Unconventional, entertaining and ambitious - these were the criteria with which Christian Berger approached work on his film about the symphonies of Robert Schumann.
A film about classical music for people who would otherwise not necessarily be interested in that subject. That was the not entirely straightforward brief that I given when, in the spring of 2011, I was asked if I would direct a film about Schumann's symphonies. It was nonetheless easy for me to accept. After all, I already knew the stars of the film: conductor Paavo Järvi and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen - an internationally renowned conductor and one of the world's best chamber orchestras. The film score was also certain to be of the finest quality.
My goal was to produce a music documentary which can touch people, like myself, who grew up with pop and rock, and music videos. People who perhaps occasionally listen to classical music, but don't possess an in-depth knowledge of it. I wanted to bring the music out of the solemn concert halls and present it in an unusual location, and to get as close as possible to the musicians in the concert recordings, so that it is possible to see how the conductor communicates with the orchestra. But also to provide some information to enable the viewer to understand the music better.
I found the location I was looking for in the port of Bremen. Pier2, a former dockyard building, was transformed into a music workshop and film set. We were able to film the orchestral rehearsals and the four concerts using a camera crane, SteadyCam and dolly. That enabled us to get some very unusual insights into what was going on on stage, and to show things that usually remain unseen by the audience: how the conductor can lead the orchestra with a single glance, the tension in the faces of the musicians, the concert master's fingers poised above the fingerboard of his violin ... We changed the appearance of the former industrial building using sets and projections to create a contemporary setting for these classical symphonies.
While the concerts were colourful, for the studio recordings we used only a bright white seamless backdrop. A brilliant setting for brilliant music. We used this background to record selected passages of music with individual musicians, as well as interviews with Paavo Järvi. He demonstrated some extraordinary qualities in front of the camera: he is no aloof academic type, but rather a charismatic musician who is able to communicate his passion spontaneously and directly. His enthusiasm transmitted itself to us, the film crew, as well. Classical music does not have to be boring - I hope that is one of the clear messages of 'Schumann at Pier2'.