Composer Peter Salem has now twice set the plays of Tennessee Williams to music for ballet. Most recently with Camino Real, and also in A Streetcar Named Desire which will be performed by Nashville Ballet this week.
Salem is best known for composing music for the BBC show Call The Midwife, though American audiences may be more familiar with the film The Other Boleyn Girl. Ahead of is visit to Nashville this week he answered these six questions for us.
Did you always know you wanted to be a composer? Or did you come to composition more gradually through your instrument?
I always wanted to write music as a child and loved improvising at the piano. I remember making some very basic efforts at composition at the age of about 8 and have been doodling ever since! There was a time when I thought I might study the violin seriously but at around 16 I decided to focus more on composing music and went on to study composition at University.
Tell us about a favorite music teacher who inspired you.
My upper-school music teacher did help to open up the world of contemporary classical music to me but I think I learned and was inspired most by the youth orchestra I played with from the age of 14. This was free and was part of a music teaching system which provided free instrumental lessons to anyone in our county. It played a huge range of music: Michael Tippet wrote for us and on one occasion conducted us; and the whole team of conductors and teachers made making and creating music seem like the most natural thing in the world.
What music do you like to listen to?
Anything from renaissance violin music to indie rock.
Which composer do you wish the world knew better?
Salamone Rossi, Ben Frost, Roberto Gerhard
Tennessee Williams’s text is so often described as musical. How do you retain that character in these emotional stories without actually using any of the words?
I think emotional is the critical word here – the plays are powerful, sensitive and big-hearted and seem to lend themselves very well to musical treatment. The rhythm or musicality of the text is not something I have tried to emulate in the music though throughout much of Tennessee Williams’ writing there seems to be an undercurrent of blues and jazz which clearly I take on in this ballet.
What’s a story that you would love to set to music (for ballet, film, or otherwise)?
I’ve worked on a theatrical adaptation of Anna Karenina which I think would be a great subject for a ballet. War and Peace as well.
A Streetcar Named Desire with Nashville Ballet opens on Friday, Nov 1 at TPAC.