From Poland to Haifa, Preisner performs his music
Tall, athletic, slightly grizzled, sipping a cup of espresso and smoking a red pipe he refills constantly, Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner looks like a cross between a handyman who can fix everything a klutz like you canât and a guy youâd see sitting at a European cafe at 11 in the morning.
That may sound like an odd mixture, but Preisner, an acclaimed composer and conductor who is the guest of honor at the 34th Haifa International Film Festival, which runs through October 1, and who won its Award for Outstanding Artistic Contribution to World Cinema, is an unusual man. Exuding a Humphrey Bogart toughness, he is a selftaught classical music composer who has written for the movies for years, outlasting the Soviet regime and the ups and downs of the Polish film industry to triumph with his scores for some of the most important European movies of all time.
He has won dozens of awards, including the Silver Bear from the Berlin Film Festival.
Particularly notable is his collaboration with the late master Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski, and one of the highlights of this yearâs film festival will be Preisnerâs chamber music concert on September 29 at 8:30 p.m. He will conduct music he composed for Kieslowskiâs movies, including the Three Colors trilogy (the films Blue, White and Red) and The Double Life of Veronique, as well as a segment from his Requiem for My Friend, which was written for Kieslowski. The concert will feature soprano Edyta KrzemieÅ and Konrad MastyÅo on piano, as well as the singers of the Israeli Opera Choir under the direction of the chorus master Ethan Schmeisser.
Clips from Kieslowskiâs fi lms will be shown during the event.
Preisner said that he met Kieslowski âby accidentâ in 1984, but that the two hit if off immediately, at least once he convinced the film director â" over a few vodkas â" that he wasnât just a flaky musician who wrote music for cabaret revues and that he could be trusted to be punctual and precise.
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âOnce, at the Zurich airport, we bought the same watch and synchronized it.â
The two collaborated on 17 films altogether.
âHe gave me more and more creative freedom as the years went on.â
Eventually, Kieslowski would give the composer his scripts and let him begin composing even before the movie was finished, an unusual practice.
Generally, composers score a movie only after it is finished.
âIn The Double Life of Veronique, the script said that Veronique is singing a beautiful song,â he said. âIt didnât say what kind of song, how long, how she sang, what it was about. I decided. This is the way we made films together. He believed in meâ¦ he even mentioned me as a co-writer.â
Preisner has worked with many other directors, including Louis Malle, Hector Babenco and Agnieszka Holland. Besides his classical music, Preisner has collaborated with Pink Floydâs David Gilmour on albums and concerts.
But getting to summit of European cinema wasnât easy for a kid from a small Polish town with no music school who was born in the mid-1950s.
Although he loved music, âI decided to be a serious guy and studied history and philosophy.â
It took him a few months to âget soberâ and realize that he needed to learn all he could about music. He said that he was inspired by a quote from Baudelaire, who said, âThe better an artist you want to become, the more you need to studyâ so that a lack of knowledge doesnât get in the way.
Since there was no place to study formally, he taught himself to read and writ e music by playing albums he loved over and over. But just acquiring the technical tools was not enough to make him a composer, he said.
âNo school can teach you how to compose or structure a composition. Either you were born with it, or you were not.â
Clearly, he did have that inborn talent, and eventually he gravitated to cinema.
âI always liked movies,â recalled Preisner, noting that the first film he ever saw was a âYugoslavian Western about Indians,â since movies from outside the Soviet bloc were forbidden.
He recalls seeing Italian classics such as the films of Antonioni in underground screenings, as well as One Flew Over the Cuckooâs Nest, directed by Czech emigre Milos Forman.
Those were the days when citizens of the USSR countries were stuck behind the Iron Curtain, and when A Short History of Killing, one of the first films he scored for Kieslowski, was shown at Cannes in 1988, Preisner did not get a visa to leave Poland and attend the fil m festival.
The tide turned after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but Preisner said that at no time did he consider leaving Poland.
âItâs my country, why should I leave my country?â he said, adding that filmmakers did a delicate dance during the Cold War era to confound the censors, âsaying things in a poetic way that went over the headsâ of the bureaucrats charged with policing the arts.
Preisner, who disdains discordant avant-garde music, does mix electronic music with symphonic music in some of his recent compositions, but said that, âFor me, music is melody.
A composer must find his style. He must know where he is going.â
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