The dialogue in “Tár,” Todd Field’s movie about a high-profile classical-music conductor, rings true at every turn. From Cate Blanchett’s lecture to Juilliard students to her discussion of the complexities of Mahler’s Fifth, it’s remarkably realistic.
A lot of the credit goes to John Mauceri, who is screen-credited as “music advisor to filmmakers.” Mauceri led the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra for 16 seasons, was a longtime colleague of Leonard Bernstein, and has conducted concerts all over the world.
When Field decided to write a movie about a classical conductor, he called Mike Knobloch, president of music and publishing at NBC-Universal, for advice. Knobloch suggested he reach out to Mauceri, who has a long and enviable track record in both classical music and in music for films.
“Todd wanted to ask me questions about being a conductor, what it feels like, what we do, what goes on backstage,” Mauceri tells Variety. “At one point I said, ‘What’s your favorite symphony?’ and he said the Mahler Five. I had recently done the Mahler Fifth, talked about my process in learning it, what Mahler wrote and why it was unique in Mahler’s life because he doesn’t give away its internal story.”
In the film, Blanchett’s character is preparing to record the famous Mahler symphony and is seen rehearsing it with the Dresden Philharmonic. “Todd and I had a number of long conversations,” Mauceri reports, while also recommending his book, “Maestros and Their Music: The Art and Alchemy of Conducting.”
Field drew on their multiple phone calls for many incidents in the final script, although Mauceri was unaware that the filmmaker was planning to write about a woman conductor. Only when he was invited to a private, early screening of “Tár” did he realize where Field was headed.
“Anecdotes from my life would suddenly appear,” Mauceri says. “At one point, Cate starts talking about Stravinsky, and she was literally quoting me,” he adds with some astonishment. “I think the movie is brave. There’s a lot that’s real in this story. It’s not simple, and it takes its time. And he has cast real musicians who are great actors.”
Mauceri was a protege of Leonard Bernstein (which Blanchett’s character also claims to have been) and is fascinated by actor-director Bradley Cooper’s upcoming biopic of the longtime New York Philharmonic music director. “It will be interesting to see Bradley Cooper conducting Mahler Two,” he says.