For 'Tàr,' Nina Hoss Trained to Become a Real Concert Violinist
The actress, who plays opposite Cate Blanchett in the film, immersed herself in the cutthroat world of classical music.
There's the saying that behind every great man, there stands a great woman—it's a statement that has become more than trite. But it's one that makes sense in Todd Field's immense film Tár, the director's first in 16 years. It follows Lydia Tar, one the greatest living composers and conductors, played with evil 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 that will further deify her already illustrious career. But as Lydia begins on this journey, she starts to lose it as accusations and allegations against her begin to bubble to the surface.
And just who exactly is the woman waiting in the wings, so to speak, for Lydia? Her wife, Sharon, who is also the concertmaster and head violinist of the orchestra. Played by the great Nina Hoss, Sharon, aside from being a mother to their daughter, is also Lydia's creative partner, a tremendous musician in her own right, and perhaps complicit in holding up the structures of power that exist in Lydia Tàr's orchestra.
For Hoss, as an actor, working with the acclaimed Field was certainly a treat. It's a film that hasn't quite left her just yet—Hoss has seen Tàr three times and still finds details that she didn't notice in earlier viewings. Many of the film's scenes are set on an orchestral stage, practicing for Lydia's tour de force symphony, with Sharon right there beside her. Hoss talks to Thrillist about learning about the classical music world and the hierarchies of power of that community, and learning how to play violin.
Thrillist: You play Sharon, Lydia's wife and a concertmaster. How was it immersing yourself in the world of Berlin's classical music in Tár?
Nina Hoss:I had to learn the parts for the Mahler Symphony on violin. I'm not a violin player, but I really wanted to be able to play with the musicians because I knew I'm going to sit next to professional musicians for two weeks. I know that they put in so much work, and if you come as an actor, you're a little imposter because you have to pretend. I wanted to make sure I put my work in as well.
While doing that with my phenomenal teacher, I learned, of course, a lot about the whole German setup of an orchestra. They have rules. They have positions that they're in. How much it takes to actually arrive in the first chair is such an achievement. So that informed me for Sharon, that she's in her own right an incredible musician because otherwise, she wouldn't be there. She is the partner of the conductor in real life, but she also is the musical partner. When you asked what I did, I did learn the pieces, but then, of course, I spoke with the real concertmaster…
How was that?
He was next to me. You see him in the film and he's right in the chair next to me. Just to watch him, how he speaks with the orchestra members, how in case there's something, in this case, Todd [Field] wanted. Then how he communicated it and translated it, so to speak, with the orchestra. That told me so much about how I wanted to portray Sharon, that she's very much in opposition to Lydia in a way of using her power. She's at ease and she's a great communicator. She sees people, and she knows how to get out of them what she needs, but in a non-abusive way. That doesn't make her innocent because she holds the Lydia Tàr system up anyway.
That is the other thing that I was interested in by working on Sharon—to see who are the people that want to surround themselves with these personalities. Isn't it a transactional relationship as well? Don't you profit from this relationship in a certain way? That was, in this particular setting of the classical music world, really fascinating to explore.
This orchestra hadn't played together since COVID. How was interacting with them, filming with them, and the rehearsal process?
I've never been in an orchestra, so that in itself was somewhat nerve-racking and fascinating. I can only imagine how it must have felt for Cate always being in front of them. She needed to get the respect of this orchestra, like a real conductor does, and me in another kind of way as well.
We were so lucky because this orchestra was so open, so excited to be back together, but also with doing this film and being with us. They really put a lot of work, love, and heart into this. One of the most incredible moments that I had was when the first time we said, "Okay, we're going to rehearse," and now we start, and, "Hey, we're doing this extract of the piece. Please, go to it." I still get goosebumps. That was just incredible. That gave so much understanding of the world they are living in and what they're fighting for. They're fighting for their art.
For Todd, I'm assuming it was purposeful to have real musicians in this as opposed to having actors. Did you get to learn more about the classical musical world? Did you get an idea of their sense of community and the politics that exist in their space?
It's a tough world, I would say. It's a very hierarchical world and also patriarchal. I can't even think where in the big orchestras you have a female concertmaster. That, by the way, is something I really love that the film doesn't make this an issue. That's just two people who are powerful and are together as a couple, and they happen to be women.
Who influences people that make the decisions that lead an institution like that? Because you're constantly under watch. That's what I learned as a concertmaster. The whole group of the violinists, if you make mistakes or if you slip a little bit for whatever reason, someone's there who wants your position. If you look at the Berliner Philharmoniker, for example, once you get this position, you probably won't leave it. So, yes, you have couples that come out of that, but you also have enemies that have to sit in the same body of an orchestra for a lifetime.
That seems like such a different work ecosystem than any of us are used to anymore.
It's very unique to the classical music world, I guess, in certain orchestras. Normally, it's also a very precarious job. They are freelancers mainly, and then maybe you have an engagement for three months or so. That's why I think there is ground for abuse in certain ways. So this film really comes at the right moment in time for the classical music world, I guess. Although having said that, I truly think because it's about so much more than just the music, this kind of power abuse, Lydia could also be CEO of a big company or something like that. It was interesting that it seems really like something the classical music world has to open up about, has to discuss, and has to change.