Thursday, October 27, 2011:A Composer’s Notes

Composer Petr Malásek shares a few notes on writing music

A Composer’s Notes

“I’m a traditional composer. I use a pencil and eraser and sit at the piano.

“And the eraser is even more important than the pencil!”

Petr Malásek, composer of the State Opera ballet’s music for The Phantom of the Opera, is divulging a few composer’s secrets to Opus Osm. Overhead there are loud thumps, a few bangs. And an occasional, eerie creak.

But it’s only the stagehands at work, setting up for this dress rehearsal. We’re down in the catacombs, in the conductor’s room at the State Opera.

Suddenly there’s a sound eerily like heavy chains being dragged across the floor overhead. But Mr Malásek continues cheerfully, explaining that his musical score for this ballet comprises a total of 500 pages, all, of course, in pencil.

A lot goes on behind - and under - the stage at this Phantom's venue, the State Opera

Would-be composers should note that Mr Malásek, who studied at the Prague Conservatory and HAMU, spends a lot of time thinking about the music before he even begins to write down the notes. “You have to have time for writing music,” he explains. Significantly, compared to the thinking part, “Writing takes less than half of that time,” he says.

The award-winning writer of music for film, television, and the stage adds that deadline pressure is his best motivator for getting the work finished. His system must work, because he’s written well over a hundred titles, plays jazz on stage and at festivals, collaborates with choreographer Libor Vaculík as often as possible, and performs as the pianist for legendary Czech singer Hana Hegerová.

He says that writing music for film is more difficult than for something like this ballet. Of course, film music must be timed to the precise second and the visuals, whereas writing for Phantom “is freer,” and he can call upon his own fantasy and imagination.

Setting up for dress rehearsal of The Phantom of the Opera

Mr Malásek says he’s lucky to be teamed with Libor Vaculík for this ballet; the two have collaborated on a dozen or so ballets in the past.

“Currently we’re trying to find a theme” for a new work, he says. “He always has a good clue to a topic.”

Their challenge is for the duo is to transform one of their pieces from 10 years ago. They want to change it from a ballet with a little bit of singing into an opera with a little bit of dancing.

He suspects that this new piece might be leaning more towards a rock opera than the traditional form.

But at the moment, his pencil is still hard at work – and so is the eraser. – oo

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Miroslav Setnička

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