Tár:”Conducting is not a democracy”
“Be not afraid of greatness”.
Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare
Lydia Tár is unashamedly great and she is definitely not afraid of greatness. She celebrates her greatness even when its cloaked in a veil of humility. Her life is identified by the salutation “Maestro” from her colleagues in the Berlin Symphony Orchestra. It is a form of address that signifies her position at the top of her field. That one word commands respect, power, confidence, fear, and adulation. More than the words, Tar’s daunting shadow embodies those responses.
Conducting places her in the centre of her universe. She is the conductor. She states emphatically that conducting is not democratic. Furthermore, she is not any conductor but a world renowned conductor who is admired by the orchestras who perform under her leadership and other conductors who admire her acumen regarding the annotations to her performance scores that make her performances soar. She indulges them but also invites them to understand the score and interpret it according to their own understanding of its ability to lift the musical notation on a page to communicate passion, emotions and a unique experience for an audience.
Conducting is not democratic
“ There are some performances where you find yourself;
I could only describe it as flying above the performance.
They’re extremely rare”.
Australian maestro Simone Young, Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Cate Blanchett is powerful in her perfomance as Lydia Tár, not just for the strength of her position of power in the orchestra but in her handling of people, even when her words carry a clear message that the person being addressed will be banished from their position in the orchestra. Her words have the weight of a feather and the force of a hammer.
Her awareness of how to deal with the political permutations of the members of the orchestra does not extend to her awareness of her own peccadillos. The confluence of Blanchett’s real world performance as an accomplished actor, producer and director, including as co-Artistic Director of the renowned Sydney Theatre Company, and her masterful performance as the powerful, fictitious conductor Lydia Tár is enthralling to watch.
Blanchett’s perfomance has been lauded for its authenticity as a conductor. There is an interesting caveat to her performance from the conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the real life Maestro Simone Young. When asked whether Blanchett could conduct an orchestra, Young pointedly stated that Blanchett is an actor, not a conductor. The distinction is subtle but poignant. It goes to the point that Blanchett has nailed the characteristics that make a conductor a force in real world conducting. It doesn’t matter that she is not a conductor if she convinces us, the audience, to believe she is the conductor. It’s called acting and she does that with aplomb.
The Maestro soars
This is clearly shown in the opening scenes of Tár where we watch Tár interviewed and then follow her preparations to record Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. You would swear that we are watching a documentary about an actual conductor, Lydia Tár. The impact of Blanchett’s performance is all the more enforceable because she is present throughout the movie. It appears there isn’t a scene in which she doesn’t dominate the camera.
We are immersed in Tar’s life, professional and personal, including her indiscretions. Her misjudgements might seem minor but they are small ripples that expand to become major disruptions to her professionally and personally. Her hubris allows her to believe she is impervious to the machinations of the board of directors and the emotional entanglements that result when her seductive nature and dalliances affect her home life, her relationship with her partner, Sharon Goodnow, who also happens to be the first violin in the orchestra, and her child, Petra.
Liaisons & Relationships
A significant issue that arises is Tár’s controlling power of her professional relations and personal involvements. They border on misuse and abuses of power. This brings in significant questions of gender and sexuality. Tár demonstrates an utter confidence that she will triumph and her indiscretions will be forgiven, if not ignored. It is both tied to her identity (sex, gender and sexuality) and an indication of her symbolic power that speaks across gender. She is an abuser and spirals out of control in all manner of professional and personal behaviours.
One real life conductor, Marin Alsop, reflected on her own position as music director laureate of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and chief conductor of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra.
“…despite the strong reviews, the positive reception hasn't been entirely unanimous – the leading American conductor Marin Alsop slammed the film in an interview with The Sunday Times, calling it “anti-woman”… Alsop is referenced in the film and bears some similarities to Lydia Tár. After watching the movie she declared that "I was offended as a woman, I was offended as a conductor, I was offended as a lesbian”.
From Tár director responds to criticism that film is “anti-woman" by Patrick Cremona
READ FULL ARTICLE: Tár director responds to criticism that film is “anti-woman" By Patrick Cremona, Radio Times, Friday, 13th January 2023
Tár is not about musical compositions, but about the destruction and decomposition of Lydia Tar’s humanness. This is revealed imperceptibly in the difference between her performance scores that have been annotated over many years to encase the nuances of her thinking about how the scores should be conducted and the musical score she is composing. In her own creative process, she hesitates, shows uncertainty and even allows other musicians to make suggestions about the notes in her score. Her inability to progress her own composition is evident in her life unravelling. She can’t find the sounds similar to the way she can’t perceive the consequences of her liaisons with musicians in the orchestra that unfold with devastating effects as the film progresses.
In search of the lost chord & the scale of human emotions
Tár’s unravelling presents some frustrating aspects of the movie. Tár believes someone is sabotaging her standing in the orchestra and, more deeply disturbing, is stalking her and her family. She awakens to mysterious sounds in the middle of the night to discover items in her apartment have moved or are missing as if someone has been in the apartment during the night. There is also a recurring illustration that appears in her personal documents.
These moments can be interpreted as visualisations of her deteriorating mental state and the pressures upon her when a particular tragic incident with a former romantic and sexual liaison are revealed. However, there is evidence on social media that she is being watched by someone when an edited video of a workshop she presents at The Juilliard School makes the rounds on the internet. This suggests she is being pursued covertly by an unknown person.
Either interpretation is possible but leaves a sense of dissatisfaction with the movie and Lydia Tár’s character. Despite flaws in the nature of Tár’s personality and uncertainty with aspects of the film’s structure, one can’t dispute Blanchett’s supreme performance.
Lydia Tár shows greatness and part of that greatness includes exhibiting the flaws that make us human. Blanchett's performance ensures the film soars.
Tár Official Trailer
FILM EXTRAS: Knowing The Score
Knowing the Score (Documentary 2023)
Director, Janine Hosking
Executive Producer, Cate Blanchett (Tár)
The extraordinary story of renowned Australian conductor Simone Young, who made it to the top in a man’s world wielding her wit, determination, sense of humour and baton. Simone Young AM has earned many accolades across her dazzling 30-year music career. All have been hard won.
Knowing the Score gets up-close and personal with Young in an engaging music documentary revealing two key themes: the long struggle for gender parity in the high art of classical music and the heartbreaking struggle for artists to be valued in times of crisis, or, sometimes, even at all.
Though one of the world’s great contemporary conductors, Young’s work continues to be viewed through a gender lens. She is the first woman to be appointed Chief Conductor of The Sydney Symphony Orchestra in all its 90-year history. The fact of being a woman still plagues her.
Though Simone Young has personally overcome many obstacles she remains an outlier. Prejudices and traditions that should be obsolete still dominate her profession.
Where To Watch Knowing The Score
Currently in cinema release and soon to be screened on TV (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
“Yes, maestro: the cult of the conductor”, The Sydney Morning Herald, David Leser, January 28, 2023