“A Late Quartet” Explores Dynamics of Human Condition

Yaron Zilberman’s 2011 film A Late Quartet, about an accomplished chamber-music ensemble in turmoil, captures the fragile politics that exist among longtime artistic collaborators but that audiences don’t always see.

Like the celebrated string quartet their characters make up, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mark Ivanir, Catherine Keener, and Christopher Walken deliver performances that are as individually excellent as they are wonderfully complementary.

The members of the fictional quartet arrive at a career crossroads as they prepare to play Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14, Op. 131, an intense and expansive composition whose challenges seem to mock those facing its performers.

It should be mentioned that the performance of Beethoven’s Op. 131 we hear in A Late Quartet is by the Brentano String Quartet, whose cellist, Nina Lee, makes an appearance in the movie.

The idiosyncrasies and interpersonal dynamics created by Zilberman and his cast are familiar in the context of this kind of ensemble, which reminds us that what resonates with us when we hear extraordinary works performed by exceptional musicians is the common experience we share.

— David Brensilver

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