“What good is music in the face of AIDS?” asked a gay composer during the height of the HIV epidemic. Rohan Spong’s documentary All the Way Through Evening provides an answer: Music can’t conquer disease, but it can outlive it.
The subject of Evening is pianist Mimi Stern-Wolfe, a lifelong New Yorker and a living museum. Walking around the East Village, she reminisces, “At one time, [this] was a haven for people that would flee from the rest of the United States to come to a big city and become an artist.”
Many of her creative friends arrived in Manhattan, composed or wrote or sang, and were cut down in their 30s or 40s by AIDS. Since 1990, Stern-Wolfe has honored their memories by playing their opuses in an annual tribute concert.
Spong’s documentary isn’t a beautiful film. It begins with a longish scene in which Stern-Wolfe sends several emails to put together her next concert, and hardly becomes any more visually compelling.
Its value, rather, is archival. The extended performances of lieder (song cycles), piano and cello duets, and unfinished operettas by little-known composers might be the only time these pieces are ever heard. And Stern-Wolfe is already white-haired and tired.
Recordings of previous concerts are neatly stored on cassette tapes in her cramped apartment — if only she could find a cassette player anymore. “The world moves so fast. It just sweeps things under the rug,” she sighs.
Evening is a fight against the oblivion of night.