By ANTANINA KAPCHONAVA
Four-time Grammy-nominated violinist Philippe Quint sees a lot of himself in the young Russian immigrant he plays in Downtown Express, an independent American feature from Emmy-winning director David Grubin that is set to debut at Quad Cinema on April 20.
“Initially, the movie script was not based on my life experiences, but after numerous meetings with the director and producers, I think they added more and more of my persona in Sasha’s character, and as a result the two characters came out to be very much alike,” air jordan 4.5 femmes Quint said after the film was screened Tuesday at Quad Cinema. “But as a whole, Sasha is much younger and more naïve than me. He just got to America.”
Quint was born in Saint-Petersburg, Russia, in an artistic family with aristocratic roots. His mother, Lora Kvint, is a prominent composer, well-recognized in the musical world for her Angel Rock Opera Giordano.
Quint finished Moscow’s Special Music School for the Gifted, and his performance of Wieniawski’s Concerto No. 2 marked his orchestral debut at the age of nine. In 1991, the virtuoso musician moved to the United States, and later graduated from the Juilliard School with bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
In “Downtown Express,” Quint plays Sasha, a young violinist who came to New York on a temporary student visa. He lives in a tiny Brooklyn apartment with his father Vadim (Michael Cumpsty) and cousin Arkady (Ashley Springer), both of whom have high expectations from the Juilliard student. At his spare time between the recitals, Sasha performs in subway with his father and cousin in a band called Unique Quartet.
The young violinist has the talent and training required to launch a promising career. But as his classical debut nears, he meets Ramona (recording artist Nellie McKay), a singer in the band Downtown Express. She introduces him to the world of New York street music. Sasha starts questioning the career choices his father has been making for him since early childhood, and the clash between the old and new-world values becomes inevitable.
For Quint, making the movie meant re-connecting with his own immigration experience. “It was hard for me to recall what it was like, what a difficult experience it was, and how my life changed,” he said.
It also meant playing new kinds of music. “I had to step away from what I was used to, and it was the first time I got into some music other than classical,” Quint said. “It was a very interesting process for me.”
Every New Yorker who has ever taken a subway will recognize the movie’s street musicians who daily perform at the city train stations in real life. These include a jazz band singing in a crowded train, a duo wearing animal costumes auditioning for MTA’s underground musical program, and many more soloists.
“To be honest, you can make a great documentary by shooting the scenes in subway and in the streets all day long,” Quint said. “And this is basically what happened here . . . since David Grubin is known for documentaries, you might have noticed that many scenes are capturing the moment of the creation of the music.”
The majority of the scenes were filmed in Brooklyn, several of which became Quint’s favorites.
“The shooting on Brighton Beach was very colorful,” he said, adding that some people did not realize the crew was engaged in filming. “In a scene where I am tipping a musician on Brighton, a lady approached me to reprimand me for taking money from his [tip box]. But I had to take it back in every take!”
`Downtown Express’ delves into the complexity of immigration, the generation gap, and the role of love in an artist’s life. All the characters’ emotions and feelings – love, inspiration, anger and disappointment – are expressed through music.
“David wanted music to be the protagonist in this movie,” explained Quint.
“I was so impressed with Philippe, that I cast him in the lead role,” Grubin said in a news release. “But I confess I was worried. Of course he could play the violin like an angel, but he had never acted before.”
However, Quint justified the director’s expectations. After he was offered the role, air jordan 5 femmes he started taking acting classes and learned from his coaches that “it’s not about acting, it’s about reacting. Reacting is the most important skill both in music and in theater.”
Quint said he would consider another role if the opportunity emerged, but that at heart he would always be a musician.
“I don’t consider myself to be an actor because, first of all, it’s pretentious, and, second of all, it’s one of the greatest arts which requires as much exploring as any other craft,” the violinist said. “I therefore consider myself to be a musician who played a role in a movie . . . and I have to admit that I really enjoyed the process. It was phenomenal and interesting!”