Paul Dessau – Paul Dessau  Let’s hope for the Best

Paul Dessau – Paul Dessau Let’s hope for the Best

Der Komponist Paul Dessau - Von Hamburg über Hollywood in die DDR

Ein Film von Anne-Kathrin Peitz, 53 min., NDR/ARTE 2023

Paul Dessau (1894-1979) has been a violin prodigy, became Otto Klemperer’s assistant and finally an accomplished conductor. He wrote operetta and film music – from mountain films with Leni Riefenstahl by director Arnold Fanck to Walt Disney’s animated films. Born in Hamburg, he was a soldier in World War I and a Jewish exile in France and the USA in WWII. In Hollywood, he meanwhile worked on a chicken farm and wrote the sounds for some celluloid blockbusters as an anonymous “music slave” for the major studios.

As a convinced communist, Paul Dessau settled over to the GDR in 1948. He worked with Bertolt Brecht as well as his fourth wife, the stage directing idol Ruth Berghaus, and had a significant influence on the socialist music scene and stage art. He became a music teacher for children at his son Maxim’s school in Zeuthen. His works were taught in schools, his “Thälmann-Kolonne” became soon very popular, but at the same time he was condemned as a formalist because of his often idiosyncratic tonal language. He became a GDR state composer who was mainly celebrated on the outside, but sharply criticized on the inside.

With over 430 works to his name, Paul Dessau has been what a workaholic is being called, with his explosive, often unwieldy sound language an inconvenient man who wanted to change society and help shape it: “Music is not a medium for relaxation. Absolutely not. There are pills or walking for that, which is cheaper. Music is really exhausting – to make and to listen to.”

Who has this man of conviction been, who truly fought for musical innovation and clung to the communist idea with almost naïve steadfastness? Who was this person whose appearance could be just as ornery and edgy, witty and contradictory, laconic or loving as his music?


“Paul Dessau: Let’s hope for the best” by Anne-Kathrin Peitz sketches an artist’s life between conformity and repulsion, political idealism and musical individuality, in which the changeable German-German history of the 20th century is strikingly condensed as if under a burning glass.

The film portrait consciously traces the contradictions in Dessau’s character, life and work and embeds the man and his music in the historical context. The cinematic approach to the protagonist and his sound cosmos becomes a jigsaw puzzle, both literally and figuratively, whose individual – often disparate – pieces slowly come together to form an overall picture.

In staged concert scenes, artists translate his sound into body language and tongue-in-cheek cartoons his song humoresques into associative picture stories. Musicians play in quarries, orchestral works become music clips, pupils of the “Paul Dessau” comprehensive school in Zeuthen walk in the footsteps of their namesake. Historical recordings evoke the world and stations of Dessau’s life, and the composer himself has his say in rarely shown archive scenes. In addition, interview partners – from politician Gregor Gysi to former concert hall director Frank Schneider or the American jazz composer Jack Cooper as well as composer and pianist Steffen Schleiermacher – try to create a portrait of Paul Dessau not only with words, but actually by doing a puzzle.



In the Maze – The Musician Jörg Widmann

In the Maze – The Musician Jörg Widmann

In the Maze - The Musician Jörg Widmann

A film by Holger Preuße, 42 / 52min., BR/ARTE 2022

Music takes on a life of its own in the moment of writing, believes Jörg Widmann. It assumes its own form, becoming a living being that forges its own path. As such, it remains a fragment, because it is not what he, the writer, had intended.

For Widmann, the image that best describes this progression is a maze. Today, this has become the theme that runs through his life’s work, one that he has explored musically over the course of six distinct pieces. In the maze, one gets lost and bumps into things. There are moments “where it doesn’t go any further. And that is something that I often experience as problematic and very painful in composing. As happy as composing is.” Increasingly, he is led out of the maze of composing into which he has been drawn by his other role of clarinettist (for many years considered one of the world’s best) by his activities as a conductor.


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We follow Jörg Widmann into his maze, reaching for the thread that runs through his life and work. Together with him, we experience the ups and downs, the euphoric moments as well as the moments of crisis that are brought about by the process of writing. We encounter him backstage and on stage. And we discover that it is in fact a bundle of threads that intertwine to form a tangle, whereby the composer without the clarinettist, the conductor without the composer, or Jörg Widmann without the human, is inconceivable.

The film accompanies Jörg Widmann in the composition of his trumpet concerto “Towards Paradise (Labyrinth VI)”, commissioned by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. We witness the piece take shape, from the first drafts to the premiere performance. As clarinettist and conductor, we see him at the Salzburg Festival, in the Boulez Hall and at the Konzerthaus Berlin, and experience this ‘universal musician’ alongside Daniel Barenboim (as pianist), with the celebrated violinist Anne Sophie Mutter, for whom he composed his String Quartet No. 6, and during a concert tour of Taiwan together with his sister, the violinist Carolin Widmann.

Music ex machina – Artificial intelligence in classical music

Music ex machina – Artificial intelligence in classical music

Music ex machina - Artificial intelligence in classical music

A film by Bernard Wedig and Stefan Pannen, 52min, WDR, 2023

Music created with the assistance of artificial intelligence is a well-established secret in the world of pop. Today, AI is also making serious inroads in the classical domain, bringing us to the threshold of a new era in classical music. From the recording of the first samples to the premiere performance at the Semperoper in Dresden, the film accompanies the creation of the opera “Chasing Waterfalls”, which was co-composed by artificial intelligence.

We follow the AI as it reconstructs Beethoven’s 10th symphony and watch it perform with Robbie Williams, and we see how pianist Dirk Maassen at the Sony Science Lab in Paris and saxophonist Asya Fateyeva at the Hochschule für Musik Nürnberg interact with AI in real time, and how Spanish professor Eduardo Miranda in Plymouth is using quantum computers to create music entirely from scratch.

Experts Kenza Ait Si Abbou and Christian Mio Loclair comment on these fascinating developments as well as the currently highly topical Chat GPT platform.

Sound World – A Year in the Karajan Academy

Sound World – A Year in the Karajan Academy

Klangwütig - Ein Jahr an der Karajan-Akademie

Ein Film von Isabel Hahn und Silvia Palmigiano, 52 min., ZDF/ARTE 2022

available until 20.01.2023 in the ZDF Media Library

Nodoka Okisawa, Sara Ferrández and Lennard Czakaj are 3 out of 30 musicians who have landed a coveted place at the Karajan Academy, the training school associated with the Berlin Philharmonic. This means lessons and concerts with one of the best orchestras in the world. But it also means great expectations and a lot of pressure.

Violist Sara dreams of a solo career and is working on her YouTube channel. She wants to give young people an understanding of classical music. She wants to break taboos – since there are too many conventions in classical music that don’t make sense to her. Trumpeter Lennard does not come from a family of musicians. He got his first trumpet from his parents when he was eight years old. At the time he had a guilty conscience because he knew that the instrument was very expensive. Since then he ha sputs all his eggs in one basket and is hoping for a position in the orchestra. He doesn’t have a plan B. Nodoka is expecting a baby. She is again confronted with something that, in her opinion, has no place in music: A female conductor is not always accepted, especially a pregnant one… But then on the podium she forgets everything – and levitates…


Great Moments in Music | September 11, 2001: Hélène Grimaud in London

Great Moments in Music | September 11, 2001: Hélène Grimaud in London

Great Moments in Music September 11, 2001: Hélène Grimaud in London

A film by Holger Preusse & Philipp Quiring, ZDF/arte, 43 min., 2022

On September 11, 2001, two planes flew into the World Trade Center in New York and the world seemed to stop for a moment. This film about the concert by Hélène Grimaud and the Orchester de Paris conducted by Christoph Eschenbach at the Royal Albert Hall tells the story of how sadness and dismay became a pinnacle musical moment and underlines the unique ability of music to provide comfort in tragic moments.

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For the young French pianist Hélène Grimaud, September 11, 2001, was going to be a day of joy. She has travelled to London from her adopted home of New York to make her much-anticipated debut at the BBC Proms – the world’s biggest and perhaps best-known classical music festival. She is set to perform Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with the Orchester de Paris conducted by Christoph Eschenbach.

But after the dress rehearsal in the Royal Albert Hall, everything changes in a single moment. In her hotel room, Hélène Grimaud watches the horrific images coming from New York. A plane has flown into the World Trade Center. “I thought it was the latest Hollywood horror production,” she remembers.

The conductor of the upcoming performance, Christoph Eschenbach, is having lunch with the French ambassador in London when he hears about the terrorist attack. He and the organiser of the Proms, Sir Nicholas Kenyon, have a decision to make: Can you really put on a concert on a day such as this?

Sir Kenyon remarks: “Cancelling a Proms concert is no minor undertaking. Even after the death of Lady Diana, we chose to go ahead with the performance. And the people came.” Christoph Eschenbach and Hélène Grimaud are also prepared to perform.

The hall begins to fill. The mood is sombre. For Hélène Grimaud, the events have laid a leaden cloak of sadness and shock over the evening “They gave a concert of peace,” comments pianist Sophie Pacini. And indeed, after sounding the opening G major chord with trembling fingers, Hélène Grimaud begins to play increasingly freely. “This moment of catastrophe and tension and questioning inspired her to a musical moment that was increasingly captivating.”

In the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s concerto, her playing is even vocal. The Royal Albert Hall is charged with excitement. The Proms audience holds its breath in shared emotion. It is a collective and communal experience that Orchester de Paris violist Estelle Villotte recalls more than two decades later. “I cried on my viola during the concert. But Christoph Eschenbach and Hélène Grimaud carried me through.”

The dance-like and playful third movement is a liberation. For a moment at least, the terrible images from New York appear outshone by Hélène Grimaud’s playing. And the mood changes. At the close of the piece, the audience responds with a standing ovation.