From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China Movie Poster Image
Violin virtuoso's trip to China will open eyes and ears.
  • G
  • 2001
  • 84 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Music can be a wonderful bridge between differences in culture and ideology, and can help bring people together.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Isaac Stern displays passion and gusto when he plays music and when he gives advice to the younger violinists he meets.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China is an Academy Award-winning documentary about violin virtuoso Isaac Stern's groundbreaking visit to China in June 1979 during a time when such visits from Westerners (and foreigners in general) were rare.

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What's the story?

In June 1979, the American violin virtuoso Isaac Stern, at the invitation of the Chinese government, visited China for three weeks. He performed concerts, met with officials and other musicians, and gave lessons and advice to children and teenagers learning to play the violin. From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China, is a documentary of this historical visit. During his travels, Stern manages to see and experience much in this short trip, learning about Chinese culture and how the Chines people he meets appreciate the music of the West as well as the East. Throughout, he admonishes the kids he teaches to play "with passion and a variety of color."

Is it any good?

For musical families, this is a must-see; Stern's love and passion for music extends to virtually every scene. For musicians of all ages (and all instruments), this documentary offers an inspiring glimpse into the thoughts and beliefs of a lover of music and a master of the violin.

Though modern kids might not realize the importance of Stern's visit to China in 1979, as the Cold War raged on and China was not the relatively open society it is today, From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China still manages to show the wonder and joy of the pursuit of music, and how two different societies respond to and think about music. Music as a more profound form of communication is a major theme in the film, and Isaac Stern exemplifies this idea with great gusto -- in his playing, in his demeanor, and in his words of advice and encouragement to the children and teenagers he teaches along the way.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the China documented in this film, circa 1979. How does this China seem different from the China of today, of over three decades later?

  • How is music shown to bridge the gaps between different languages, cultures, and ideologies?

  • What are Stern's beliefs about music's power? How does he demonstrate his beliefs?

Movie details

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For kids who love music and documentaries

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