Filmed in China, Japan, the United States, and The Netherlands, Frank Scheffer's The Road follows the pre-eminent Dutch composer Louis Andriessen in the process of composing his work Tao (1996) for piano, koto, and chamber orchestra. Tao, commissioned by the Donaueschingen Festival in Germany, is the second part of Andriessen's The Last Day trilogy, which addresses the subject of death.
The title of the composition refers to the Tao-Te Ching, from which Andriessen uses a text concerning death. Tao is written for and dedicated to the Japanese-Dutch pianist Tomoko Mukaiyama, who plays an integral and collaborative role in both the composition and performance of the work. Mukaiyama, in addition to playing the solo piano part, plays a traditional Japanese koto and recites a poem in Japanese.
The film follows Andriessen and Mukaiyama from Tao's initial conception to the premiere performance. While we see Andriessen working on the piece in April 1996 at Princeton University (where he was a visiting professor of composition), at the same time we see Mukaiyama in Japan procuring a koto. Scheffer shows the two working together on performance issues (such as the possibilities of the koto as well as how to notate a part for it).
Andriessen then completes the basic composition in the summer of 1996, and we see him playing a piano version for the conductor Peter Eotvos who will premiere the work with the Netherlands Radio Chamber Orchestra. In October 1996 Andriessen travels to China to visit a Tao monastery and to see the biggest bell clock in the world. In China he discovers the importance of ritual, not only in religion but also for his own composing.
Frank Scheffer's The Road is a film which serves as a model of how composers work -- how they conceive material, who they consult about a variety of issues (in Andriessen's case, a Dutch Sinologist who instructs him about the Tao-Te Ching), and particularly how they work with performers.
Arditti String Quartet