From Mao to Mozart
Murray Lerner's Oscar-winning film From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China chronicles with affection and intelligence the great violinist's 1979 visit to China.
Stern had accepted the government's invitation to attend a rehearsal and give one recital but instead wound up playing a formal concert, touring two cities, and teaching many master classes due to his overwhelming love for music and even more so for the musicians he met, some as young as 10.
Communicating his instructions less through the translator than his energetically gleeful gestures and plosive vocalizations, Stern offers a wealth of technical tips, bowing techniques, and motivational nuggets that all boil down to one theme: don't play the music, live it.
Not every moment is joyous; filmed shortly after the final dismantling of the Cultural Revolution, From Mao to Mozart offers a brief but harrowing portrait of Tan Shuzhen, a violinmaker imprisoned for over a year for the crime of crafting Western instruments.
But after this remembrance of the past, the movie ends as it should, eyes and ears on the future, as adolescent cellist Wang Jian serenades the appreciative audience.
A fascinating postscript, Musical Encounters, follows Stern's return to Beijing two decades later and catches up with Wang, now a successful recording artist, as well as others from the original film.
Especially heartening is conductor Li Delun, wheeled onto the stage but still magisterial as he reteams with Stern to once again perform Mozart's Concerto in G; and through the music, two men raised a world apart who have met only twice in their lives are again made the best of friends.