WUSTL alum and director David Donnelly talks new documentary

| Movies Editor

He stands alone, preparing for the exertion to come. The noise of the crowd makes its way to the hallway as he walks towards the stage. If not for the tuxedo, Paavo Jarvi could be an athlete in the midst of his pregame ritual. Jarvi is one of the best conductors in the world and the focus in the new documentary “Maestro,” which opens with the above scene.
Director David Donnelly graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2003 and went to Los Angeles to begin his career in film. He later moved to Cincinnati. There he befriended Jarvi, who persuaded him to start attending classical music concerts. Donnelly was hooked, inspired to instill his newfound passion through “Maestro,” his first feature-length film. He was recently in St. Louis, where I interviewed him and saw the first few minutes of the film.
Donnelly’s goal with the film is to show classical music in a new light and make it more accessible. He believes classical music is as important for its cultural heritage as for its pure beauty. “It’s a huge genre, ranging from the Middle Ages to today,” he said, pointing out the fact that there is still a huge range within the genre, and that it takes effort to be able to appreciate it.
He said he thinks that people unfairly write off classical music as boring before they really understand it, adding, “You wouldn’t stop going to the movies because one bored you.”
Donnelly followed Jarvi and other Grammy-winning musicians on tour for two years and was able to get a behind-the-scenes look thanks to the friendship between him and Jarvi. A football player during his time at Wash. U., Donnelly compared the effort and skill shown by the musicians to that of athletes.
“These people are the best in their fields, performing with no margin for error,” he said.
The film’s ties to Wash. U. stretch beyond just Donnelly. Executive producer Luke McIntosh and consultant Curtis Jewell, both of whom Donnelly met through Wash. U. football, are also alumni. Recent graduate Luke Terrell is Donnelly’s special assistant while seniors Adam Goldberg and Spencer Welsh were interns for the film.
Donnelly hopes that people will connect with the film and want to learn more about classical music after experiencing it from a contemporary perspective. Before meeting Jarvi, he did not know much about it, but that relationship introduced him to it, and he has only fallen more in love through making the movie. “Music is such a powerful language to connect with others,” Donnelly said. If the first scene is any indication, Donnelly and the rest of the cast’s passion for the music will be evident in the film.
Following a limited theatrical release, the Maestro team is planning a college tour with ambitions of inspiring a younger generation. For more information and to stay up to date with the film, visit its website at www.maestromovie.com.