Five Days in September

Reviewed By Jason Whyte
Posted 03/14/06 13:42:44

"One of the best documentaries ever made about the process of making music."
5 stars (Awesome)

I have never quite seen someone as passionate as Peter Oundjian, the new conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Here is a man with a difficult task: the symphony has fallen on hard times and it is up to Mr. Oundjian to take his talents and reinforce a struggling symphony into success. The film’s very first shot shows him in complete work-mode as he passionately conducts a piece. What follows is his devoted passion.

“Five Days in September: The Rebirth of an Orchestra” tells the story of the TSO which is nearing financial crisis. It doesn’t seem like people are interested, at all, in going out to experience music in a concert setting when so many people want to stay at home. Or perhaps the experience of the TSO has become so mundane that nobody wants to experience it anymore.

Enter Peter Oundjian, a former classical violinist who once studied with Itzhak Perlman and was a top performer with an edgy, funny and yet fiercely energetic personality. While an injury forced him to retire playing, he finally receives a job playing with the TSO, and the film shows the very first five days of the symphony under Oundjian’s care.

What makes this film so special is how director Barbara Willis Sweete (known primarily for her music documentaries and films here in Canada) flawlessly makes this material accessible to everyone. Interviews are carefully edited with rehearsal footage with Oundjian, Yo Yo Ma and Renee Fleming. The camera is very intrusive, but in this case we get to see the complete process of what it takes to create a new year of symphony, and in this case, the intrusion is necessary. The footage of the orchestra is simply thrilling to watch, with excellent cinematography and equally impressive sound design.

Does it all work out in the end? Of course it does, but the joy of the film is how we watch Oundjian’s progress through the first few days of TSO’s year. This is a moving, well documented and fascinating documentary that proves the importance of music and performance, and also shows a good ethical argument about experiencing classical music with an audience. (The same can be said about films, of course.)

“Five Days in September” is a great documentary film that is currently available on DVD in Canada, and I’m hoping that its release inspires more regions to release the film, for it shows the process of making music in an inspiring and entertaining way. While the film clocks in at a meagre 72 minutes, it holds up just as well full feature film, and the power it leaves behind is remarkable.

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