Seymour Bernstein’s take on Pianist, Glenn Gould

Seymour picSeymour: An Introduction, produced by Ethan Hawke, is making the rounds through a series of reputable film festivals. Recently screened in Telluride (Colorado) and soon to make its Toronto, Canada debut followed by a Lincoln Center touchdown, the 81-minute documentary has scooped up a Sundance Selection and amassed rave reviews along its way. (Hollywood Reporter and Wall Street Journal)

Seymour Bernstein, a newly baptized Music Messiah and movie star, is now a hot ticket interview subject, drawing a corps of salivating reporters to interview him. So not surprisingly, Toronto Globe writer, Brad Wheeler, corralled the Maestro for his opinions about Canadian pianist icon, Glenn Gould. (The exchange is printed below)

A gentle genius (just don’t ask him about Glenn Gould)

The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Sep. 05 2014, 2:49 PM EDT
Last updated Friday, Sep. 05 2014, 2:51 PM EDT
TFF (Toronto Film Festival)

With the TIFF film Seymour: An Introduction, director Ethan Hawke (the actor) has made an intimate documentary portrait of the classical pianist, sage and music teacher. Mr. Bernstein, 85, is seen as soulful, gentle and charismatic, but rather feisty when it comes to Glenn Gould. We asked the titular Seymour about the iconic but complicated Canadian pianist, who is the subject of the Soulpepper production Glenn, which happens to be currently playing in repertory at the Young Centre.

“In the film about you, you describe Glenn Gould as a ‘“total neurotic mess.”’ But how would you assess his playing?”

Seymour: He’s an acknowledged genius in his absorption and his technical acumen in performing, especially the works of Bach. For starters, I want to tell you that I never heard him play anything beautifully, apart from Bach. His recordings of the Mozart sonatas are outrageous, and a slap in the face to serious musicians. If I had him here I would punch him.

Come now. You appreciate his Bach, don’t you?

S: I can admire what he does, but here is the bottom line: When I listen to Glenn Gould play Bach, I’m not aware that I’m listening to Bach at all. I’m only listening to Glenn Gould. That’s the difference between the great, great artists and Glenn Gould, who infuses the music with his own neurotic nature. So that comes out to you, but not Bach.

But isn’t the neurotic nature of Gould something that fascinates people?

S: Let them be fascinated. I’m not. [Laughs] We’re all different, though. We’re all entitled to respond the way we wish, right?

Fair enough. In the film, you speak about the harmony that musicians attain through training and developing their craft, not just in their music but in their life over all. Do you feel Gould reached that harmony?

S: I think the more he practiced the more neurotic he got. I don’t think he reached harmony at all. He certainly didn’t seem like a harmonious person. I once heard him in New York do a lecture and performance. He was spewing forth what I believe was sheer nonsense, just to befuddle the audience.

Sounds like Bob Dylan. So, when you come to Toronto for the film, I take it you won’t be posing on the bronze statue of Glenn Gould sitting on the bench we have in front of the CBC headquarters.

S: Chances are that I won’t. [Laughs] Listen, this is risky business. My documentary is pretty sour on Glenn Gould. I wonder if the audience will be angry with me.

The TIFF film Seymour: An Introduction screens Sept 10, 7 p.m., TIFF Bell Lightbox; Sept. 11, 4:45 p.m., Isabel Bader Theatre; Sept. 13, 9:30 a.m., TIFF Bell Lightbox. Soulpepper’s Glenn plays to Oct. 1. $29 to $89. Young Centre, 50 Tank House Lane, 416-866-8666 or soulpepper.ca.

Follow Brad Wheeler on Twitter: @BWheelerglobe


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