Tag Archives: Amadeus

One composer’s journey

Though composer Judd Greenstein recently traveled from Brooklyn to Scottsdale to premiere a new work written for violist Nadia Sirota, his journey into new and expanding musical spaces began long ago. Greenstein recalls writing hip hop and rap works while just 12 or 13 years old, and taking piano lessons too — realizing one day that he could combine the two.

Greenstein was 16 when his piano teacher asked whether he wanted to be a composer. The teen’s “yes” was met with the admonition to work a whole lot harder. Soon Greenstein was taking to the library, reading scores and such. But there’s something more, shared by several of his friends who compose — seeing the 1984 film “Amadeus.”

Suspecting that composing requires a certain sort of brain power, I asked Greenstein when we spoke on Friday about what it takes to do what he does. “I have an intuitive sense of form, where I can make a musical idea and can see how it relates to other things.” A lot of it, he says, is throwing things out. “You can’t get too attached to it.”

Composer Judd Greenstein

Greenstein’s “In Teaching Others We Teach Ourselves” premieres Saturday night at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. He describes it as “a very emotional work” reflecting “my process of trying to understand what music is to me.” Still, music isn’t the only thing on Greenstein’s mind.

“I really believe that our culture is in a pretty troubled place right now,” says Greenstein. “We’ve lost our sense of what’s important as humans.” He’s convinced we all need a closer relationship to art and art making. “Art isn’t anything but a way of communicating myself as a person,” shares Greenstein.

Even artists have fallen away from the essence of art, notes Greenstein. “Artists have allowed themselves to be a weird, sequestered community.” But art and humanity aren’t nearly as separated as they seem nowadays. And there’s much parents can do to promote art making in their children’s lives.

“Make art a part of other activities that are already enjoyable,” suggests Greenstein. Art becomes an unpleasant place when separated from everyday interests or delivered as mere “teachable moments.” Weekly piano lessons alone rarely fuel a real passion for art.

Greenstein recalls spending time at Tanglewood from a young age, sitting on a blanket with his family and looking up at the stars together. More than isolated episodes of music practice, it was art in the larger context of life that powered Greenstein’s journey from child to composer.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for “In Teaching Others We Teach Ourselves” concert and ticket information. Click here to learn about “Tanglewood for Kids.”

Coming up: Shakespeare meets musical theater, Fun finds for Father’s Day

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A sad day for sheet music

The last time I took to the movie theater to attempt a glimpse into the life of Wolfgang Mozart, it was 1984 — and the movie “Amadeus” was all the rage. It imagines Mozart’s life and music via flashbacks from the supposedly insanely jealous Antonio Salierie, another prolific composer during the late 18th century.

Friday morning I headed to Harkins Camelview 5 in Scottsdale to enjoy a René Féret film called “Mozart’s Sister,” a fictional account (in French, with English subtitles) of Mozart’s very real, very talented big sister. Also his rather odd but quite likeable mother — and his harsh, ambitious father. There’s enough material for a movie imagining the inner lives of each.

Best to have started with the sister, I suppose, because Maria Anna Mozart (called Nannerl) seems to have made the greatest sacrifices for her brother’s art. Parents, in this case Leopold and Anna Maria, are expected to do such things. But only siblings of very special children, whether they be especially gifted or especially challenging (or both), know the sacrifices of their own longings that living in such a family necessitates.

Nannerl’s case is more intriguing than most because she seems to choose, long after she’s free to escape the shadow of her brother, to remain there — steadfastly, and without wavering. Perhaps she longed to be like the mother she at once admired and somehow secretly disdained. Perhaps she decided the work of breaking free was too great for the modesty of the reward in a day and age when women didn’t have a world of options.

Wolfgang (David Moreau) and Nannerl (Marie Feret) Mozart in "Mozart's Sister"

What historians have long confirmed becomes clear quite early in the film. Nannerl is at least as gifted, in composing and playing music, as her brother. Maybe more so. But their father forbids her to play the violin after a certain age, and refuses in the film to teach her the notation she desperately craves as a way to write down the original music constantly streaming through her head.

Mozart’s Sister” is a compelling exploration of what the transition from childhood to womanhood might have been like during the late 18th century –where women only learned about menstruation after finding that first red stain on a white nightgown, where shuttered girls found ways to read about forbidden subjects, where letters sealed with wax were sent by secret messenger to objects of one’s affection. No texting or tampons here, I’m afraid.

The movie feels a bit cursory in some ways, revealing little about individual characters and their motivations by virtue of wanting to give everyone equal time. It feels quite slow at some points, a plus perhaps for those seeking to figure out the inner lives of all those Mozarts and their many aquaintances.

Louise de France (Lisa Feret) and Nannerl Mozart (Marie Feret) in "Mozart's Sister"

I was most intrigued by depictions of women’s friendships at the time, no less hindered than they are today by assumptions about class and station in life. The adolescent women in “Mozart’s Sister” clearly crave more companionship (as well as family time) than they’re getting — and it’s fun to consider whether the reasons back then parallel those we see today.

Still, I’d have preferred a quicker-paced posing of these questions. If “Amadeus” left you drenched in the unsubtleties of Mozart’s braggadocious bufoonery, “Mozart’s Sister” will leave you finessing the finer points of why women sometimes sell themselves short amidst the glory given to others.

— Lynn

Note: You’ll have another opportunity to muse on such things as Arizona Theatre Company presents a stage adaptation of Jean Webster’s 1912 novel titled “Daddy Long Legs.” It’s the tale of an orphan sent to college by a rich benefactor in a day and age when women rarely considered their own talents or expected opportunities to use them.

Coming up: Ethnic studies — from classroom to stage