The expressive, witty and stark music of German-based, Argentine-born composer-conductor Mauricio Kagel is the star of the show in Gaston Solnicki’s intelligently conceived “Suden.” Docu stands as both a timely look at Kagel’s first return to his native climes in nearly 50 years and a well-tempered study of his collaboration with mostly young, eager and talented musicians during a pressurized week of rehearsals for a festival of the maestro’s work. Though it could use a few added minutes of material, chamber piece will be snapped up by fests and cablers worldwide as a standout marriage of cinema and classical music.
Kagel’s return to Argentina is motivated by a 2006 fest of his music produced by the experimental music center at Buenos Aires’ famed opera house, Teatro Colon, but his most evident pleasure comes from working closely with the Ensemble Suden, an energetic company of young musicians dedicated to performing Kagel’s repetoire. (Group’s name is based on the title of one of Kagel’s better-known works.) As Kagel greets the group before the first rehearsal, his emotions surface, as if it’s just now dawning on him that his music has stirred so much interest in Argentina’s younger generation.
With a week before performances, Kagel openly admits there simply isn’t enough time to fine-tune things to the standard he’d prefer — one of several examples that Solnicki shows of how lack of cash has handicapped Argentina’s ability to be a world music center. Still, day by day, the elderly composer pounds the group into a smoothly operating unit, and seems to have a lot more fun with the small group than with the stodgy Buenos Aires Philharmonic.
Solnicki’s camera focuses particularly on the singers who work closely with Kagel on select pieces such as “Quodlibet” with Klara Csordas and the orchestra, and one of Kagel’s masterworks, ” … December 24, 1931,” with Roland Hermann and the combined Suden unit and Compania Oblicua. Csordas’ problems with a mouth infection show how music performance is always vulnerable to the unexpected — the very premise behind some of Kagel’s most amusing pieces (such as his piece for performers riding on bicycles), which absorb accident into the texture of the work.
Pic is most concerned with the process of musicmaking, though it could have used a scene or two of Kagel reacting personally to the impact of returning from exile. While Solnicki’s choice to end the pic just as the performance begins is an intriguing one, even a brief bit of coverage of the terrifically entertaining Suden Ensemble in action would have emphasized how engaging and galvanizing Kagel’s music can be in concert.
Diego Poleri and Solnicki’s lensing is both beautiful and immediate, highly attuned to musicians’ faces and the mechanics of their instruments. Editing by Andrea Kleinman is aces. Title, though derived from Kagel’s composition (meaning “south” in German), is a double-entendre, since the word also translates in Spanish as “you sweat.”