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

Though I didn’t start having piano lessons until the age of 7, I was already very interested in classical music much earlier. My great-grandmother was a piano teacher and we had a beautiful carved upright at home, which I loved. My parents, who were not musicians, loved classical music, especially operas, so they took me and my sister regularly to the opera. I enjoyed these performances enormously and listened to recordings at home as well. I especially loved Verdi and La Traviata was my absolute favourite opera (I still love it).

When at the age of 6 I started to attend school, I went to a music school, where we had singing lessons every day. I was singing in a choir as well and about twice a week we also had folk dance lessons. My parents didn’t want me to start having piano lessons during that year because school was already a big change in my life. But from my second school year it was natural to start piano and I had solfege lessons as well. I enjoyed it very much, though until the age of 11 I practised very little. Something happened to me at that time and suddenly I started to practise a lot and music really became the most important thing in my life. I was also reading a lot of music and at the age of 12 I made a successful entrance exam to the preparatory class for talented children at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of music and this changed my life completely. Here, I basically listened to concerts every evening, could meet and play for a lot of great musicians like Ferenc Rados, Zoltán Kocsis, Albert Simon. At around the age of 14, I started to have chamber music lessons as well, and a year later I was already a student of György Kurtág, with whom I studied for nearly 10 years. It was a very happy time of my life, full of great experiences and challenges and at the age of 16 I was able to start the first year at the Academy (today the Ferenc Liszt University of Music).

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

I was very lucky, because the time when I studied at the Ferenc Liszt Academy we still had Ferenc Rados and György Kurtág working very intensively. They were both teaching chamber music, but all pianists played solo pieces for them as well. They both had an enormous impact on me and on my way of thinking about music and life. We usually had very long lessons, sometimes 2-3 times a week, and they worked in a very detailed way – sometimes with Kurtág we worked on just 8 bars for 2-3 hours. Of course it was not only about these few bars, but through working on a phrase he opened up and showed a whole universe with a lot of associations from music, literature, other arts, and this all happened with such an intensity I could not imagine before. He is also an incredible pianist, plays like only a great composer can play. As I often said with my musician friends, working with Ferenc Rados was like an X-ray examination. After playing 5 minutes for him, we got a diagnosis, which wasn’t easy at all, but was a task for a whole life. Studying with him was a very complex process, everything – the actual piece, the instrument, my own feelings, questions etc – were all in an incredible connection with each other. I learned from him how to practise, which is an incredibly important part of a musician’s life.

Besides these two great masters, another determining and most important experience was meeting András Schiff when I was 17. I regularly took masterclasses with him for the following 5-6 years in Vienna, at Prussia Cove, Siena etc, and later in Marlboro (USA) as well. It was a huge influence for me to play for him, to listen to his concerts, and to talk to him about music, literature, life etc. No other pianist made such an important impact on my development as a musician as him. Later I had the chance to play concerts with him as well, which meant a lot to me. I got to know through András, Sándor Végh and Heinz Holliger from whom I learned a lot and admired very much. For Sándor Végh I played chamber music several times in Prussia Cove and later had the chance to perform with his Camerata Salzburg with him as a conductor.

Heinz Holliger is also a kind of musical “Father figure” for me. During the last 20 years I played many concerts with him, as a soloist, in many different chamber groups. We have also made several recordings together and I also play his music, which I admire a lot.

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

The greatest challenge is the music itself. Every morning when I start practising I think of the fact that I am trying to get nearer and nearer to these great masterpieces and this is a greatest challenge. In my career, it’s quite challenging that I love equally playing solo and chamber music. I feel the best when I can find a good balance between the solo repertoire and chamber music.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I am extremely happy to record for ECM. De la nuit is my 4th album for them and I enjoyed all the recordings very much. For me sound is extremely important and I was always very inspired by the sound I could hear in the studio. Manfred Eicher has created something very special with his label and I am very happy and proud of my recordings for him.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I don’t know which works I play the best, I can only say which works and composers I love the most. For me a “love forever” composers are Beethoven, Schumann, Mozart and Bartók. Recently I’ve played Beethoven very frequently. I have been learning his last 5 Piano Sonatas and I have not enough words to express what it means to me to work on those masterpieces.

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

I love playing a lot of repertoire, I am not a type of pianist who would enjoy playing 2-3 programs a season. I play usually around 4-5 solo programs, 6-7 concertos and many chamber programs during a season. I always learn new pieces, especially for my recital programs.T here are certain pieces I come back to from time to time. For example, I just learned the Hammerklavier Sonata which I will play in many different programs during the next 2 to 3 seasons. Sometimes it goes together with Bartók, sometimes with Berg-Liszt-Kurtág, sometimes with Bach and Brahms. I also love creating festival programs. I organise a chamber music festival with my wife (pianist Izabella Simon) in Budapest. The Festival has a different theme every year which is the title of a great book. Each time, we make devise about 7-8 different chamber music programs around the theme, which is such a creative experience and gives so much to both of us.

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

I have a lot of favourite concert halls, but I have to mention two which are my absolute favourites. The first is the Great Hall of the Ferenc Liszt Academy, which is actually my second home. It’s a beautiful Secession style hall with a very warm atmosphere, and of course there a lot of personal aspects as well. I gave my so-called first “important” concerts there in my teens and still play there very often every season. I also had so many wonderful concert experiences there as a listener, hearing, for example, Richter, Annie Fischer, András Schiff or Sándor Végh.

The other Hall I would mention is the Wigmore Hall in London which is a most wonderful venue with an incredible acoustic. The audience is also so knowledgeable, I always feel it’s a feast to play there.

Who are your favourite musicians?

It’s a difficult question to answer since I have so many. From the past, Rudolf Serkin, Annie Fischer, Alfred Cortot, Pablo Casals, Sándor Végh, Carlos Kleiber, Arturo Toscanini, Bruno Walter, Maria Callas, Kathleen Ferrier just to name a few. The pianists I’ve listen to the most recently are András Schiff, Radu Lupu, Alfred Brendel. And I am really lucky because for many years I’ve played chamber music with some of my very favourite musicians like Steven Isserlis, Miklós Perényi, Tabea Zimmermann, Jörg Widmann, and Radovan Vlatkovic, among others.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My career started when I got the first prize at the Géza Anda Competition in Zürich in 1991. I was 23 years old and had very little experience playing with an orchestra. In the final round I played the Third Piano Concerto by Bartók (which is a very important piece for me) for the very first time. Of course I was very nervous but playing this incredible piece with the wonderful Tonhalle Orchestra in the beautiful Tonhalle Great Hall was an incredible experience for a young musician, as I was that time.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I am the type of musician who believes in a slower and persistent development rather than fast and spectacular jumps. I never wanted to make things to happen faster and I always wanted to give time for certain things. For me success is when I feel that a long process has a result and things are getting ripe. It is an inner process and that is the most important part of it, but if other people also notice it and react to it, that means a lot and can “give wings”.

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

This is also a hard question to answer. I would say the first is to love music and love the process of searching for the meanings of the great pieces we are playing. I also think it’s important that our every day practising should happen with a lot of curiosity and with the feeling that through practising, I am not only getting nearer to the masterpieces I am playing but also learning a lot about myself – this is a great chance for development.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Perfect happiness means for me an inner balance with a lot of challenges at the same time and of course sharing this with those people-especially my family-whom I love the most.

What is your most treasured possession?

My most treasured possessions are the drawings of my 7 years old daughter which she has made for me. She has done a lot and when I am travelling I always take them with me.

What is your present state of mind?

Quite positive and balanced. I just turned 50, which is a bit strange to believe, but I am full of plans and really enjoy the way my life goes now.

Dénes Várjon’s new disc De la nuit, featuring music by Schumann, Ravel and Bartok, is released on 31 August on the ECM Records label


Dénes Várjon, born 1968 in Budapest, studied at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music, receiving tuition in piano from Sándor Falvai and chamber music from György Kurtág and Ferenc Rados. Parallel to his studies, he was a regular participant of master classes with András Schiff. He was first prize winner of the Piano Competition of the Hungarian Radio,the Leo Weiner Chamber Music Competition in Budapest, and the Concours Géza Anda in Zürich.

Várjon is a regular guest at festivals including Salzburger Festspiele, Lucerne Festival, Schleswig-Holstein Musik-Festival, Biennale di Venezia, Marlboro Festival (USA), Klavierfestival Ruhr, Kunstfest Weimar, and Edinburgh International Festival, and has been a frequent contributor to András Schiff’s and Heinz Holliger’s Ittinger Pfingstkonzerte.

He has performed with major orchestras such as the Camerata Salzburg, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the Wiener Kammerorchester, the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra Budapest, the Camerata Bern, the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, the Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra, the Tonhalle-Orchestra Zürich, the Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the Bremen Philharmonic, Gidon Kremer’s Kremerata Baltica, and many others, and working with conductors including Heinz Holliger, Adam Fischer, Leopold Hager, Iván Fischer, Hubert Soudant, Peter Rundel, Thomas Zehetmair and many more.

 

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.