Film score wizard works his magic

«My orchestra is the place where I keep the most personal elements of my work,» said famed English composer Michael Nyman of his Michael Nyman Band in an interview with Kathimerini ahead of a career-spanning performance in Athens next week. Nyman initially established a reputation through early scores for the filmmaker Peter Greenaway, such as «Drowning By Numbers» and «The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover.» Repetitive themes played by exquisite wind instruments and violins created a totally unique atmosphere, which prompted many critics and listeners to herald Nyman as an important musical talent. His course to date has not betrayed them. The multifaceted, tireless Nyman has continued producing scores and operas; diversified for unanticipated projects with artists such as Damon Albarn of the British pop-rock group Blur; performed shows throughout the world; written commissioned work for the Venice Biennale; and exhibited photography – his other major passion. In 1993, Nyman became something of a pop star with the extraordinary popularity of his music to Jane Campion’s film «The Piano.» The soundtrack sold over 4 million copies worldwide, an enormous figure for film music standards. Nyman, on the piano, will be accompanied by a strings quartet, a brass trio, and bass for his upcoming Athens show. The composer first performed with his Michael Nyman Band back in 1976. «My orchestra is my real voice in the sense that it perfectly represents my musical world to listeners,» said Nyman. «The interesting thing about what we’ve created with the orchestra is that we have a repertory that’s self-sufficient, independent. Being a composer, you have a sense of individuality, but you often want to collaborate with other people. You may have your own universe, but to deliver your work best, you need to climb out of your shell and work with others. As I mature, I realize that I need to place myself in a process of exchange. And I’m glad that I have this band. It offers life, passion and energy to my music. As for the repertory at the Athens show, it will consist mainly of soundtrack work. We’re trying to find a balance between audience preferences and the way the composer wants to present his work.» Nyman is widely regarded as a «minimalist composer.» Strangely enough, it is a label he coined back in 1968, prior to his days as a composer, while working as a music critic on an article about the British composer Cornelius Cardew. Nyman, responding to a question on whether he felt that he still belonged to the minimalist field, noted: «The easy way out would be to answer ‘yes’ and move on to the next question. It depends on how one defines minimalism. The interesting thing is that when I described certain composers as minimalists, while working as a music critic, I felt unhappy – probably because artists feel this way when you put tags on them and put them into a box. There is no doubt that those people I described composed in such a way in order to look at music from a new perspective. This was music of a certain direction. My compositions, too, emerged from this perspective. Of course, one changes as one goes along by adding material to his or her music and vocabulary. Even as a minimalist, you can have a more complex musical experience by combining things headed in a certain direction. What once could be described as minimal has outgrown the definition. When, for example, you compose a two-hour opera, can you call it ‘minimal’?» Not long ago, Nyman established his own music label, MNRecords, an initiative which he says helps feed his creativity, because he is free to work on his own terms. «If I were at a major label, I’d be releasing one or two projects a year. I’d put out 10 projects in a decade, but I am now able to put out 10 in a year, if I wish to. The most significant thing I get from MNRecords is that I compose, record and present my work immediately. Nothing gets left in drawers – it doesn’t age,» noted Nyman. «I’m currently preparing two operas and four soundtracks. And my next release will be a birthday present that is two years late for Mozart’s 250th birthday anniversary. It’s a concept album, a post-modern minimalist approach to his work, titled ‘Mozart 252.’ It would have been difficult to do this project had I belonged to a major label’s roster. Also, just a few days ago, I met with a Russian geneticist and an English filmmaker and we discussed a project that combines the results of recent genetic research with the decline of Minoan civilization. We may have something ready within the next 18 months.» Amid all this activity, Nyman performed his first political, anti-war project last year, a commissioned work for the BBC orchestra and choir. It is based on a poem by Jamal Juma, an exiled Iraqi living in Denmark, in which the poet expresses concern about his younger brother who is held hostage by US forces in Iraq and is considered missing. Is this his way of contributing to the protests against the Iraq war? «In recent times, we’ve had pop musicians talk about politics. There’s Bono at the one end, and Live Aid at the other. But all that’s just the icing on the cake. There needs to be a deep connection between artistic work and political issues. Think of the political cabaret of Berlin in the 20s.. . In our times artists are not positioned with a political conscience. The political protest song of the 60s and 70s does not exist, and I don’t see a ‘Guernica’ anywhere. My [anti-war] project, too, was not made so I could change something. It was heard by the audience and a few thousand listeners on the radio. I don’t know what kind of an impact this could have had. The project’s objective was probably nothing more than a way to help me express myself and take a stance on all the horrible things happening around us.» Michael Nyman Band, March 4, Athens, Badminton Theater.