Orchestral music, with passion fortissimo

By , Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor

In the new documentary "Music from the Inside Out," the players of the Philadelphia Orchestra who are interviewed seem lit from within. Whatever their life's difficulties have been, they know they are blessed.

Musicmaking isn't simply a job to them, it's a calling. Individually or in groups, on the road or at home, they talk about the sounds they create as if they were discussing living tissue - which, in a sense, it is. As one violinist says, "Music is what we are composed of."

The great virtue of this film, which was directed by Daniel Anker ("Scottsboro: An American Tragedy"), is that it doesn't attempt to neatly summarize the musical experience. Anker gives the players free rein to express their wonderment. "Music moves me very deeply," says a violist, "but I don't know why it moves me."

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The musicians - including a trombonist who plays after hours in a salsa band, and a Japanese violinist who says she first picked up the instrument as a child because the sound annoyed her mother - are presented as regular people who have been anointed with a gift they do not fully comprehend, or want to. The ineffability of their musicmaking is central to their passion. They are in the throes of something greater than themselves.

Anker is not trying for a backstage story or a muckraking inside job. He doesn't get into the competitiveness that must surely govern the orchestra, and he barely includes its guest conductors. Instead, this movie about great musicians in a great orchestra is told almost entirely through their love for music.

Ultimately, they play for themselves even as they play together. The paradox of performing in an orchestra is that it is an intensely private experience in a public arena. "I love saying something that only I can say," says Kim, the principal second violinist. "I'm not doing it for anyone, I'm doing it for me."

Anker has had extensive experience in the music documentary field, and he gives us extended, unbroken passages of Brahms, Beethoven, Schubert, and Stravinsky on the soundtrack. It is vital that he include these masterpieces so that we can understand what it means when one of the players says that "great music gets at something inside you that you didn't know you had." You don't have to be a master instrumentalist to connect up to that sentiment. Grade: A-

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