Many of us are familiar with the turbulence created by change in the workplace, be it a reorganization, a buyout, or a change in staffing. But the work we do in offices is rarely as personally charged and emotionally driven as the work of a musician.
So you can only imagine the turmoil that would be introduced into the personal, emotional, and professional lives of a group of musicians when their senior member announces, just as they are preparing for their 25th-anniversary concert, that he has Parkinson’s and will retire.
In A Late Quartet, a 2012 film directed by Yaron Zilberman, Christopher Walken plays Peter, the retiring bassist. His colleagues in the quartet are Daniel (Mark Ivanar), Juliette (Catherine Keener), and Robert, who is also Juliette’s husband (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
Peter’s exit prompts Robert to reevaluate his own ambitions as second violinist. He works up the nerve to propose sharing the first violin chair that Daniel has occupied for 25 years. Daniel balks, leading Robert to seek his wife’s moral support for his plan as they ride home from rehearsal in a cab. When she equivocates, he demands the driver pull over and flees to find illicit comfort elsewhere.
As the story unfolds, we learn that these events are colored by a web of connections among the musicians, including a relationship between Daniel and Juliette when they were young conservatory students, which Robert suspects is still smoldering.
Watching the group come back from their personal animosities to perform one of Beethoven’s most difficult (and latest) string quartets, you’ll realize what’s required to reach the pinnacle of the classical music world. It’s not just skill in technique or artistic expression but the mental discipline to repress distractions and lose yourself in the piece at hand.
About Carol Luers Eyman
Carol Luers Eyman is the outreach and community services coordinator at the Nashua Public Library. After graduating from Kirkland College, she earned a master’s of education and a certificate in technical communication from the University of Massachusetts.