Summit County Library cues up Beethoven documentaries

Filmmaker Candaele will be on site for discussions

‘Following the Ninth’ screening and discussion with filmmaker Kerry Candaele

‘Love & Justice’ screening and discussion with filmmaker Kerry Candaele

In a scene from Kerry Candaele’s documentary “Following the Ninth: In the Footsteps of Beethoven’s Final Symphony,” people sit and stand on the remains of the Berlin Wall in front of the Brandenburg Gate to celebrate the New Year on Jan. 1, 1990.
Image by © Wolfgang Kumm/dpa/Corbis

The Summit County Library Kimball Junction Branch is tuning up a Beethoven film double feature, and these movies aren’t about the big and loveable St. Bernard.

Instead, filmmaker Kerry Candaele will bring his two documentaries, “Following the Ninth: In the Footsteps of Beethoven’s Final Symphony” and “Love & Justice: In the Footsteps of Beethoven’s Rebel Opera” to the library, respectively on June 1 and 2.

“It’s a little Beethoven movie fest,” he said. “I have a couple of screenings a couple of days earlier in Salt Lake City at the Broadway Theater and then at the Museum of Fine Art on the (University of Utah) campus, and then up in Park City.”

The Utah screenings are just part of Candaele’s month-long tour that takes him through Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.

Life presents us with struggles and obstacles, and somehow we keep going, trying to make things better.” Kerry Candaele, filmmaker

“Following the Ninth” is about the global impact of Ludwig van Beethoven’s final symphony, completed in 1824, and “Love & Justice” uses the composer’s sole opera, “Fidelio,” which was composed in 1805, as a backdrop to a man’s story, preserved by his granddaughter, Candaele said.

“I’m halfway through a third film that is in and around Beethoven’s late quartets,” he said. “I say ‘in and around’ because I don’t consider these films standard fare about composers and pieces of music. In a more traditional way they would be a concert film or a more academic approach to understanding the composer and music, but I’m very personal in the films I make.” 

Candaele’s interest in Beethoven came through hearing the Ninth Symphony while driving up the West Coast in a borrowed car more than 20 years ago.

“The car belonged to my only friend who listened to classical music,” he said. “At that time, I didn’t have the canon of classical music in my head. I grew up with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and a little bit of blues and jazz.”

During the drive, Candaele, who was in his late 20s, felt melancholic, and pushed in a cassette that was in the car stereo.

“Out of these bad speakers came this glorious adagio from the Ninth Symphony. I almost drove off the road because it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.”

From that moment on, Candaele, a trained historian who was familiar with the period when Beethoven was at his most prolific, dove into research about the composer.

“I read anything I could about the period, the music and the man,” he said. “And when Google came along, I signed up for Beethoven alerts.”

In these alerts, Candaele began seeing patterns of how the Ninth Symphony was being used around the world.

The main uses he latched onto are as follows:  

  • Students playing the piece over loudspeakers during the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising in China to thwart the efforts of the National Army.
  • Women, living under the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile from 1973-1990, sang the aria outside torture prisons, where they hoped the men inside would feel some sort of hope when they heard their voices.
  • When the Berlin Wall was demolished in December 1989, the symphony, renamed “Ode To Freedom,” was conducted live by Leonard Bernstein.
  • Each December after Japan’s country-changing 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the aria is performed by 10,000 to 15,000 people in a collective chorus, known as the Daiku.

“After seeing these events come up, I did the crazy thing of thinking that I’m going to travel around the world and make this film,” he said. “And that’s how it happened.”

During the filmmaking, Candaele began to unravel Beethoven’s enigmatic life.

“I think what I discovered that was most interesting and pleasing to me was that Beethoven was a cantankerous individual, but he also had this very tender side,” he said. “Part of my discovery was hearing just how profoundly tender, moving and sublime some of his pieces are.” 

Thousands of vocalists converge in Japan to sing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” every December since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Kerry Candaele’s documentary “Following the Ninth” examines how Beethoven’s last symphony brings hope and joy to the world.
Courtesy of Kerry Candaele

The composer added to his own mystique with the Ninth Symphony by adding vocalists and a chorus singing words from Friedrich Schiller’s 1785 poem, “Ode to Joy,” while he was in the throes of illness, deafness and living almost as a hermit, according to Candaele.

“The deafness, this cosmic joke that started happening to Beethoven around 1802, right when he was beginning his fruitful period of composing,” he said. “Of course, he could hear the music in his head, but he had to go through that struggle, and transform himself. And I found that to be pretty remarkable. And I tried to get a feel of that in the films that I was doing, without overplaying it.”

The filmmaker also noticed how the different cultures appreciated and presented Beethoven in their own ways.

“In the Japanese case, for instance, the productions they put on are remarkable in one sense, and horrible in another,” he said with a laugh. “What they put on are remarkable in and of themselves, because they are statements of what is the best of the Japanese people who are  going to stand with anyone who wants to sing ‘Ode to Joy.'”

On the other hand, critics, whom Candaele calls classical-music connoisseurs, hate these gatherings.

“As an outsider, I learned to appreciate both views, but, personally, I happen to be a great fan,” he said. “One of the things on my bucket list is to sing in this event, because it’s a human, inviting and ennobling thing to do.”

Although Candaele discovered Beethoven’s opera “Fidelio” while he was deep into learning about Beethoven, the idea for his film “Love & Justice” came during his work with “Following the Ninth.”

“I went to Chile for the first film and fell in love with the country,” he said. “I also met a bunch of people and musicians, including people who were in prison after Augusto Pinochet took over Chile during a coup in 1973.”

One of the people he interviewed was a woman whose grandfather had been rounded up and killed for being a suspected dissident, Candaele said.

“Her grandfather was a composer and conductor, and he created a children’s orchestra down there,” he said. “And now, years after the Pinochet era ended, in 1990, this woman began dressing up as her grandfather to perform theatrical productions about his life in a butoh, which is a Japanese dance. She dresses as a man, and performs her family’s drama that took place during the conflict of Chile.”

That concept struck Candaele because some of the ideology parallels the story in “Fidelio.” 

“The opera’s story is fairly simple,” he said. “There’s a man, Florestan, in prison who is dying, and his wife, Leonore, dresses as a man to get a job in the prison and eventually saves him. So when I heard about this woman who was dressing up as her grandfather and basically telling his story and saving him from obscurity, I knew there was something there for me.”

The goal for “Love & Justice” wasn’t to make a film just about the opera, Candaele said.

“I wanted to make a film that had the opera’s arias in it,” he said. “I wanted to focus on the ‘Fidelio’-like story that has a little twist at the end. And I wanted to make this story tender, tragic, noble, and somehow add a margin of hope that is essential to my work.”

Hope is important to Candaele, especially now during a time of division in the world.

“I think hope should be a part of life,” he said. “Life presents us with struggles and obstacles, and somehow we keep going, trying to make things better.”


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