Michael Nyman, 71, one of Britain’s most innovative and acclaimed composers, is the extremely special guest for Faro’s Teatro das Figuras 10th anniversary celebrations. In an exclusive interview, he tells The Algarve Resident that the audience can look forward to a solo piano-guided musical and visual journey.
“I have a long and strong relationship with Portugal but I have never been to the Algarve. In 1972, I visited Braga and Barcelos and other towns in that region. And then, in a totally different political situation, in the 1980s, I had family holidays in Lisbon and constantly took the train to Estoril and Cascais. There have been solo and Michael Nyman band concerts all over Portugal. In 1998 I had the privilege of being commissioned to write a new piece for Expo98 – a song cycle based on texts by Pessoa and meditations on Pessoa by my friend Kevin Power, with whom I had visited Portugal for the first time in 1972”, says Michael Nyman, currently living in Mexico.
Although Faro is just a small venue, the British conductor, bandleader, pianist, author and, more recently film-maker, has something special under his belt.
“It will be a solo piano concert. With films directed by me. And maybe my live soundtrack to Jean Vigo’s ‘a propos de nice’, but perhaps a new soundtrack to a 1912 Russian animated film that I only discovered a few days ago. And maybe the premiere of music from the soundtrack I have just written to the new documentary about the life and work of Ingrid Bergman, which has just been premiered at the Cannes film festival”.
Nyman’s career spans five decades and includes the award-winning score for the film “The Piano” (1993).
We ask him if it was made in 2015, would he do things differently?
“That is the best question ever. Nobody working on the film had a clue that it would be a success. I wrote all the piano music before a single frame was shot, so I had no idea, apart from reading the script and discussing it with Jane Campion that the music would be so suitable for the film she intended to make. And no idea when I was writing a piece like ‘the heart asks pleasure first’ that it would not only ‘invade’ the film and help to create its success, but also no idea that that single piece of music would become, beyond the film, so strong a part of people’s musical and emotional lives”, he says.
“And it is difficult to imagine ‘The Piano’ being made now. Or what effect it would have in a totally different film and cultural environment. And I have no idea what kind of musical decisions I would make!”
For Nyman, “very little that comes out of Hollywood” today is inspiring.
“I should catch up with the films of Manuel de Oliveira and Raul Ruiz”, he jokes.
Culture has been a preferred target for cuts, especially in debt-buried southern countries. What does he have to say about today’s austerity-strangled Europe?
“I find it deplorable and disgusting and totally misguided, culturally and economically. If, for instance, Spain raises VAT on cinema tickets, then fewer people will see films. And less income will be raised. But on the other hand, musicians in general, and composers in particular, are increasingly expected to provide their work, their expertise, their talents, to the public for free downloads or very low ‘techno royalties’. I do not see Apple, for instance, being forced to be so generous with their ‘products’…”
Nyman is still fresh from touring Mexico, presenting his latest project: “war work: eight songs with film”.
This is the most serious film project I have ever been involved with – and that includes the soundtracks that I have written for film directors like Peter Greenaway and Jane Campion. And very different from the films that I have made and will show in Faro. These films are in the tradition of a kind of ‘street documentation’ whereas ‘war work’ is a film that takes as its starting point French, German and American first World War film archives and develops a 60-minute film with soundtrack as a kind of film ‘meditation’ on that particular war, its artists, its poets and its physical, emotional, cultural and political effects”, he says.
Recently, Nyman has been involved with the comeback of Ealing Studios, which promise to foster fresh talent and change the face of the British film industry.
“I hope so” he says of the assertion. “This is in the very early discussion stage. And I hope to use some of the old archives to make some sort of film in the same manner as war work”.
One last question: what can we expect from Michael Nyman in the future? “Symphonies, of which I have written around eight in the last few years, and operas on pretty serious subjects…”
by BRUNO FILIPE PIRES
Photos: Fernando Aceves
Gala Figuras with Michael Nyman
Teatro Municipal de Faro, June 30, 9.30pm
Prices: €25 (1st row), €20 (2nd row)
Bookings: +351 289 888 110 / [email protected]