The orchestra with no discord

Posted: April 20, 2005

If the new documentary about the Philadelphia Orchestra thoroughly lived up to its title, Music From the Inside Out might be the most upsetting entry in the Philadelphia Film Festival. Instead, the idealized, romanticized, picturesque film directed by Daniel Anker shows the orchestra the way one would like to think it is - full of fresh faces and lofty philosophies.

And even if you want to explore the orchestra's dark side - last year's rancorous labor negotiations were only a symptom of internal politics that suggest an organization at war with itself - you're not going to get it from a film that gives screen credit to former public-relations director Judith Kurnick and was funded by board member Carole Haas Gravagno.

This is the Philadelphia Orchestra's polished but not slick valentine to itself. Not that what's on screen is false - it's just a very narrow view of the personalities concerned. And for close observers of the orchestra, that specificity is painful to watch, because you want reality to be entirely this way.

Begun in 2000, the film was compiled from footage shot over years in Philadelphia and on tour, so there's a sense of great distillation.

While many orchestras have had similar documentaries made about them, this one shows an extraordinary eye for frame composition and color, plus an all-around meticulousness - right down to the graphics - that puts it above others.

The most distinctive feature is that the film is never shanghaied by conductor glamour: Wolfgang Sawallisch and Christoph Eschenbach are seen but not interviewed, so central are the hands-on musicians.

Among them are numerous examples of those whose lives took left turns - even after they had successfully embarked on a music career and landed a job in this "destination orchestra" that guarantees decades of stable employment and good salary.

For instance, principal trombonist Nitzan Haroz arrived at the top of his profession but developed a deep attraction to salsa music, which he plays in nightclubs after Philadelphia Orchestra concerts.

Then there's Adam Unsworth, who aspired to be that rarest of musical birds, a jazz French hornist, only to find that the classical repertoire offered him a living. He is now one of the orchestra's sturdiest players.

The most affecting story is that of concertmaster David Kim. He was groomed like a musical racehorse at an early age, suffered an inner crisis when his mother died, but later emerged as a prize-winner at the 1986 International Tchaikovsky Competition.

A major career seemed to be his - until he found engagements falling off, lived in denial about that for many seasons, and then, after zeroing in on the redemption theme in the 1996 film Jerry Maguire, realized he could live more happily playing in a symphony orchestra while doing concerto and chamber-music gigs on the side. The best part is Kim's way of telling his story, with honesty and dignity.

Were more of the film as compelling, it wouldn't seem too long for its 90 minutes. But if you're interested enough in this world, the best bits are worth waiting for.

Contact music critic David Patrick Stearns at 215-854-4907 or dstearns@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/davidpatrickstearns.

Music From the Inside Out *** (Out of four stars)

Produced and directed by Daniel Anker, photography by Tom Hurwitz.

Running time: 1 hr. 29 min.

Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (nothing unsuitable for children)

Playing at: Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut St., at 7 tonight. Opens Friday at the Ritz Five.

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