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How to Write a Banjo Concerto

Distributed by Argot Pictures
Produced by Béla Fleck
Directed by Béla Fleck and Sascha Paladino
DVD, color, 96 min.
Sr. High - General Adult

Reviewed by Bonnie Jo Dopp, Librarian Emerita, University of Maryland

Date Entered: 4/7/2015

This likeable film examines an unlikely subject: the composing of a ‘classical’ concerto for banjo and orchestra by ‘bluegrass’ musician Béla Fleck. The Nashville Symphony commissioned and premiered the work (titled The Imposter and dedicated to Fleck’s first musical influence, famed banjoist Earl Scruggs) in 2011, but this was not Fleck’s first classical-crossover achievement. He had co-written two concertos for double bass with Edgar Meyer before attempting this big project and had arranged many pieces by composers such as Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms for a Grammy-award-winning album in 2002. Still, he had a lot to learn about composing music for an orchestra and this film documents much of that process. Fleck interviews individual members of the orchestra to discover more about their instruments, he takes himself off to an isolated cabin to eliminate distractions, and shortly before the premiere, he frets about whether in the end he can play the thing. Some of the videotaping was done by Fleck himself and there is much hand-held camerawork, giving the program a homey quality that should please Fleck’s wide audience. More about people than product, this should appeal to a broad spectrum of musical tastes.