Professional musicians, actors and other performing artists, when they get to talking about their work, can, let s face it, be kind of boring in a self-absorbed, detached-from-reality way. That s what makes They Came to Play, a beautifully executed documentary about the Van Cliburn Foundation s Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs, so refreshing. The classical pianists in this contest play at a near-professional level, but when they talk about their work, the jobs involved are a bit more down to earth: ophthalmologist, dental assistant, jeweler, tennis coach.
The film, by Alex Rotaru, chronicles the 2007 edition of the competition, which is held in Texas and open to those 35 and older who do not play professionally. (It has run on an irregular schedule since it started in 1999. The next one, in May, will be the sixth.) Some contestants have had advanced musical training; others have developed a natural talent mostly on their own. The proficiency they display at the keyboard is thrilling to see; whatever your own hobby is, you are likely to be awed by how much better these people are at theirs.
Mr. Rotaru paces the film perfectly, mixing performance footage with scenes of the competitors talking about their lives and the role music plays for them. And, just as admirably, he never tips his hand as the competition s elimination rounds progress. When the victor s name is called, you can feel the joy and surprise that must have gone through the concert hall and the winner. --THE NEW YORK TIMES - Chronicling the Cliburn Amateur Contest By NEIL GENZLINGER
A welcome twist on the now-ubiquitous kiddie competition doc, They Came to Play centers on the Van Cliburn Foundation's gathering of the world's best amateur pianists over the age of 35. "Amateur" is a word that makes most of the entrants bristle; it's also a semantic point of entry for director Alex Rotaru's gentle inquiry into the egalitarian nature of art and the compromises made for a life that involves regular meals. Rotaru chooses to focus on a handful of the 75 participants who are, yes, quirky, but also wildly talented and divergent in background. For some, like a French former Wimbledon competitor and two doctors, their musical talent is an extension of freakishly accomplished lives; for others, like the former coke addict and HIV-positive man mourning his lover, music is both escape and savior. The martial German physicist simply seeks perfection for perfection's sake. Rotaru has to regroup when several of his primary subjects are eliminated in the first round, but there is continuity in his focus on the emotions and eccentricities that infuse each player's performance with something beyond technique. The bittersweet refrain is that even such brilliant pianists could only make a hobby not a life of their gifts. --THE VILLAGE VOICE - Piano Lesson for the Middle-Aged Amateurs Among Us in They Came to Play By Michelle Orange
Sometimes, life comes between us and our dreams. And sometimes, we are fortunate enough to be reunited.
Multi-award winning THEY CAME TO PLAY focuses on the International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs (hosted by the Van Cliburn Foundation), which gathers together 75 of the world s best amateur pianists for one week of intense competition and camaraderie. Candid interviews offer a glimpse into the lives of the competitors, who come from a wide variety of backgrounds and professions. All have struggled to balance their music and their ordinary lives some overcoming extraordinary challenges and now, all hope to make years of dedication pay off in the performance of a lifetime.
Overflowing with the talent and enthusiasm of the competitors and with the sound of their spectacular music, THEY CAME TO PLAY reminds us all of the passion that burns within us.
DVD Features: Extended Performances