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‘If you play music this dense, you’re gonna hit a wrong note. And they won’t know. They never do.’ These questionable words of wisdom are uttered by an improbably wisecracking conductor to Elijah Wood’s concert pianist as he returns to the stage for his first performance since fluffing a notoriously difficult piece five years earlier. The advice works almost as a self-reflexive bit of wishful thinking on director Eugenio Mira’s part; Grand Piano is an enjoyable but unquestionably silly work of genre cinema whose propulsive momentum belies its structural fragility. The story – a pianist is told he will be assassinated in the middle of a performance by an unseen audience member (John Cusack) if he plays a wrong note – riffs on the finale to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, and is executed with admirable panache.

The music itself is of the bombastic film score variety, with Bernard Hermann proving a key influence. But it’s entirely in keeping with the picture’s high-octane drive, amplified by some pleasingly virtuosic camerawork worthy of Brian De Palma. Mira posits a pianist’s performance anxiety almost as conduit for the Freudian death drive; music gives the performer life, and Grand Piano exploits this situation by filtering it through the unforgiving lens of horror cinema. It may be a film made by musicians – Mira himself is a composer and writer Damien Chazelle made the extraordinary jazz drumming film Whiplash – but their real interest here is in the kinetic force of exploitation cinema rather than the plight of the pianist.

CRAIG WILLIAMS Read the full review on Agora Classica


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