018, 12:32 AM · Hmmm... I don't mean this in an offensive way, but perhaps it leaves you with a sour taste because it doesn't give the representation of musicians that *you* would admire?

Not all classical musicians (even good ones) are these highly refined, mature folk that they are traditionally known as in the broader world. They don't just drink red wine and talk about philosophy. Some are childish or stubborn. Others are goofy. Some are jerks.

I liked the documentary because it showed a somewhat more human side to classical music. Obviously the drama and eccentricities are played up to make it more entertaining. But, I found it enjoyable.


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