Music was to be only my hobby...
Gazeta Wyborcza , 02.01.2015r.

Music must pass through the ramp.

I never went down below the earlier self-imposed level.

I have a voice recorder full of recordings, I wouldn’t show to anyone. I drive a car with one hand, the second I tap the rhythm and sing something at the same time, or whistle. Then all you need is just to transcribe the score.

Aleksandra Lewińska, Marta Leszczyńska: Where is your house?
Piotr Salaber *: My house is where my heart is (laughs).
Where is your heart?
- Where the music is.
- I lost the sense of this one place. I was born in Wroclaw. Now I live in Warsaw, a few hundred meters from the place where my grandparents lived before the war. In Bydgoszcz I spent my childhood and for many years I have been closely associated with the Academy of Music. But for last eight years I’ve been giving lectures at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow. Diploma of piano I received in Torun, two years of my life I spent traveling all around the world. Today I share my heart between Bydgoszcz and Warsaw. In Bydgoszcz I work. I have an apartment with my grand piano at the Old Square. When I have a lot of work, this is where I hide and compose. But I cannot say that I live here because I don’t spend a big part of the year here.
Longest homelessness?
- Two years spent at sea, at the very beginning of my career. It was 1992. Concert business in Poland broke. It was a time when artists were desperately looking for any job. I left the country when my children were five. And, if I regret anything in life, it's that I did not see them growing. The longest time - half of the year in a row – I spent away from home at the Seychelles, Eastern Africa. But a couple of months I've been also to Indonesia, Bali, Singapore, have sailed around Europe, United States, Mexico.
Do you like this kind of life?
- Now I live differently. But if I could let myself to sail again for 3-4 months, I would make it. It's like a disease, addictive. Each boarding is a great experience.
Please tell us about these two years at sea.
- I worked as a pianist at a very luxurious ships. Small, for only a hundred people. We visited places where large passenger ships wouldn’t go. Sometimes sailed with us people who were not professionally involved with the music, but they knew every note. And they appreciated every nuance.
It would seem that it was playing for less demanding audiences.
- You never know for whom you play. They were wonderful, exceptional people ..
Some famous names?
- I met, for example, the screenwriters of 'Dynasty', I interviewed them for Polish newspaper. It was 1992. Streets were getting empty in Poland, when this show was beginning on TV.
Did you also watch it?
- Sure, when I was in Poland, of course. I admired a beautiful theme by Bill Conti, which opened each episode. I also worked with Brenda Marsh, who appeared in Benny Hill’s Shows. Later, in the US, I had the opportunity to work e.g. with Jill Carr, an actress and singer who starred in the first 13 episodes of "Baywatch".
It wasn’t conducive to family life.
- I divorced.
But there was a gossip that even after the divorce, you and your ex-wife lived together.
- For some time it worked, with shorter or longer intervals. Today, since then it's been 15 years and we live separately, but invariably in good relations and, of course, in touch, because of our children. We have two granddaughters with my ex-wife. You need to live well together.
What do you work on at the moment?
- I just got back from the final mix of the feature film, which is just about to set for release. This production by Witold Orzechowski, who was the author of the screenplay for the cult TV series "The Career of Nicodemus Dyzma" with famous Polish actor – Roman Wilhelmi. After years of producing TV programs Witold is back to the cinema.
We collaborated a lot before tohether.
- He was the creator and producer of programs such as "On Every Topic" where I played with my orchestra. He also produced "The Joker", of which I was co-creator.
In those days, you had the image of the TV showman, not respected composer, as it is today. Didn’t your colleagues accuse you for choosing the easy way?
- Sometimes… My professor of composition sharply criticized me.
Didn’t you have any doubts?
- Then? No. It was an adventure; let me enter the society, to establish contacts with important artists. With a camera I had no problems, became familiar with it since I started playing.
In Opole.
- My beginning was at the Festival of Polish Song and "Debuts" concert, I sang my own song at the piano. Whole Poland watched it. Or, at least a half, because there were only two channels on TV at this time. Now I would rather doubt very much whether to return to television.
- We all have a tendency to pigeonhole people. The image of TV entertainment programs would conflict with some of the major projects, I'm connected with at the moment, at the University, in the theater.
And your personal feeling?
- As long as I would not go for a compromise to flatter the audience, it would be ok.
But on today’s television it is not possible.
- Today is not. But then, when we were doing our program - "Joker", with Wojtek Malajkat, then with Piotrek G±sowski, we were always thinking, that it should be interesting to our friends. High level. Today's TV is different. We wouldn’t get there such autonomy.
Statistics would decide?
- Michał Ogórek once wrote, that the criterion of the amount of the audience is such a factor, according to which two half-wits are more valuable than one intellectual.
Did you get recently any proposals from TV?
- There was an idea to reactivate the program "On every topic." In fact, everything was ready to move. But in the end, Mariusz Szczygieł, the main host decided not to come back, appreciating his present work as a writer. I have to admit that if he decided to start, we would have moved everything.
Going to study music, did you dream about television, film?
- I started my musical education quite late, though with composing I dealt already in high school. I was attending the math and science class. My father, an engineer, he saw me at the Polytechnic. Music was to be only my hobby. But at some point I realized that without it I cannot live, and I passed my exams to the Academy of Music. As my dad saw me on TV in Opole, he gave up the polytechnic.
Let's go back to the film music, you had just finished.
- We made the feature film, entitled a bit provocative - "Women without shame," with a dizzying array of beautiful Polish actresses: Anna Dereszowska, Joasia Liszowska, Agnieszka Warchulska and many others.
How to compose for film?
- I try to be at the shooting, but this is not always possible. In this case, the main theme of the film I composed before the shooting. I decided to make this music in the French style and it influenced the picture somehow. Grzegorz Kędzierski, director of the picture, after hearing my music decided to show Cracow a bit like Paris - roofs, wet pavement. But not always have a chance to compose with a script. Sometimes I make sketches during the shooting. It also happened to me, when Wojciech Adamczyk directed the television series that I just got finished picture. Wojtek gave me a wish list: here Lalo Schifrin parody please and travesty of Bernard Herrmann here. The show was a comedy, so it worked.
Then you have to mix the music with a picture. How does it look?
- We sit in a room resembling a small cinema room, with all the equipment. Except that in the middle, instead of seats, there is a giant soundboard. There is a director, me, of course the sound director. And together, we decide whether there is a fade out of the music here or not, etc. Hard work, several hours a day for two weeks.
Where can you expand your wings better: the theater or the cinema?
- The degree of freedom in the theater is much larger; the film is a company, determined by finances. In the theater, I have an opportunity to express myself better. But it can be very risky. Yes, I remember my last theatrical adventure. I did the music for the three-hour show at the National Theatre in Budapest. It is with a symphony orchestra, all sung and the whole in Hungarian, I conducted during the premiere.
- In Poland, there is a saying: "Hungarians in the audience."
So ...
- No one reacts, no one laughs. We leave the scene; someone says something funny, no reaction. I had also Hungarians on the stage (laughs). It was an "Operetta" by Gombrowicz. I had a Polish text; voice recorder with each phrase recorded in Hungarian. I kept writing this music for a year.
Did it work successfully?
- I think so. A few weeks ago, the show won the Grand Prix at the XI International Gombrowicz Festival in Poland.
Do you sit in the audience at the premiere?
- I sit down, although I know that directors very often do not watch their performances. They claim that they wouldn’t stand it and at some point they would stand up and shout to get the lights corrected. There is only one of my premieres I did not see. It was the "Career of Arturo Ui" in Gdynia, directed by Wojciech Adamczyk.
- Wojtek’s idea was to have a 45-minute film as part of the show. With the help of such systems as on a sailboat, we were able to construct a screen that was sliding down and up the stage. And the problem was that it wasn’t working every single time. So we were so nervous that we spent all the time in front of the theater. We drank vodka from the open trunk of my car and smoked cigars. So, in the final moment we were called to the scene, and we walked in with the cigars. But luckily, everything worked perfectly.
Do you have a favorite spectator? The one you write for?
- Music must establish a dialogue with the listener, if the song is not communicative - does not exist. Must "pass through the ramp," as we say in the theater. Emotions that arise in me at the stage of writing, they must survive on the recording, and finally, during the performance. I experienced it the most in St. Petersburg, at the Drama Theatre on the Vasilievski Ostrov. The show was over and for ten seconds, no one clapped. You could have heard only people crying in the darkness. I went out into the foyer. A 70-year-old usher came to me - "Beautiful piece, just feel so sorry for the boy" – she said and also started to cry. This is my audience. But it is also, as says Andrzej Bubień, director who has been working for last seven years in Russia: "If we succeed, we will manage to do a very unpleasant performance again ". The idea is to move the people’s hearts.
Plans for the next five years?
- Well, yes. If you would like to make the God laugh, tell him about your plans...
Let’s make….
- I would like to make music for the next movie. And because that one we have done now is a comedy, I dream to make the next one very serious. I also have a suspended project that I care about. Five years ago, we started working on a new version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". With Monica Cruz, sister of Penelope, Christopher Lee, and a dizzying array of Hollywood actors. Pictures were to be filmed in Poland and Hungary, the vaults of Notre Dame were to be in Wieliczka, all documentation was made. I've already written the first pieces of music, the costumes were created, props. After three months, the two main producers had a fight; the project was suspended, although it won the prestigious Hollywood screenplay contest for the best adaptation of the classic prose. I think there is still a chance.
Did you lack inspiration anytime?
- Lucky me, no. This is the question of my dad, engineer: where these ideas come from, son? I say: 'Daddy, it happens to be the smallest problem.
Would you improve any of your compositions?
- All of them (laughs). But seriously: I think it's a part of professional integrity to do everything as good, as we can at the moment. Of course, there are things that I would do differently today, but I don’t have such a project, which I would say that it is a total disaster. Maybe, because I never went down below the earlier self-imposed level.
Musical ideas arise ....
- Everywhere. I have a voice recorder full of recordings, which I wouldn’t show to anyone. I drive a car with one hand; the second I tap the rhythm and sing something at the same time, or whistle. Then all you need is just to transcribe the score.
The main theme for the world premiere of "The Horizon" I wrote on a plane, on a napkin. When I landed in Russia, they were just shooting the television program about our, completely different premiere. By chance, talking with the director, I pulled this napkin out. And I could not have explained it to television people, that it was for another show I'm working on at the same time. They necessarily wanted to shoot as I carefully unfold it on the piano and discuss it with the director.
The further step of orchestration idea and writing the score, preparation for recordings need to turn off the life and work in the regime, almost clerical.
It is hard to imagine.
- I'll help: I get up at 7:30, I drink coffee, I work for a few hours. At 3 p.m. I eat something; I go out for a while and go back to the evening work. And every day the same…
What do you listen to at home?
- Nothing. All turn off. I find it hard to listen to music unconsciously. Even while listening to language lessons I have a problem.
- Once I came back from Mexico and someone suggested me learning Spanish in a new way, by ear. I had a demo lesson. I put on the headphones; there were words and music. After while I took headphones off - and how? – they asked. And all the time I wondered why the note in the bass line goes a half step up in the seventh bar, instead of going down, because it was illogical. This is the problem with a professional listening; it can not be turned off.
How do you rest?
- Scuba diving. It’s been my passion for twenty years. Under the water is so pleasantly quiet.

* Piotr Salaber - composer, pianist, conductor. Most of his work is theater and film music. Born in Wroclaw, he spent his youth in Bydgoszcz, graduated from the Academy of Music. He was music director of the Polish Theatre. The popularity earned him TV shows. Since 2000, he appeared with his orchestra on a talk show by Mariusz Szczygieł - "On Every Topic" and since 2003 - was co-host of the "Joker" - TV4. From his travels around the world he wrote series of reportages. He is 48 years old.

Aleksandra Lewińska, Marta Leszczyńska


All rights reserved - (c) copyright Piotr Salaber