Richard Nisley

The Hope of the World
History - World Released - May 18, 2019
"Music gives them an opportunity to express themselves individually, although sometimes their society doesn't." So said violinist Isaac Stern upon his return to China in 1999. It was 20 years after the filming of "From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China," the Oscar-winning documentary of his first visit to China.

The current DVD of "From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China" includes a short documentary of Mr. Stern's 1999 return, and brings perspective (and closure) to what was a truly profound cultural exchange.

The China we see in 1999 has changed dramatically since the 1979 visit: there are now skyscrapers, open-air markets with abundant fresh produce, streets flowing with cars and people–alas, a modern world, unlike the grey, lifeless, empty and economically depressed world of 1979, in the wake of Mao's disastrous "leap forward." More importantly, the people have changed; we see what became of several of them: Pan Chun, the gifted pianist, is now a professor at the Beijing Conservatory; Vera Tsu, the equally gifted violinist, is now concert mistress of the Hong Kong Philharmonic; and Wang Jiang (cellist), the most promising of the three, has a recording contract and is now performing in concert halls around the world.

Stern is still the teacher – encouraging, exhorting, hugging. His passion for music is as strong as ever, but this time he speaks more freely; as a result his comments are more telling:

"You can't study life, you must live it," he tells them, "every note is your life, an important part of that life you are living . . . being a musician is not a profession, and it's not just a job; it is not something vocational, it's the totality of your life and your devotion to something in which you believe in profoundly . . . and you have to believe in order to make other people believe."

And most telling of all: "Music is not important for creating musicians, it's creating a civilized society." Indeed, to Mr. Stern music is a civilizing force: humane, tolerant, nonjudgemental, hopeful. It's what draws nations–and peoples–together, despite cultural and political differences, past and present. Quite simply, the music of Mozart and Beethoven and Bach et al, calls on what's best in us all, and is the hope of the world.

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