Greenwich Films
Reviewed for &, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Ted Braun
Screenwriter: Ted Braun
Cast: Gustavo Dudamel, Arturo Márquez, Nathaly Al Gindi, Alejandro Carrero, Elly Saúll Guerrero
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 3/25/22
Opens: April 8, 2022

You’ve got to give a country credit when hordes of kids, eight, nine, ten years old, crowd around a conductor of classical music as though he were a rock star. This is an example of the attention commanded by the charismatic Gustavo Dudamel, one of the world’s great conductors. Dudamel lights up virtually every moment he is in front of Richard Pearce and Buddy Squires lenses in “Viva Maestro!” This film deals with the result of a publicly financed music education program founded in Venezuela in 1975 by José Antonio Abreu with the motto “Music for Social Change.” El Sistema, which believes in “free classical music education that promotes human opportunity and development for impoverished children,” now boasts 400 music centers and 700,000 young musicians. Since the original program took root in Venezuela, the audience for “Viva Maestro!” gets to enjoy the output from concerts featuring players who appear to be as young as six, doing quite a job with the free instruments supplied by El Sistema, which must look with horror as countries (including the U.S.) have looked askance at cultural programs as wastes of time that could be spent on science, math and technology.

The Orquestra Sinfónica Simón Bolivar, which plays under the baton of Gustavo Dudamel, comes across majestically, which we can enjoy given that some samples of music, each lasting several moments of film time to lend full appreciation to the conductor Dudamel’s acolytes, music that includes sections of Dvorak’s New World Symphony, Beethoven’s Fifth, Beethoven’s Ninth, Shostakovich’s Fifth, and contemporary offerings of Danzón by Arturo Márquez, a Mexican who got the inspiration from dances he observed in Veracruz. Márquez is on hand to inspire Dudamel, who stops his orchestra several times to correct them on mistakes that I would not have observed. In one instance, he calls the string instruments “weak,” ordering them to “use the full bow.” In another, he urges them to play three staccato notes followed by a more drawn-out tones in the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth—which contains the three most celebrated notes in music history.

We watch the orchestra take off from Caracas to play in Hamburg, Vienna, Los Angeles and Berlin, the last of those cities considered by some to be the performance center of classical music. To the utter disappointment of the group and especially its conductor, they learn that their Asian tour to Hong Kong and China has been canceled by the big, bad dictator, Nicolas Maduro.

We are told (at least by a poem of William Congreve in the year 1677), that “music hath charm to sooth the savage breast.” Dudamel amends this with his view that music can unify a people. Maybe he can spend more time in the U.S. to turn the blue and red states purple?

The film is an inspiration all around: the samples of breathtaking symphonies including the aggressive dissonances of the Danzón, the nationalism evoked by the Shostakovich, the romantic sweep of Tchaikovsky, the glorious melodies of the Dvorak. Most of all, we absorb the excitement shown by Dudamel not only in the sounds but as well in the satisfaction he gets from the good work he is accomplishing in affording his players the great joy of what they are producing. “Viva Maestro!” will surely rank as one of the great films about music this year.

99 minutes. © 2022 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – A
Overall – A-

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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