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Classical 101

Who is Ethan Hawke? Better Yet, Who Is Seymour Bernstein?

Seymour: an introduction movie poster
IFC Films

I admit that I know who Ethan Hawke is, but nevertheless I did have to wander through Wikipedia and YouTube before writing these lines.

Ethan Hawke is much in the news these days for his work behind the camera. He is the director of a new documentary called Seymour: An Introduction.

So who is Seymour? Seymour Bernstein, 87 is a pianist and teacher. Ethan Hawke was not among Seymour’s many pupils. They met at a dinner party, the “elder statesman” and the hot actor. A friendship ensued culminating in a warm-hearted biopic that will drive you back to piano lessons just to follow Seymour’s advice.

This is no Piano Book 1 pedant. Seymour Bernstein is described by Manohla Dargis in the New York Times as “Pianist, composer, teacher, philosopher and ultimate New Yorker. …You might find yourself scanning the streets, hoping to catch sight of him, as if for an old friend.”

Ethan Hawke describes his friendship with Mr. Bernstein, “As you move into middle age you lose mentors. But you still need mentors.”

Seymour Bernstein comes across as a jovial presence who has paid attention over 81 years and enjoys the benefit of the wisdom that really does come with age. He was a concert pianist who retired at 50, and has taught full-time ever since. We sense the concert stage as being too limiting for his personality. The stage became a barrier between this gregarious man and well, everybody else.

Not that lessons with this guy would be easy. “The struggle is what makes the art form. I had to go to war for my struggle for my art form.”

This not your cute uncle or grandpa. Seymour Bernstein comes across as a big-hearted man who loves music and has been “going to war” over his love for the piano and his need to share that love.

Seymour: An Introduction Directed by Ethan Hawke. Recommended

Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.