Joanna Marsh

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

Although I have composed from as far back as I can remember, I went into teaching and organ playing after university, as I had no role model in composition and no understanding of how a person would forge a career doing that. It really was Judith Bingham, who I met in my thirties, who helped me make the transition to being a professional composer. She had a very practical and down to earth approach but she was also very inspiring and I felt a strong affinity with the way she thought about music.

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?

I find that as a composer living in Dubai, I need to be highly proactive. You can’t sit around waiting for commissions to find you, you need to think up interesting projects and connect with people who can help make them happen. And actually it has been challenging living in a society that has no government funded performing arts sector as the priorities of a nation do largely filter down from the top. There are no professional orchestras or musical institutions in Dubai so the natural places for a composer to find work don’t exist. Things are subtly changing but Islamic Art and local Arabic Music will always be first in line for attention, which is probably as it should be.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

The commitment and investment of others in a work is often very helpful. Composing is very solitary and although there may be collaboration at the point where you meet the performers at the first rehearsal, generally you spend many hours alone in a room working on the music, thinking hard and crafting ideas. A commissioner will provide an initial direction for these ideas through the occasion of the performance and musical forces offered. And then of course, they provide the most helpful thing of all, a deadline! I have been lucky enough in that no commissioner has got in the way of the piece so far. I have colleagues who have had their commissioners move the goalposts during the compositional process (actually we need a different length, sorry it needs to be for strings not brass…!), which can really create havoc.

How do commissions generally come about?

Lots of different ways. Sometimes people have heard something of yours that they like and get in touch. It is usually the performers in this case. But sometimes you happen across people looking for a way to mark a special occasion or anniversary who may not be the actual players. You suggest some ideas and it dawns on them that creating a piece of meaningful art could give relevance and immediacy to something they care about. Always at some point in the process ideas are discussed that catch a spark of excitement that lead the potential commissioner to think this work should definitely go ahead, and you should be the one to do it.

With my last piece, Rupert Gough, Director of Choral Music at Royal Holloway, came to performance of Act 1 of my opera My Beautiful Camel with National Opera Studio last May. That work was in collaboration with David Pountney who wrote the libretto from a story I had devised. Rupert mentioned that they were looking to commission a piece about the suffragette Emily Davison, who was an alumni of the college, for a date in January with the London Mozart Players. I remember excitedly telling David, who instantly poured forth a number of fantastic ideas for a choral depiction of the famous Epsom Derby incident. I could see that a musical record of the entire occasion and its aftermath could make a very interesting cantata and indeed it captured the imagination of Royal Holloway so they decided to go ahead.

You’ve collaborated with librettist David Pountney to create a work which celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, which first gave women the right to vote. Can you tell us a little more about the piece?

The cantata ‘Pearl of Freedom’ tells the story of suffragette Emily Davison’s ultimately fatal collision with the King’s horse Amner at the 1913 Epsom Derby. It opens with words that Emily Davison wrote in her diary about her passion for women’s suffrage. She uses the expression ‘Pearl of Freedom’ to refer to the prize that she was seeking, women getting the vote.

David created a text from original sources, juxtaposing factual elements from the day (the horses names, the riders, their numbers, their colours etc), with Emily Davison’s state of mind. He also includes commentary from various contemporary voices including King George V, the police sergeant on duty who listed Emily’s recovered possessions, and the Press. The only bit of text he invented is the race commentary before the collision between Emily Davison and the King’s horse Amner. He wrote this section in the style of Peter Bromley, a race commentator of a slightly later era, because no such live commentaries exist from this period.

Emily Davison was regarded as a loose canon within the Suffragette movement. Her militancy and extremism had considerably alienated the public. The work opens with jagged rising line of unison strings suggesting the intensity and turbulence of Emily Davison’s state of mind as she prepared and carried out her plan. She evidently knew that her actions would be far-reaching as she had commented to a friend that they should look at the press the following day. Her purchase of a return ticket to the Derby suggests that she was not planning to endanger herself fatally, however. The piece is around 20 minutes long and the final episode of the piece is devoted to Emily’s funeral, which was a very large scale public affair with 50 thousand people in attendance. The music of this section takes the form of a funeral march based around one of the hymns that was sung on the day “Nearer my God to Thee” with echoing quotes from Chopin Funeral March which was played throughout the procession.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

It’s easier for a composer to explain the intentions behind the creative process than to describe the outcome, which is the listener’s experience. But there are a few general points. For example I am certainly drawn towards tonality. I like the gravitational pull of it but always try to look for a means of expression that is not the obvious. I also enjoy using snap-shots of ideas or idioms from old or ancient musical works that can impart flavour but take off in a different direction in my own music. Development is important to me, I aim to find a strong idea and work it through fully in a piece. Clarity of structure is critical. An interesting or quirky idiom is just an empty costume when there is no actual body to inhabit it. And line is essential, it carries the energy that is the piece.

How do you work?

I work best with a deadline that is not too far away, or at least with some mini-deadlines to help me measure out the time! Usually I find a long time needs to be set aside for the pre-compositional process. This is when the idea of what the piece is going to be gradually appear as if out of the mist. When I start the actual writing I always find that the first two minutes seem to take an inordinately long time, much longer than any other section of the piece. It feels like ploughing a furrow for the very first time. After that the composing seems to move on much quicker, probably because the ideas to be developed further are distilled by then. And I always have to remind myself not to panic as I start to get to the end of a piece. Endings are difficult. They feel like bringing a plane into land; too easy to make a bumpy landing and you really don’t want to crash.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

You need to be open to what life brings you in the most general terms. We can all get a bit fixated on what we think our careers should look like and look to our contemporaries for a benchmark. It is not helpful. Don’t just think of the next thing coming up as the real opportunity, better than what you are doing now. What you have on your plate NOW is the opportunity; focus on that and the future will take care of itself.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I have been surprised by how much I have enjoyed living in the Middle East and I hope my connections here will still be alive and well regardless of whether or not I am still living here. Otherwise really I just want to be getting up each morning excited about the projects on my desk. That would be more than enough to ask for.

31st January sees the world premiere of ‘Pearl of Freedom’ by Joanna Marsh, a cantata which tells the story of suffragette Emily Davison and her death at the Epsom Derby under the King’s Horse. This coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act of 1918, in which women first gained the right to vote. 

 


 

www.joannamarsh.co.uk

World-renowned Hungarian pianist Gergely Bogányi is the ambitious innovator behind a project to create a completely new instrument, and the focus of the revolutionary Bogányi piano is on the clearest, boldest, premium quality sound possible.

Gergely Bogány kindly completed my Meet the Artist questionnaire in which he discusses his motivation for designing a new piano, and his many other influences and inspirations.

(© Zengafons 2015)
(© Zengafons 2015)

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

I grew up in a very musical family.  We were always listening to music. Mostly Bach, as my father played the organ.  He was the leader of several choruses at the time, and the singers were always coming round to our house to rehearse. My mother plays and teaches the piano and she taught me too. My siblings and I grew to love music very much thanks to our parents.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Liszt! And, of course, Chopin. Later on, I got to know the music of Dohnanyi, the genius Hungarian composer and pianist. There aren’t many recordings of him playing, but still I can say that it inspired me very much. By listening to LP recordings when I was studying some 15 years ago, I discovered the music and piano playing of musicians like Rachmaninov and Cortot.   As a pianist, Rachmaninov made a deep impression and the musical interpretations of Alfred Cortot are the pinnacle.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Two answers: every concert is the greatest challenge, because each time I seek to transmit a message, as communication is key to be a performer, and each time, we have to manage a different piano, for good or bad, and get the best out of it.  This is where my obsession with creating my own idea of a “perfect” piano came from and the subsequent development of the Bogány Piano.

Technically speaking, my greatest challenge took place in 2010 at the Palace of Arts in Budapest when I performed every piano work that Chopin composed in a marathon over two days with ten recitals. One recital “dose” of his beautiful and powerful music just didn’t feel enough.  I was craving more and also imagined that audiences felt the same way too.  I hope that they went away with a great appreciation of his music after 10 doses.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Of about 20 recordings, I can’t single out any one CD in particular, but I can say that there are moments and tracks, which I feel are acceptable. One of my proudest recording moments was recording the full Chopin marathon for live broadcast to celebrate the composer’s 200th anniversary.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I enjoy playing romantic repertoire as much as playing Mozart.  I don’t specialise in performing the work of any particular composer, but if I would have to pick one, I would say Liszt. He has set an example to me both personally and musically.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I simply choose to play what I like.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

As a performer, I believe that we need to be able and prepared the transmit the music’s message in any condition. If a concert hall enables and supports this, then I am happy. It’s difficult to single out one specific favourite venue, as fortunately there are many excellent concert venues. However, I would like to point out the Great Hall of the Liszt Academy, not because of its ultimate superiority, but because the venue contains the successful combination of both excellent acoustics as well as its beauty. It has been created by instinct and not based on factual calculations.

What do you consider to be most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I would like to advise future musicians to concentrate on exploring the music in great depth and forget about all the hype about building a career.

What was the main motivation for designing a new piano?

Having performed for years in the world’s most renewed concert halls, I played with a sound I had in mind, that was different from what I heard when I was playing. My search to look for a more beautiful, harmonious and flowing sound, was the motivation to start experimenting with the sound board on my own piano and to bridge the gap between the sound in my head and the sound I was actually hearing.

What makes this new instrument unique and special?

The Bogányi Piano looks like a traditional piano in a special new design, but the technical details and use of modern materials makes it unique. The sound-board is made of multi-layered carbon-fibre with a rippled surface that is sprung and detached from the piano frame. Making use of that material makes the piano resistant to exterior conditions like heat, humidity, cold, damp and dryness and prevent the soundboard from breakage. More importantly, the sound of the piano is very powerful and round, which is acoustically supported by the design of two legs (instead of normally three) that act as a reflector to enhance the sound towards the audience.

11-boganyi-piano©jarailaszlo

Where would you like to be in 1 years’ time?

I would like to come across the Bogányi piano in unexpected places across the globe.

What is your present state of mind?

I always try to be humble, intelligible and very passionate. That is what I am aiming for.

The Boganyi Piano

Gergely Bogányi is a born musician, from a musical Hungarian family. His brilliant technique, coupled with a deeply expressed, artistic interpretation has made him an outstanding international performer. Born in Vác, Hungary, he began playing the piano at the age of four. He continued his studies at the Liszt Academy in Budapest with László Baranyay. He also studied at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki with Professor Matti Raekallio, and at the university of Indiana in Bloomington with Professor György Sebök.

He participated in several master classes by Annie Fischer and Ferenc Rados. Among his professors he fondly remembers Annie Fischer who made a deep impression upon his art. She instructed him regularly and was a cherished mentor until her death.

From a young age, Gergely Bogányi has had success in several national and international competitions. He won a prize at the national piano competition in Nyíregyháza at the age of six, and three years later he won top prize there. 

In Helsinki he was a three-time winner of the Finnish radio “Helmi Vesa Competition.” He won first prizes in both the Chopin and the Mozart competitions in Budapest in 1993, and Indiana University’s music competition in 1994. In 1996 he earned the gold Medal at the “International Franz

Liszt Competition” in Budapest, one of the most distinguished piano competitions in the world.At the exceptionally young age of 22, Gergely Bogányi was appointed a citizen of honor in his native town of Vác. In 2000 he was awarded the “Liszt Prize” by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage in Hungary. In 2002 he was also presented the “Cross of Merit of the White Rose” of Finland by the President of the Finnish Republic. In 2004 he received the “Kossuth Prize” from the President of the Hungarian Republic, the highest artistic award of his native country. In November 2010 he was awarded a unique “Art Citizenship/ Chopin year” passport by the Polish government.

 

(photo credit: Gareth Barton)
(photo credit: Gareth Barton)

Violinist Fenella Humphreys and pianist Nicola Eimer celebrate the 150th anniversaries of Jean Sibelius and Carl Nielsen in a concert combining works for violin and piano by these two composers, together with new works by contemporary composers.

Alongside works by Sibelius and Nielsen, the duo will premiere a new set of five pieces composed on the footprint of Sibelius’s Five Pieces op.81 by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Alasdair Nicolson, Matthew Taylor, David Knotts and Anthony Powers.

Programme

Jean Sibelius: 4 Pieces for violin & piano, Op.115
Cheryl Frances-Hoad: New work for PUR 4 Feb 2015 after Sibelius’ 5 Pieces for violin & piano, Op.81
Alasdair Nicholson: New work for PUR 4 Feb 2015 after Sibelius’ 5 Pieces for violin & piano, Op.81
David Knotts: New work for PUR 4 Feb 2015 after Sibelius’ 5 Pieces for violin & piano, Op.81knotts da
Matthew Taylor: New work for PUR 4 Feb 2015 after Sibelius’ 5 Pieces for violin & piano, Op.81
Anthony Powers: New work for PUR 4 Feb 2015 after Sibelius’ 5 Pieces for violin & piano, Op.81
Jean Sibelius: Sonatina in E for violin & piano, Op.80
Interval
Carl Nielsen: Violin Sonata No.2 in G, Op.35

The concert takes place on 4th February 2015 at the Purcell Room, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre. Further information and tickets here

‘Fenella Humphreys responds to its elegiac reflection and technical display at top flight level’ (Orchestral Choice CD, 5* BBC Music Magazine)

‘Nicola Eimer is an outstanding artist’ (The Strad Magazine)

Last weekend I gave a concert in a church in Chiswick. The audience was small, but they listened attentively and seemed genuinely engaged by the music. All except one person (someone who is connected to me through marriage – but not, I hasten to add, my husband!) , who talked throughout the entire performance. This was extremely discourteous, not only to me but also to the other members of the audience. Luckily, it didn’t put me off my playing, but I was aware of the talking during the quieter passages of my programme.

Extraneous noise at concerts – coughing, unwrapping sweets, rustling programmes, whistling hearing aids, talking – is the bane of the performer, and the concert-goer. In her latest book Sleeping in Temples, pianist and writer Susan Tomes devotes a whole chapter to the subject of coughing and audience noise in general (she wittily calls the chapter ‘Bullfrogs’) and the blogosphere was alive with exclamations and hand-wringing not long ago when violinist Kyung Wah Chung berated the parents of a young child who coughed during her recent concert at London’s Southbank Centre.

The popularity of smartphones has added another irritant to concerts – people taking photographs, filming and texting during the performance: a couple of years ago, I watched most of the second half of a concert by Yuja Wang through the video app of someone’s iPhone. The illuminated screen can be disturbing to other concert-goers, and if you are texting or browsing the internet during a performance, it suggests you are not concentrating fully on the music, which is just plain discourteous to the musicians who have spent hours upon unpaid hours in rehearsal to bring this wonderful music to you.

A curious dichotomy exists in the world of live classical music concerts. Tradition and concert etiquette dictate that we sit in hushed reverence during the performance, stifle coughing and generally attempt to be extremely quiet. This enables us to concentrate on the music and avoids unnecessary distractions for the performers. Yet, as John Cage proved in his work 4’33”, in a concert hall there is no such thing as “absolute silence” – for people are living, breathing, moving….. For performers, the sound of the audience can be extremely helpful, and most of us who perform actively enjoy the sound of the audience listening and engaging with the music (I also really like that “collective sigh” that seems to come at the end of a fine performance, before the applause, almost like a giant cat uncurling and stretching). It undoubtedly adds to the excitement of a live performance and reminds us that the music we play is intended to be shared with others. I love being at, or giving a concert where one has a strong sense of the the audience listening very carefully, that sense of combined concentration.

Of course, people can’t help coughing (go to a concert in London in the winter, and there is often a veritable cacophony of raucous coughing and nose-blowing), or moving in their seats, or turning the pages of the programme, but whispering and talking, tapping away or filming on a smartphone, or fidgeting is just plain rude in my opinion.

Returning to the badly behaved talker at my concert, my page-turner, who also noticed it, told me afterwards that when not concentrating on the music, she fixed the person in question with a basilisk stare.

Audiences behaving badly

Susan Tomes on the subject of coughing

Coughing and the Art of Concert Etiquette

AndrewEales

What is your first memory of the piano?

I was seven years old. My older sister was taking lessons. I had double-pneumonia, and was recovering in bed. I remember hearing her playing and wishing I could learn too.

Who or what inspired you to start teaching?

A friend of mine was a classroom music teacher. He asked me to give lessons to one of his sixth form students, who had self-taught up to about grade six, but with major flaws in his playing. I was working for EMI Classics and commuting to London – which I hated. So I gave the student an evening lesson, and fairly instantly knew that I had found my vocation.

Who were your most memorable/significant teachers?

I was lucky to have several outstanding teachers. My first teacher was quite scary, and had a reputation for shouting at students, but having made a decision that I wanted to grow up to be a great musician I was happy to take my chances with her. In fact she was always tender and encouraging with me, although she did periodically wander off to another part of the house to shout at her husband! When I told her I liked Grieg, she said that when I grew up I would prefer Sibelius. When I said I had enjoyed hearing Bizet’s ‘Carmen’, she announced that in a few years time I would like Wagner. I think she recognised that I was musically inquisitive and deliberately goaded me, but she knew exactly what she was doing and before long my musical taste grew in many new directions. When I was eleven I won a music scholarship to boarding school, and as a parting gift she gave me a copy of ‘The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book’, an unusual present for sure. That seed lay dormant for many years, but remains one of my favourite possessions in terms of sentimental value.

Many years later I was studying for my music degree at Birmingham University. David Ponsford was assigned to teach me the harpsichord, and he had a very profound influence on me. Of all my teachers he is the one I feel most indebted to, and following on from those lessons I chose to specialise and study the Early Music course at the RCM, where I learnt with Robert Woolley.

My final piano teacher was Joseph Weingarten, the Hungarian concert pianist. He had studied with Dohnanyi at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest before coming to the UK in 1934. There was a clear sense that he was connected to this incredible heritage, that his teaching was authoritative, and yet he was so supportive and gently encouraging. He had a perfect balance there, which I can only attempt to emulate!

Who or what are the most important influences on your teaching?

The biggest influence is actually my love for the music itself, and all it communicates. And by that I include music from a wide range of traditions, not just classical. When I hear great music I am just inspired, and want to share it with others, so that informs my teaching from one day to the next. For me, music is an incredible journey of discovery – and my students are also on their own journey, so it’s a privilege to share that and play a part.

My wife Louise works in child and adolescent psychiatry, and it would be remiss of me to ignore the huge influence this also has on my teaching ethos. Her insight into the issues that affect the lives and mental wellbeing of children and families in contemporary society inevitably has a massive impact on my own approach to people.

Most memorable/significant teaching experiences?

Working for the local authority Music Service in schools in the 1990s was formative and very significant, forcing me to think carefully about my understanding of music education. Although a pianist, most of my work at that time was teaching electronic keyboards in a group context. The ensemble programme that I created took me down a very exciting creative route that I wouldn’t otherwise have experienced, and led to a lot of opportunities both here in the UK and in the USA.

What are the most exciting/challenging aspects of teaching adults?

Adults have more understanding of the journey they are on as musicians, and they know what music they like and what they don’t like. So that is a different type of challenge to teaching a child, who might be more open to new experiences. Because my teaching is driven by my own love for music, it’s important that the student’s interests and tastes coincide to some extent with mine. But often I have found that a student’s enthusiasm for a composer or style has fed back into my own interest, and that’s a real joy too – another discovery that feeds my enthusiasm as a teacher.

What do you expect from your students?

Respect. If a person doesn’t respect me – both as a musician and as a human being – then I can’t teach them.

What do you consider to be the most important concepts to impart to beginning students, and to advanced students?

There are the three essentials that underpin all playing: literacy, musicianship and technique. They need to be developed in tandem, and it’s the same whether a player is a beginner or more advanced. And again, the most important thing of all is to develop a proper LOVE for the music. We must be careful not to trivialise music or pretend it has to always be “fun”, but it must never be dull either.

The big enemy (as always!) is tension. I believe that the way to overcome that is to use physical movement away from the piano, and I have developed specific exercises based on Qigong forms and theory, which are proving very effective. Once a player is more relaxed, their musicality and creativity finds better freedom to be expressed.

What are your views on exams, festivals and competitions?

Exams can be great if used as a celebration of achievement, provided we don’t let them dictate the way we teach, or neglect creativity. Most of my students take selected ABRSM Grades, with positive experiences and fantastic results. I use ABRSM because I like the professionalism of their service, the positivism and consistency of the examiners, and the superb published resources.

My students do not compete in festivals. Growing up, I won virtually every competition I ever took part in, but I didn’t enjoy a single one of them. In fact they turned performing into something I dreaded, although I didn’t upset my teachers by admitting that to them at the time!

These days of course we have a much better understanding of the direct link between the public criticism of players and their performance anxiety. The welfare of our students is more important than upholding any tradition, however well intended, and as music teachers we can have a powerful role in remoulding and recasting our performance culture for the better.

What are your thoughts on the link between performance and teaching?

While we are all individuals with different strengths, I believe it is really important for performers to also teach, and for teachers to also perform.

I also believe that all musicians should try to compose and/or improvise. I see creating, performing and teaching as the three key areas of musical activity.

How do you approach the issue of performance anxiety/tension?

Performance anxiety primarily feeds off three things: the fear of failure, of looking silly, and of being compared critically with others. So we have to cut off this toxic food supply. Firstly, we minimise the fear of failure by ensuring students are well prepared, realistically confident, and focussed on enjoying the music they play. Secondly, we can ease their fear of looking silly by diminishing the formality and ritual associated with classical performance. And thirdly we can move away from the practice of having an adjudicator publicly evaluating and comparing performers, and in so doing establish a more positive context for both public performance and private, constructive feedback.

So long as we remember that music is an art form, not a competitive sport, performers and audience alike can all come away from concerts feeling entertained and enriched. Having performed in popular music settings as well as classical, I know the positive feelings that a good concert should engender, but sometimes it appears to me as if the classical world is deliberately trying to eschew enjoyment!

Once we have this basic understanding that performing music should be a celebration, we can start to look at how we approach a performance in terms of our preparation, how to deal with natural nerves and the effects of adrenalin in our system, breathing and stretching exercises, mental control, diet, and so on. This is again an area where I personally believe that Qigong can offer a genuine breakthrough.

ANDREW EALES is a pianist, teacher and educational consultant based in Milton Keynes UK.

His ‘Keyquest’ tuition books for electronic keyboard have sold many thousands of copies in the UK and overseas, and he has contributed to several other publications as composer and author.

To find out more please visit www.keyquestmusic.com

Andrew is also the founder of the online community The Piano Cloud, which brings together creative pianists from around the world. www.thepianocloud.com

Andrew’s next publication, ‘Piano Qigong’, is planned for Spring 2015.

Zsolt Bognár, pianist

Zsolt Bognár, pianist

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career? 

I was somewhat tricked into playing piano: when I was a child I wanted to play the organ immediately after hearing it. I was told I needed to start on piano, and quickly forgot about the organ as I had a very charismatic first piano teacher. I was 12 when I realized that I wanted music to be my life: I heard a Beethoven recital by Alfred Brendel that was so inspiring in its range, and I had no idea a concert could impart such experiences. It was also that year that I heard for the first time the music of Robert Schumann, whose impassioned flights of imagination made me almost delirious.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing? 

Aside from the many friends and family members who provided crucial support and encouragement, there were my two main teachers: the first was Roger Shields, who among other things showed me much about life with his refined sensibilities. The second is Sergei Babayan, with whom I studied for many years. His insistence on musical and human integrity is without fail, as is his ability to impart warmth, modesty, and a spirit of curiosity into all aspects of life.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Musicians trying to find their paths can be flooded with such doubts and anxieties. One must be self-critical to a point for growth, but this must be balanced with humour and perspective. Fortunately, one can find solidarity in the letters of almost all musicians and composers: few were ever completely self-satisfied.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?  

I worked tremendously hard on the Schubert and Liszt CD (on the Con Brio Recordings label) which I recorded with the legendary producer Philipp Nedel in Berlin. It was one of the most intense periods in my life, and I tried to put everything into my work in my days there. Outside the recording studio, a blizzard was raging, and when working into the dark hours of the night, the music of Schubert carried new meaning. Nedel’s calm and sustained input somehow inspired me to want to reach ever higher with these pieces.

Listen to the excerpts from the CD here:

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

I prefer very old venues – to imagine those artists I admired all my life, playing in the same setting once upon a time always ignites me.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

The composer whose magic never fails to resonate with me is Schubert.

Who are your favourite musicians

First is Carlos Kleiber – his balance of lightness against depth is as much of a marvel as it is to watch him at work. Of living artists, I heard many great examples: the singer Cecilia Bartoli’s nuanced exuberance always inspired me, as did the pianism and musicianship of Martha Argerich, Krystian Zimerman, and my own teacher Sergei Babayan, who is one of the greatest artists I have ever witnessed in person. Of collaborative musicians, the most astounding for me is the pianist Julius Drake.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Of my own concert experiences, it depends on what perspective. A recent smaller concert in Indianapolis, for example, was an occasion in which I felt I finally reached total inner freedom all the way through an entire recital. Of bigger concerts, I will remember the audiences at my debut in Suntory Hall in Tokyo in 2009, and especially the audience at my Berlin debut at the Konzerthaus in 2012. After the second piece, a rarely-heard work by Liszt (the “Scherzo and March”), the audience gave a standing ovation during the middle of the recital; even after repeated curtain calls and rhythmic unison clapping, I was hardly allowed to start my next selection. It felt incredible, as an acknowledgment of a piece I strongly believed in. Furthermore, in the audience were some of my closest friends, to whom I could play directly.

Of concerts I attended, I will remember the recent experience of being on stage to turn pages for Sergei Babayan and Martha Argerich in a two-piano concert in Lugano – the energy was beyond belief.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 

I notice that most of my concert opportunities, even the bigger ones, come from my friends, or because of them – a feeling confirmed by more established musicians. The very successful pianist and teacher, Paul Schenly, told me “careers are about friendships.” One can aspire to many projects, and they must be fulfilled with the help of many. Without these friendships, the experience would be far less rich anyway.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

For me it is connected with at least two things: the music that elevates and heals, and secondly with the friendships and human connections that give life and art a reason to be.

Praised by the German press for his sold-out 2012 Berlin Debut at the Young Euro Classic Festival at the Konzerthaus in Gendarmenmarkt that was “intellectually shaped, powerful, and of crystalline precision”, Zsolt Bognár’s performances in North America, Europe, and Asia have been praised as “overwhelmingly visceral…a phenomenal sound world realized through maximum palette” (Leeuwarder Courant, Holland).  

With recent debut performances in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Munich, Brussels, Vienna, and in Tokyo’s Suntory Hall, Mr. Bognár releases his first CD album of works of Schubert and Liszt in 2013, recorded in Berlin with the legendary producer Philipp Nedel. Recipient of the 2007 Arthur Loesser Prize and having studied with Sergei Babayan for over ten years, Mr. Bognár is frequently invited to perform chamber music with members of the Cleveland Orchestra in live NPR broadcasts.  

Winner of numerous international piano competitions in North America and in Europe, he is the host of a documentary film series of interviews with musicians from around the world, presented by Elyria Pictures in New York. His musical collaborations and diverse projects were the recipient of an International Festival Society Grant in 2013 to spend a week with Martha Argerich, and have included international speaking engagements, publications, and residencies in performance series and universities. Mr. Bognár especially noted for his insights in the works of Beethoven, Schubert, and Russian repertoire. For more details, please visit www.zsolt-bognar.com

Interview date: August 2013