Music Makes a City - ‘A Louisville Orchestra Story’
A fim by Owsley Brown III and Jerome Hiler
Owsley Brown Presents 811063011090 Buy now
(100’ • NTSC)
Special features include over two hours of interviews with composers, musicians and related personalities
Many of us, I’m sure, still own First Edition LPs – grey sleeves with round gold labels stuck on the front – with the Louisville Orchestra. In all, they featured over 120 original commissions and 400 world premieres. This feature-length (100 mins) documentary tells the story behind the orchestra and how it became the nation’s centre for new music in the 1950s. It is not, frankly, a page-turner but an interesting tale that unfolds at a leisurely pace. Written by co-director Jerome Hiler and voiced by Louisvillian singer-songwriter Will Oldham, it concentrates on the orchestra’s golden era under its founding conductor Robert Whitney (a Tanglewood classmate of Leonard Bernstein) who was music director from 1937 to 1967, and Louisville’s visionary music-loving mayor Charles Farnsley. This remarkable man believed in the Confucian ideal that high culture attracts wealth and power. The orchestra was his chosen instrument to achieve this – and it worked. Instead of paying star soloists vast fees, he set about commissioning the leading composers of the day, helped by a grant of $400,000 from the Rockefeller Foundation.
Everyone from Milhaud and the ‘Boulangerie’ to Foss and Carter (both on camera along with Harold Shapero, Chou Wen-Chung, Norman Dello Joio and many others) obliged. Their music provides an almost continuous soundtrack, with some lengthier excerpts illustrated by sensitively edited footage of the Ohio River. The film, co-directed by Owsley Brown III, is elegantly put together and handsomely presented. Sadly the story does not have a happy ending: as I write, the orchestra, which filed for bankruptcy last year, has had to cancel its entire autumn season. The musicians are on strike.