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If a mad scientist were to design the perfect Oldenburg Festival film in a lab, it might look like The Maestro: a B-movie horror tribute from Thailand about a frustrated classical music conductor who, struggling to complete an epic composition, goes insane and starts killing his students.
“It’s basically Mr. Holland’s Opus meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” jokes Somtow Sucharitkul, the 68-year-old screenwriter, and star, of The Maestro. “I play the murderous, mad conductor. Some might call that typecasting.”
Classical music fans know Somtow as the pioneering composer of operas and symphonies, including Requiem: In Memoriam 9/11 — commissioned by the government of Thailand as a gift for the victims of the 9/11, as the artistic director of Opera Siam and as the founder, in 2010, of Thai youth orchestra the Siam Sinfonietta. The Sinfonietta has performed in Carnegie Hall and Bayreuth, and won Austria’s Summa Cum Laude International Youth Music Festival in 2012.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Thailand, lockdown protocols banned live music performances and any gatherings of more than 20 people. It was impossible for the Sinfonietta to rehearse. Somtow worried about his students, about their musical growth and the impact on their mental health.
Cue Paul Spurrier. The British-born, Thai-based director, an old friend of Somtow, was also concerned about the damage lockdown was doing to those in the film industry. He wanted to get them back to work. And he’d spotted a loophole in the COVID-19 regulations.
“The government had banned public gatherings, they’d banned orchestral rehearsals and concerts, they banned eating in restaurants,” says Spurrier. “But, provided you exercised caution, you could still make a film. So if we made a movie about an orchestra, we could have them rehearse and perform a concert, within the film.”
Somtow continues, “Paul pitched me his idea — about this frustrated conductor who abducts a youth orchestra and takes it to a mansion in the middle of nowhere and goes mad. It was so insane I fell in love with it. I went home and wrote the script basically overnight.”
Adds Spurrier: “I told Somtow I only had one condition: that he had to play the composer.”
The choice is not as out there as it seems. Before becoming his country’s most acclaimed classical composer, Somtow Sucharitkul had a successful career, under the pen name S.P. Somtow, as a writer of sci-fi, horror and fantasy novels. He even wrote a few B-movies.
“I wrote a script for [schlock movie legend] Roger Corman, called Bram Stoker’s Burial of the Rats ,” Somtow recalls with a chuckle.
The result, judging by the trailer for The Maestro, is pure midnight movie madness. The film’s style — when the conductor begins to go insane and turn musical instruments into assault weapons — is full-on and over the top. But for the maestro himself, with a note of wish-fulfillment. “There are times when you’re conducting that you really want to shoot someone,” Somtow admits.
The local release of The Maestro will have to wait until the third wave of COVID19 passes in Thailand. The world premiere will be in Oldenburg on Sunday.
You can watch the trailer for The Maestro below.
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