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The Cellist: The Legacy of Gregor Piatigorsky
A documentary by Murray Grigor & Hamid Shams

103 minutes, color, 2017

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Synopsis

Gregor Piatigorsky was one of the 20th century's premier classical musicians, a beloved teacher, and larger-than-life personality whose story may not be familiar to most audiences today. In 2015, with the blessing of the cellist's family, filmmakers Murray Grigor and Hamid Shams began delving into the Piatigorsky Archives at the Colburn School of Music along with family materials, Piatigorsky's autobiography, and biographies by Terry King and Margaret Bartley. The filmmakers then embarked on an odyssey that led them from Los Angeles and New York to Moscow and beyond. Along the way they interviewed dozens of subjects-from YoYo Ma and Zubin Mehta to a who's who of former students. Incorporating footage spanning the musician's life and times (everything from performances to home movies), photographs, annotated music sheets, and some re-enactments, Grigor and Shams capture the vibrancy of Piatigorsky's life and adventures.

Through this chorus of voices and visuals emerges a picture of a man of wit, compassion, and deep musicality. Born in 1903 in the Ukraine, Piatigorsky's life spanned some of the 20th century's most harrowing moments-Czar Nicholas's pogroms, the Russian Revolution, and two World Wars. The man's remarkable talent and ebullient character enabled him to transcend the challenges of his times. A child prodigy already displaying musical proficiency at the age of 7, by 15 he was first chair in the Bolshoi Orchestra. He escaped the Soviet Union in the 1920s and launched an international career. Noted for his virtuoso technique and soulful interpretations of a broad range of the classical repertoire, Piatigorsky played in renowned orchestras across Europe and North America. He toured and recorded in chamber groups with other celebrated performers, including the famous "million dollar trio" with Arthur Rubenstein and Jascha Heifetz. A number of composers wrote works for him including Sergei Prokofiev, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and Igor Stravinsky.

Piatigorsky dedicated himself to "popularizing the cello," by which he meant developing audience appreciation for the resonant "box with four strings" as a solo instrument. In later life, the consummate performer devoted himself to imparting his love for the cello to new generations of young musicians. His students went on to teach at leading conservatories and universities and to perform as principal cellists in orchestras throughout the world.

Perhaps the deepest pleasure of this warm portrait are those sections devoted to Piatigorsky's legacy as a devoted and generous teacher and mentor. Blending a delightful sampling of master classes with the reminiscences of family, friends, colleagues, and, most especially, former students, Grigor and Shams evoke a vivid impression of a man who loved people as much as he loved music. (excerpted from an article by George Eldred & Laura Thielen in the Aspen Times)


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Reviews

"An extraordinary achievement. What a huge pleasure it was to be in the presence of that towering individual, the awe he inspired and the joy he radiated. You can feel your admiration for the man in every frame." - Christopher Koelsch, President and Chief Executive of LA Opera

"What a film. Every frame revealed the care and love and talent by the filmmakers. The amazing research, the music, the sense of time lost and found, the voices, What a feat." - Allison Sampson, Executive Director & Vice President, Emerson College, Los Angeles

"Thanks for making this important, remarkable film. It was wonderful - touching, informative, beautifully done. I wish my father could have seen it; I know it would have meant a lot to him. The combination of the Archive and your film makes a solid stamp on his legacy. What a terrific contribution." - Joram Piatigorsky, Scientist, collector, author, son of Gregor Piatigosky

"It really captured the essence of the man, the surroundings and his life story. In the context of world turmoil. It's really a lesson not only about Piatigorsky, but also a lesson of history." - Yehuda Gilad, Conductor; Colburn, Professor of Clarinet

"The film was beautiful, clearly lovingly and conscientiously crafted to capture the spirit and joy of such a wonderful musician, teacher and man. The clever use of interviews, archival footage and reenactments made for a compelling journey." - Scott Harrison, Executive Director, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

"I was deeply moved by The Cellist. It has profoundly deepened my understanding and love of Piatigorsky. I felt grateful to be present at the moment of creation of a new masterwork." - John Nuckols, Executive Vice President. LA Opera


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