Review: Highly Strung

Scott Hicks’ latest film Highly Strung is a fascinating look at the sometimes cut-throat and intense world of classical music.

Adelaide’s Scott Hicks wrote, directed, asked the questions and mostly held the camera for this personal documentary concerning the Australian String Quartet (ASQ), the priceless Guadagnini instruments they’re permitted to use (for a time), what it is to be a luthier and how classical music, for all its supposedly soothing qualities, can be just as intense and maybe cutthroat as contemporary rock. No stranger to music–infused work (from Shine and his Philip Glass doco to his early videos for INXS), Hicks began shooting in 2013 as the eighth combination of the ASQ’s quartet was hitting its stride, and he talked to First Violin Kristian Winther, Second Violin Ioana Tache, violist Stephen King and cellist Sharon Draper. The whirlwind romance and wedding of Winther and Tache is discussed, as is the patronage of Ulrike Klein, and then we get down to the business of the legendary instruments. A trip to Cremona leads to studies of what a luthier (a maker of stringed instruments) gets up to, and we watch Roberto Cavagnoli hard at work creating a sort of Guadagnini wannabe, and this is somewhat oddly intercut with the brash carry–on of the New York Carpenters (not those Carpenters!), who claim to have patented the Stradivarius brand. The ASQ discuss their professional lives and work throughout, and perhaps it might have been wiser if Hicks had kept this focussed upon them, especially as King comes across as so dryly funny and the passionate Winther is depicted as a brilliant perfectionist who goes “to some other place” while performing. And when they have to return the Guadagninis, it’s like they’re surrendering a loved child, and the extreme emotion is either heart–rending (if you’re a devotee of classical music and high culture) or perhaps ever–so–subtly funny (as you might suspect that there’s some sincere drama–queening afoot). Oh, and then there’s the music too. Rated CTC. Highly Strung opens Thursday, May 19

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