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Music Makes a City

A happily anomalous, deceptively corny docu with old-fashioned narration.

A happily anomalous, deceptively corny docu with old-fashioned narration (by tunester Will Oldham) and leisurely interpolation of archival clips and freshly filmed interviews, “Music Makes a City” limns Louisville’s improbable midcentury rise to the status of cultural Mecca for modern classical composition. Owsley Brown III and Jerome Hiler’s film, like the unique philharmonic orchestra it celebrates, packs near-radical etudes, concertos and symphonies into a very conservative package. Following “Music’s” Sept. 17 Quad opening, PBS could beckon, though the film’s beautifully recorded works, some conceived more than a half-century ago, still skew more progressive than current PBS concert fare.

Following 1937’s Great Flood (seen in excellent vault footage), Louisville’s resuscitation seemingly coincides with the ascendancy of its symphony orchestra. Its unlikely international influence in commissioning and premiering original compositions, and its mission to record worthy modernist pieces never previously recorded, were key parts of the gameplan of music-crazy Mayor Charles Farnsley and workaholic conductor Robert Whitney. Definitely marching to the beat of its own drummer, docu matter-of-factly deals with composers such as Hindemith, Honegger, Milhaud, Elliot Carter, Lukas Foss and Chou Wen-chung as if they were household names.

Music Makes a City

  • Production: An Owsley Brown Presents production. Produced by Robin Burke, Owsley Brown III. Executive producers, Brown, Gill Holland. Co-producers, Cornelia Calder, Anne Flatte. Directed by Owsley Brown III, Jerome Hiler. Written by Hiler.
  • Crew: Camera (color, HD), Marcel Cabrera, Hiler; editors, Anne Flatte, Nathaniel Dorsky. Reviewed on DVD, New York, Sept. 16, 2010. Running time: 100 MIN.
  • With: With: Elliot Carter, Chou Wen-chung, Norman Dello Joio, Joan Tower, Lukas Foss, Ned Rorem, Gunther Schuller. Narrator: Will Oldham.
  • Music By: