Louisville isn’t nationally known as a case study in Confucian philosophy, a mistake rectified by Music Makes a City, an illuminating history lesson about the Kentucky metropolis’s artistic vision and philharmonic orchestra. With unspoken allusions to Katrina hovering over its account, Owsley Brown III and Jerome Hiler’s documentary details how—in the wake of 1937’s near-catastrophic Great Flood, which came on the heels of the Great Depression—a unified community achieved revitalization via the creation of an orchestra under the stewardship of Chicago conductor Robert Whitney. Developing a lasting local musical legacy truly began in 1948 courtesy of visionary mayor Charles Farnsley, a charismatic politician who believed (per Confucius’s teachings) that a city of high cultural values would attract wealth and power. He also carried out those convictions to great critical and financial success by having the orchestra commission new contemporary compositions from the globe’s leading modernist lights. Narrated by singer-songwriter Will Oldham, this portrait of Louisville’s artistic progressiveness—which eventually transcended even peak Cold War tensions—primarily utilizes traditional aesthetics (archival materials, talking heads), but weaves them together with editorial gracefulness. Meanwhile, its evocative sequences of classical works set to Ohio River–themed landscape cinematography capture a region and music engaged in harmonious, dynamic interplay.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 15, 2010