There is the saying that behind every great man there is a great woman – it’s a statement that has become more than commonplace. But it’s the one that makes sense in Todd Field’s huge film Tar, the director’s first in 16 years. It follows Lydia Tar, one of the greatest living composers and conductors, played with devilish abandon by Cate Blanchett. Field follows Lydia, the first female conductor of a German orchestra, as she prepares to record Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 which will further deify her already illustrious career. But as Lydia begins this journey, she begins to lose it as the accusations and allegations against her begin to come to the surface.
And who exactly is the woman waiting in the wings, so to speak, Lydia? His wife, Sharon, who is also concertmaster and chief violinist of the orchestra. Played by the great Nina Hoss, Sharon, in addition to being the mother of their daughter, is also Lydia’s creative partner, a formidable musician in her own right, and perhaps complicit in maintaining the power structures that exist in the world. orchestra of Lydia Tàr.
For Hoss, as an actor, working with the famous Field was certainly a treat. It’s a movie that hasn’t quite left her yet – Hoss saw Tar three times and still finds details she hadn’t noticed in previous viewings. Many scenes in the film take place on an orchestral stage, practicing for Lydia’s tour de force symphony, with Sharon right next to her. Hoss talks to Thrillist about learning about the world of classical music and that community’s power hierarchies, and learning the violin.
Thrillist: You play Sharon, Lydia’s wife and concertmaster. What was it like immersing yourself in Berlin’s classical music world in Tar?
Nina Hos:I had to learn the parts of Mahler’s Symphony on the violin. I’m not a violinist, but I really wanted to be able to play with the musicians because I knew I was going to meet professional musicians for two weeks. I know they put so much work into it, and if you come as an actor, you’re a little impostor because you have to pretend. I wanted to make sure I put my work in too.
By doing this with my phenomenal teacher, I of course learned a lot about the whole German setup of an orchestra. They have rules. They have positions they are in. The time it takes to get into the first chair is such a feat. So that informed me for Sharon, that she’s an amazing musician in her own right because otherwise she wouldn’t be here. She’s the conductor’s partner in real life, but she’s also the musical partner. When you asked what I was doing, I learned the pieces, but then, of course, I spoke with the real concertmaster…
How was it?
He was next to me. You see him in the movie and he’s right in the chair next to me. Just to watch him, how he talks with the orchestra members, how in case there’s something, in this case, Todd [Field] sought. Then how he communicated and translated it, so to speak, with the orchestra. It told me so much about how I wanted to portray Sharon, that she’s the complete opposite of Lydia in a way that she uses her power. She is comfortable and an excellent communicator. She sees people, and she knows how to get what she needs from them, but in a non-abusive way. This doesn’t make her innocent as she maintains the Lydia Tàr system anyway.
That’s the other thing that interested me in working on Sharon: seeing who are the people who want to surround themselves with these personalities. Isn’t that also a transactional relationship? Are you not taking advantage of this relationship in some way? It was, in that particular setting of the world of classical music, really fascinating to explore.
This orchestra had not played together since COVID. How was the interaction with them, the filming with them and the rehearsal process?
I’ve never been in an orchestra, which in itself was somewhat unnerving and fascinating. I can only imagine how it must have felt for Cate to always be in front of them. She needed to get the respect of this orchestra, like a real conductor does, and me in another way too.
We were so lucky because this orchestra was so open, so excited to meet again, but also to make this film and to be with us. They really put a lot of work, love and heart into this. One of the most amazing moments I’ve had is when the first time we said, ‘OK, we’re going to rehearse’, and now we’re starting, and ‘Hey, we’re doing this snippet of the play . Go for it.” I still get goosebumps. It was just amazing. It gave them a better understanding of the world they live in and what they are fighting for. They are fighting for their art.
For Todd, I guess it was helpful to have real musicians rather than actors. Did you learn more about the world of classical music? Did you get a sense of their sense of community and politics that exists in their space?
It’s a tough world, I would say. It is a very hierarchical and also patriarchal world. I can’t even think where in major orchestras you have a female solo violinist. By the way, that’s something I really like that the movie doesn’t make a big deal out of it. It’s just two powerful people that are a couple, and they happen to be women.
Who influences the people who make the decisions that run an institution like this? Because you are constantly under surveillance. That’s what I learned as a concertmaster. The whole group of violinists, if you make mistakes or slip a little for some reason, there’s someone who wants your position. If you look at the Berliner Philharmoniker, for example, once you get that job, you probably won’t leave it. So, yes, you have couples coming out of it, but you also have haters who have to sit in the same orchestral body their entire lives.
It seems like such a different working ecosystem than what we are used to.
It’s very particular to the world of classical music, I suppose, in certain orchestras. Normally, it is also a very precarious job. They are mostly freelancers, and you might have a commitment of about three months. That’s why I think there’s room for abuse in some respects. So this movie really comes at the right time for the classical music world, I guess. Although having said that, I really think that because it’s about much more than music, this kind of abuse of power, Lydia could also be a CEO of a big company or something. It was interesting to see that it really feels like something the world of classical music needs to open up about, need to discuss and need to change.