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Reviewed by:
  • Sophia, Biography of a Violin Concerto directed by Jan Schmidt-Garre
  • Sabra Statham
Sophia, Biography of a Violin Concerto. DVD. Sir Simon Rattle / Berliner Philharmoniker. With Sofia Gubaidulina, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Gidon Kremer. Directed by Jan Schmidt-Garre. [Leipzig]: Arthaus Musik, 2011, 2008. 101 545. $28.98.

This film stands out from typical art films both for its quality and content. It is a fascinating documentary that captures the creative process behind the composition and premiere of Sofia Gubaiduliana’s In tempus praesens: Concerto for violin and orchestra. The work was first performed in 2007 with Anne-Sophie Mutter as soloist and Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berliner Philharmoniker. The film provides insight into all of the many steps involved in writing a major classical work in the 21st century and traces the story of this violin concerto from initial conception through rehearsals and to performance. The seed for the concerto was planted by Paul Sacher who asked [End Page 167] Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina to compose the piece for the German concert violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter in 1992. The composer deferred for fifteen years until she found the time to write the work which is currently her most often performed work.

Both the composer and the performers give voice to the creative process in interviews and historic film footage. For example, Anne-Sophie Mutter’s reaction is captured by the camera as she opens a package delivered to her door and sees the score for the first time. She notes with interest that there are no violins in the orchestral score and immediately begins to work through the music on her instrument. The performer talks about her artistic concept of the work as does the composer. The most fascinating part of the film is the way it documents Gubaidulina’s compositional process. A student of Shostakovitch, she makes strict use of form and mathematical structure to define and arrange the sounds she hears in her head. She talks about imitating Bach’s formal designs in her works and demonstrates how she uses colored pencils to organize her musical plan and a metronome to arrive at tempi. The film also includes interviews and discussion with Gidon Kremer for whom Gubaidulina composed the Offertorium: Concerto for violin and orchestra.

Overall the film is wonderful and fascinating. It is rare to see and hear a composer at work and this is a particularly interesting example because Gubaidulina is very novel in her melodic design yet very classic in her structural plan. This film makes great entertainment and would be excellent for use in 21st century theory courses or performance methods. The film was shot in German with subtitles and was an award winner at the Columbus International Film Festival and nominated for the Prix Italia.

Sabra Statham
Pennsylvania State University


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pp. 167-168
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