Music Makes a City

Music Makes a City

Farnsley congratulates Whitney - Rockefeller Foundation.

Music Makes a City


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Music Makes a City (2009/2010)

Also Known As: Music Makes a City: A Louisville Orchestra Story

Opened: 09/17/2010 Limited

Quad Cinema/NYC09/17/2010 - 09/23/20107 days
Sunset 5/LA09/24/2010 - 09/30/20107 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home

Genre: Documentary

Rated: Unrated


In 1948, a small, struggling, semi-professional orchestra in Louisville, Kentucky began a novel project to commission new works from contemporary composers around the world.

The Commissioning Project grew far beyond anyone's expectations. In 1953, the orchestra received an unprecedented $400,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to commission 52 compositions a year for three years. The new works were to be performed in weekly concerts and recorded for sale by subscription. The international music world was astounded at both the recipient of the grant and the scope of the project.

The architect of this ambitious artistic venture was Louisville Mayor Charles Farnsley who had a deep love of cultural expressions of all kinds as well as boundless enthusiasm and an inexhaustible bank of new ideas. Farnsley professed to be guided by the philosophical principles of the Chinese sage Confucius. It was a Confucian idea that a city with high culture and happy citizens attracted wealth and power.

Farnsley felt the orchestra was central to the city's cultural well being and that composers were the source of musical life. To commission new pieces would leave something of lasting value for the world.

Farnsley found a willing partner for his plans in Robert Whitney, the young conductor who had arrived in Louisville in 1937 to lead the fledgling orchestra. Whitney would come to be known as the hardest working conductor in the country as he diligently poured over the new scores and worked with the many composers who came to town for their premieres. Over the years, nearly every living composer of note would be commissioned and recorded by the Louisville Orchestra.

The fame of the Louisville concerts and the new commissions were broadcast around the world by Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. In 1959, a delegation of Soviet composers, including Dmitri Shostakovich and Dmitri Kabalevsky, visited the fabled "home of new music" and brought down the house in a spectacular concert. Just as Farnsley had predicted, as the orchestra's reputation grew, so did the cultural and economic life of Louisville. After the Commissioning Project ended, the Louisville Orchestra continued to perform and record new works on First Edition, their pioneering record label. Under the direction of Robert Whitney and his successors, principally Jorge Mester, the orchestra recorded hundreds of commissions and world premieres. No other orchestra can match this contribution to contemporary musical culture.

The extraordinary accomplishments of the Louisville Orchestra were not an accident they were the direct result of the efforts of a few visionary civic leaders, a dedicated conductor and orchestra, and the contemporary composers. Together they made modern musical history.

The People Behind Music Makes a City

Owsley Brown (Director/Producer)

Owsley Brown made his directing and producing debut with the documentary film, Night Waltz: The Music of Paul Bowles, winner of the Hamptons International Film Festival Jury Award for Best Documentary. A curiosity in the eccentricities of the life of Paul Bowles encouraged Mr. Brown to lead a professional team to Morocco to uncover a lesser-known element in Bowles' artistry -- his work as a composer. An impassioned first-time director/producer, Mr. Brown sought out the interests of a talented crew and notable filmmakers Nathaniel Dorsky and Rudy Burkhardt to visually illustrate the inspiration behind Bowles' music. The Independent Feature Project awarded Brown with an Independent Spirit "Truer Than Fiction" Award for best documentary in 2000.

Owsley began working in the wine industry in 1993 at Napa Valley's Mayacamas Vineyards and two years later co-founded Chameleon Cellars, a Napa Valley boutique label. In 2000 he was introduced to Biodynamic winegrowing at Mendocino's Bonterra Ranch while working for the Brown-Forman Wine Estates Group. This experience cultivated Owsley's great passion for Biodynamic wines and later inspired him to launch Magnanimus Wine Group, a company dedicated to producing authentic and distinct wines that reflect not only a sense of place, but also the highest standards of quality and environmental stewardship.

Jerome Hiler (Director)

Jerome Hiler started his creative life as a painter, having studied with Natalia Pohrebinska at Pratt Institute. Within a few years, Mr. Hiler became enthralled with the expressive possibilities of 16mm experimental film and it soon became his main focus. His films have been shown at the San Francisco Cinematheque, the New York Film Festival and London's LUX film series. Throughout his career, he has also worked on documentary film projects as either photographer, editor or director - sometimes assuming all of these roles.

Since the 1980s, Mr. Hiler has been working in the medium of stained glass, in which he combines his love of projected light with that of abstract painting. He has also presented slide lectures on the early history of stained glass.  These programs derived from Mr. Hiler's extensive collection of the subject and have been presented all over the country including Princeton University and The Art Gallery of Toronto.

Mr. Hiler's love of classical music has been a lifelong passion.  Focusing his attention on the 20th Century as well as the pre-classical periods of music, he is thoroughly immersed in the subject matter of Music Makes a City.  As a young man, he had the pleasure of meeting many of the composers who had received Louisville Orchestra commissions.

Robin Burke (Producer)

Robin Burke is a Producer of the award-winning documentaries Night Waltz: The Music of Paul Bowles and Dangerous Music. Night Waltz, an Owsley Brown-directed documentary of Paul Bowles, won the 1999 Southampton Film Festival, the prestigious Spirit Award in March 2000 and was shown at the 2000 Berlin Film Festival. Burke was also a producer of the independent short film Dangerous Music, which was a competition finalist at the USA Film Festival and Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival, and winner of the Houston International Film Festival Bronze Award. Burke was a director and producer on CAN DO!, a five-part video documentary series for parents and teachers of blind and visually impaired children. Most recently, she was involved as a director on Living Lightly, which won Best Family Film-Directors' choice, Best Regional Short Film-Director's Choice and Best Short Film at the Bluegrass Independent Film Festival. 

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