Per Tengstrand is a Swedish pianist, making his home in Princeton, New Jersey.
The most important thing is to tell a story you care about.
During the pandemic, as happened with all musicians, concerts got cancelled and staying at home was a must, not a choice. Concert trips to Belgium, Scotland, Colombia and of course Sweden were cancelled never to come back. After some time, I found it necessary to find an outlet for the creative will that I had. Compose? Not my talent. Stream concerts? It was done by so many and felt like a somewhat lifeless comparison to the real thing.
Instead, I chose to make a Schubert documentary at home, with whatever camera and other equipment I had. It was done in three parts, and the reactions I got from people of all ages and from all over the world touched me and made all the work worth it.
Now, we are back at performing again, but I got a taste of what it can mean to tell a story with a camera instead of a piano. I will never stop telling stories with my hands and a grand piano, but I wanted to continue on the path of making music documentaries, now with a real budget, better equipment and the freedom of travel.
Having said that, there is no better education than making a film with the smallest of means. Because at the heart of everything is to tell a story that means something to you, and by extension those who are watching.
I’ll correct myself. The story has to mean a LOT to you.
Beethoven’s music has been a part of my life since I played “Fur Elise” when I was six. The last twenty years, his music has been ever present, in cycles with the complete sonatas and concertos. I will never forget the letter I received after playing, I think, the Appassionata in one of those cycles. It was a man who had recently lost his wife, and could not recover from it. He was given a ticket to the concert as a gift from friends, and he went, reluctantly. He wrote to me that listening to Beethoven’s music made him want to live for real again, it gave him the strength and hope nothing else had managed to give him.
Although that story is not in the film, it signifies the heart of it. How music, and in this case Beetoven’s music, can give us strength, a strength from within that we most often did not know we had. I could make a film about how research shows how music affects the brain’s limbic system, which handles emotions and memories. But that is not this film. I want to tell the story through music and through people.
When you make a film, you have to love your characters. And even though, as I write this, there are only two (there will be many more), I certainly do. Hana Mundiya is the perfect violinist and human being to represent the Kreutzer Sonata. A small violin stands up to a huge grand piano. It breaks out of the common view as an underling, and grabs power against the odds. But nothing is given for free, but is achieved with imagination, hard work and confidence, all of which Hana is a great example of. Julius Varallyay has a remarkable life story, and when I met him I was completely taken by his energy and his passion. I can watch him talk about the Egmont Overture and its role in the Hungarian revolution of 1956 again and again, and I never get tired of it.
Of course, there is a vision of a film being made like a piece of good music: it has rhythm, it has movements, it brings us emotions with its people, the camera work and the editing. But at the front, is always the story. This is the story of how Beethoven’s music can give all of us an inner strength we did not know we possessed.