Piotr Anderszewski drew the attention of the
classical world in 1990 when, after performing
Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations in the semifinals
of the Leeds competition, he abruptly walked off
stage in mid-performance of Webern’s Variations, Op. 27. Regardless, the pianist’s career
was launched. Myriad abums and recitals later,
Anderszewski remains a musician’s musician
and an artist’s artist, meticulously approaching
music and projects that speak to him. Anderszewski recently took a sabbatical and made
a film, Warsaw Is My Name, about the city of
his birth and the city he loves. His forthcoming
album of Mozart and Schumann Fantasies is
Fantaisies (Warner); a deluxe version of the
album will include the Warsaw film as well.
You recently took a sabbatical
from performing. Is this something you planned far in advance
or something that crept up on you
and you felt you needed to do?
Well I’ve taken even longer
periods without playing concerts
before. It’s something that has to
be considered in advance because
otherwise you end up canceling
lots of concerts. So you have
to plan it a year and a half, two
years in advance.
So what did you do with this time
off—which has now come to an
end, I believe?
Well I directed a small film about
Warsaw, the city where I was
born. I was shooting and directing the movie.
What was your focus for this film?
I focused on my own, very personal perception of this city. I have a very great attachment
to this place, and it’s also a very painful
place for me because of its history. So this
movie’s very much a personal reflection and a
personal poem about the city. There is no text,
there is no real story, there was no scenario
[plot]. Basically I went to Warsaw and spent
some days there with the camera, and I was
shooting places that spoke to me in that
moment, that somehow I could imagine in a
frame. It’s very interesting when you shoot,
you have three-hundred-sixty degrees around
you. Obviously the camera can capture
whatever is in the frame, often without the
context of what is around. It’s a very interesting exercise to imagine and then see what
picture will speak, will actually say something,
ja So the whole movie was just shooting a
lot and the real action, the real drama of the
movie was created during editing — and that
was my initial idea.
Was editing film a new experience for you?
Not completely new, because I contributed
some editing to documentaries that were
done on me [Bruno Monsaingeon’s Voyageur
intranquille and Piotr Andersewski Plays the
Diabelli Variations] so I participated in the
process of editing there. And the process
of editing is something that interests me.
In music, I edit my own CDs. It’s all about
architecture, really, you know?
Were there discoveries that you made during
this process of literally taking a lens to
You know what surprised me? Of course
when you film in that way you have to expect
that there will be accidents and what surprised
see was how often the accidents that happened
were actually positive. You shoot something
and let’s say someone accidentally passes by
in front of your lens and you sort of swear at
them that they’ve ruined your shot, but then
the second after you realize that’s exactly
what you needed. So you have to be open to
accidents in life. Since, as I said, this was a
movie without a precise, planned narrative,
but rather shooting life itself in the city, it’s
just a matter of having an open eye to what’s
really happening around you and let events
around you speak for themselves. So that was
the surprise for me, that these accidents were
ultimately quite inspiring.
What’s not an accident comes later, in the editing room, when you have to take these
shots and put them in a context and put
them together. Why would these men
passing through your frame for these
few seconds actually make sense? There
the accidents stop and where I start
the very conscious and precise work
of putting these images together and
finding a narration that makes sense.
And first and foremost I’m a musician.
And so of course I put a soundtrack
behind it. And the interaction of the
sound and the film creates the narration — ultimately an abstract, musical
narration. The film is only thirty-six
minutes, but thirty-six minutes without
words practically — there were two
football fans I captured for their sound,
set over another image — but there’s no
story, it’s not a documentary. And that
was very much my intention.
How did creating this film differ from,
say, curating a recital program?
For recitals, I have so much experience, I
have such an exigence and perfectionism that
stands in the way of any kind of decision, very
often. I’m very indecisive and I feel this huge
responsibility. When you play Carnegie Hall,
for example, you have twenty-eight hundred
people and I want to speak to this audience
and convey something very personal. And
the recital is just a moment: the moment you
play your phrase, it disappears. It’s a very cool
thing. The film for me was easier because it’s
not my profession —
It relieved you of the burden of expectation.