Review: Atonal Glow
by David Katz
- Alexander Koridze’s fine documentary grants us an audience with 10-year-old Georgian musical prodigy Tsotne Zedginidze
When children of gifted ability are prematurely forced into the public sphere to display their talents, there’s a risk of perceiving this in bad faith. Are we amazed by their creative output and technique in isolation, or is it more the novelty of such talent arising from an unlikely source? Atonal Glow, from rising Georgian documentarian Alexander Koridze, broaches this nervy question and asks what our veneration of gifted children – before they’re possibly ready to be received by the wider society – says about us, and whether it truly is in the subjects’ best interests. The film was unveiled yesterday in the Sarajevo Film Festival’s main documentary competition.
Koridze focuses on 10-year-old Tsotne Zedginidze, a young Georgian boy who displays a preternatural ability in classical piano and has already begun composing his own modest oeuvre of pieces. In his tightly marshalled 67-minute runtime, Koridze is granted remarkable access to the kid's life and also his more fractious family unit, never gazing invasively and always retaining a respectful and gracious distance. Tsotne is being brought up alongside his sister by his maternal grandmother Nina, who doubles as his music tutor, in a way that shows remarkable patience given the harsh standards and intensive practice regimen of the field (Nina’s daughter has passed away, but little about the circumstances is revealed). She’s involved in a custody battle with his father who, in a touch of dramatic irony, is the more dogmatic presence in Tsotne’s life, grilling him on English language vocabulary and forcing casual conversation in that tongue, all whist wearing a pristine Boston Red Sox baseball cap – a symbolic marker of his distance from Georgian culture and its proud artistic heritage.
Beyond the music, this would not be a remarkable like for a middle class 10-year-old anywhere globally. But Tsotne’s ability has granted him access to rarified public realms, with Koridze offering a pointed cut from the kid playacting Star Wars to being ferried around a reception with figures like Georgian President Salome Zourabishvili. As he’s about to perform a solo piano recital, not coincidentally we glimpse some performance anxiety and a crisis of confidence, which Nina deftly handles. You couldn’t devise a clearer representation of how well-meaning people can confuse valuing youthful talent with commodifying and fetishising it.
More rewarding for Tsotne are his brushes with musical luminaries, such as photo ops with Martha Argerich, the extraordinary modern interpreter of Ravel’s piano repertoire, as well as Daniel Baremboim, the eminent Berlin-based conductor. Koridze grasps another telling moment at a Berlin recital organised for Baremboim to observe’s Tsotne’s ability. Near the beginning of the performance, Baremboim looks pretty bored and restless, not offering the automatic piety we’ve seen from Tsotne’s courtiers to date, and arguably more respectable for that. But then, once the young man moves to a more delicate, plangent piece, Baremboim leans forward on his plastic chair, humbled in amazement. Here, finally, Tsotne has been allowed to exist and be vaunted on his own terms, with all the outside context and publicity a moot point in the face of his music’s mere power.
Atonal Glow is a Georgian production staged by Spark, with financial support from the National Film Center of Georgia.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.