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Eric Myers
Opera News, January 2011

Fifty-two minutes are simply not sufficient to encompass the life and work of one of the most protean musical talents of our time. The aptly titled 2008 German documentary André Previn: A Bridge Between Two Worlds could easily run twice its length and still leave us wanting more. 

This eighty-one-year-old multi-hyphenate—a composer-conductor-author-pianist-arranger—has not only distinguished himself in the realms of both classical music and jazz, he also exemplifies the émigré experience. Fleeing Berlin and the Nazis with his family, he arrived in the U.S. at the age of nine, speaking no English. That he assumed his second language with such alacrity, and has used it to further the understanding of music in this country, is only one aspect of his many gifts. This documentary takes advantage of this verbal acuity: its structure is a series of interviews—casual chats, really—that Previn gives in both German and English to family members, friends, colleagues and even a couple of famous ex-wives with whom he has remained close.

Filmmakers Lillian Birnbaum and Peter Stephan Jungk follow Previn on two continents, intercutting him speaking in New York variously with Renée Fleming, Mia Farrow and two of his many children; in London with Tom Stoppard; and in Berlin with Anne-Sophie Mutter. A through-line of his astonishing life begins to assemble itself, with help from photos and film clips dating back to his Berlin childhood. Academy Award-ceremony footage shows him accepting one of his four Oscars; a clip from British television gives us Previn hamming it up with Morecambe and Wise; we also get to see him duetting with jazz piano legend Oscar Peterson and more recently with jazz bassist David Finck. Previn’s legendary charm is on display in abundance; he even manages to get away with a wonderfully sour jibe about contemporary film scores, aiming a deadly verbal iceberg at Titanic

It’s touching to hear Previn reminiscing with Farrow and their grown son Fletcher, and then to see him with Lukas, a son from another marriage, who is a multiply pierced, heavily tattooed rock musician. Lukas tells Previn he owes his dad a debt of gratitude: apparently, Previn’s forbidding Lukas to listen to rock music at a tender age sowed the seeds of rebellion that led to his career.

Opera fans will enjoy Previn chatting with Fleming, as well as the brief excerpts from A Streetcar Named Desire and scenes of him at work with librettist–director John Caird during the run-up to their operatic version of Brief Encounter. Explaining why he began writing operas so late in life, Previn casually says, “It’s never too late to start doing something new”—certainly a fitting philosophy for a man who has already packed many lifetimes into one. 

Empty time on the disc has been filled out with clips of Previn participating in two Mozart piano quartets in the Salzburg Mozarteum in 2000. Fair enough, but it would have been nicer to have plenty of outtake footage from the documentary instead.

Rick Anderson
Music Media Monthly, November 2010

This documentary gives equal time to Previn’s private and professional lives, as it follows his beginnings as an immigrant child in Los Angeles, his significant performance débuts as a teenager, and his core philosophy that the making of music at a high level can be a collaborative, non-hierarchical endeavor. At eighty-one years old, Previn is still writing operas, conducting orchestras, and playing concerts. His versatility as a successful jazz and classical pianist, conductor, and capable composer is matched only by the level at which he does all these things; Previn is the recipient of ten Grammy Awards in seven different categories, and he has won four Academy Awards for his film music.

Previn’s fascinating private life is explored to an extent. Of his five marriages, one was to Mia Farrow and one to Anne-Sophie Mutter, and both exes share personal and professional memories involving Previn; Farrow recalls their blossoming friendship and then-forty-year-old Previn’s appointment as principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. There are also some strange and awkward interviews with two of his sons—Lukas and Fletcher, each from different mothers—who both speak about traveling the world as children and meeting stars like Julie Andrews. Renée Fleming, who starred as Blanche in the premiere production of Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire, also pops in for a couple different interviews. The disc includes some fantastic footage from a 1971 guest appearance on the Morecambe & Wise Christmas Show, and of a 1974 four-hand jazz piano performance and interview with Oscar Peterson. Oddly, the bilingual Previn speaks in German as much as he does in English throughout the film.

The documentary is accompanied by lovely if straitlaced performances of Mozart’s two piano quartets, K. 478 and K. 493, recorded at the Mozarteum during the Salzburg Mozart Week in 2000. Subtitles are provided in English, German, French, and Spanish.

Kevin Filipski
Times Square, October 2010

Andre Previn: Bridge Between Two Worlds (Unitel Classica) is a smart, informative chronicle of the splendid career of one of the true renaissance men in 20th (and now 21st) century music, Andre Previn: he’s a composer, conductor, pianist, jazz performer, writer of music for a Tom Stoppard stage play, and husband to two famous former wives: violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and actress Mia Farrow. Lillian Birnbaum and Peter Stephan Jungk’s film skimps by only lasting 52 minutes, when we could have found out more about Previn from both himself and the insightful interviews with Mutter, Farrow, Stoppard and soprano Renée Fleming. Still, what we get is greatly satisfying. Two extras are included: an excellent performance from the 2000 Salzburg Festival of two Mozart quartets performed by Previn and other musicians.

John Terauds
Toronto Star, October 2010

Jazz people know and love him, as do fans of Hollywood film scores, opera and classical music. Over his 81 years, André Previn has led a remarkably productive, eclectic and universally acclaimed career as a composer, pianist, conductor and eager collaborator.

He has even spent time as tabloid fodder, when he took on Mia Farrow as the third of his five marriages.

Although pretty slim, this DVD offers up a tidy, nicely balanced, 51-minute version of this-is-your-life, André Previn, made by Lillian Birnbaum and Peter Stephan Jungk in 2008. The sole bonus is an excellent live performance from the Mozarteum in Salzburg, from 2000. It features Previn at the piano, in Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G minor, K.476.

In the doc, we see Previn in a live musical piano duo with Oscar Peterson, on British TV doing comedy with an orchestra and, best of all, we see and hear him through the lens of the important women in his life: Farrow, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and soprano Renée Fleming, who premiered his opera adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Much of the talking is done in taxis, minivans and trains, giving the impression that the ever-productive artist is always on the move. On one train, he says that his constant search for new challenges has a simple motive: If you say you’re happy with what you’re doing and want to keep doing it, “that’s when you get old and stale.”

It’s an inspiration (or kick in the ass) for people in any field, at any age.

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