Recently, while i was visiting my familly in south of France, i had the pleasure to read an interview the magazine Fanfare did with me to go along side with the wonderful reviews of Christus.
You can read it there (if you can log in) : http://www.fanfaremag.com/
On the other hand, i will take the liberty to write it down (i won't wrote again the reviews, you can find them here: Christus reviews )
For the little storry : i did this interview on phone, while i was resting after the performance i did of my Philip Glass "all piano music" marathon in Kiev, in a wonderful hotel. I still remember the wonderful audience there... one of the warmest i met so far ! I really can't wait to return there next month !!!!
Hope you will enjoy it :)
A Conversation with Nicolas Horvath
Two years after the world celebrated Liszt’s bicentennial, new recordings featuring this composer’s music continue to be released at an astonishing pace. Indeed, for young pianists making their debut in the recording studio, the inclusion of a Liszt work—and quite often of the mighty Sonata itself—appears to have become de rigueur. For that reason, I was not surprised in the slightest when I got word that Nicolas Horvath, a young pianist I was to interview, had chosen an all-Liszt program for his debut. That quickly changed, however, when I received Horvath’s disc. It turns out that this young pianist’s Liszt recording featured works I did not even know existed—piano transcriptions of eight movements from Christus, a rarely performed oratorio that is considered by many to be one of the composer’s supreme achievements.
At the beginning of the interview I asked Horvath, who was talking to me from a hotel room in Kiev, Ukraine, if he had recovered from the previous night’s piano “marathon,” a 6-hour affair that involved a survey of Philip Glass’s entire output of works for piano solo. “I am feeling quite well, actually. I’ve been playing marathons like this one for a few years now. When I started doing them, it used to take me a while to recover, but I’ve now learned how to bounce back relatively quickly. Plus, I had to go right back to the piano today to prepare for tomorrow’s performance, which will feature Hans Otte’s ‘Book of Sounds.’ I am told that it will be a premiere in Ukraine.” What is the longest piano marathon he’s ever played? “The longest piece was 35 hours non-stop for Erik Satie's Vexations at Palais de Tokyo in Paris! But the longest marathon was 18 hours, I performed Satie’s complete works for piano, including the famous Vexations, which I played 840 times, as indicated in the score.” Was getting through the Glass marathon easy by comparison? “Actually, playing Glass’s complete works is probably more difficult because they are a lot more demanding technically speaking.” Does he enjoy playing marathons? “Of course, that is what I do them. I enjoy the spectacle of the performance itself, and the physical challenges it presents. But there is also an artistic message in play. I’ve found that presenting many woks of a particular composer in the same setting is oftentimes illuminating for both the performer and the audience. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the audience knows that it is participating in an unusual, once-in-a-lifetime concert.”
I asked Horvath to retrace the steps that led him to where he is today—has he always wanted to play piano marathons? “I have a somewhat unusual background. Unlike most of my colleagues, I did not grow up aspiring to be a musician. In fact, until I was a teenager, I was not at all serious about my music education. I did play the piano a lot, but I considered it mostly a hobby and definitely did not have any idea that I would some day make a career out of it. Nonetheless, every year I participated in a piano competition in my home town. Despite not working very hard to prepare, I won a prize every year. When I was 16, the competition was attended by the American conductor Lawrence Foster. He was impressed with my playing and offered me a scholarship to attend the Aspen Music Festival. I took him up on his offer, and after a few months in the United States, things just clicked for me and I realized that I wanted to be a musician. I returned to my native Monaco, where I began to study seriously with Gérard Frémy, who also helped me develop an interest in playing new music. After a few years of study, I decided to move to Paris to continue my studies, and after few years in Ecole Normale, I was able to meet Bruno-Léonardo Gelber.”
I asked Horvath if he participated in competitions while he was studying. “I did not. In fact, Maestro Gelber told me that he would only teach me if I agreed not to participate in competitions while I was his student. He thought that, to reach my full potential, I had to start in many respects from zero. For that reason, he also advised me not to give concerts or recitals. As you can imagine, it was difficult for me to be away from concert audiences, but I followed Maestro Gelber’s advice and took a hiatus from public performances for a few years.” What did he learn during the time he spent away from the concert stage? “I earned a lot about sound production and how to make the piano sing. The technique was already there, but I learned how to better control it. While studying with Maestro Gelber and after my studies with him concluded, I also received a lot of advice from Oxana Yabonskaya, Eric Heidsieck, Gabriel Tacchino, and Philippe Entremont, among many others. I eventually began performing in public again after a few years and, after turning 30, I also returned to the competition circuit. In the course of two years, I won 11 prizes, including 7 grand prizes.”
I asked Horvath to explain his interest in contemporary music. “It’s hard to explain love. I am just fascinated with the complexity and variety you find in contemporary music. This may surprise you, but I can’t think of a better piano recital than one that would include all of Stockhausen’s Klavierstücke. Unfortunately, I am yet to run into a promoter who agrees with me! Most people who’ve heard me say it think I am being funny. Still, I always insist on including new music in almost all my recitals, and I oftentimes perform Stockhausen, Ligeti, Nono, Berio, Pärt, Takemitsu, Glass, etc. Of course, I also love Liszt, Scriabin, Debussy, Satie, Chopin, Bach, Mozart, and so on. I believe that Alfred Brendel once said that it is easier for a pianist to make a name for himself if he focuses on a small number of composers and becomes a specialist, but doing so he will stop to evolve. I subscribe to that observation.”
Given his eclectic taste, I asked Horvath if it was difficult to settle on just one composer for his debut recording. He replied: “Picking Liszt was not difficult at all because he is definitely one of the composers with whom I feel very close. Picking the contents of the album was a lot more difficult. As of a few years ago, I didn’t even know Christus. During a conversation with my dear friend Leslie Howard, I asked him if he had a favorite Liszt work, and much to my surprise he told me that it was Christus. I felt embarrassed for not knowing the oratorio, so I got myself a recording and the score and I was astounded at the beauty of the music. I also found out from Leslie that Liszt had made a transcription for piano and singers of the complete work and that 5 of the 14 movements are for piano solo —Einleitung (Introduction), Pastorale, Hirtengesang an der Krippe(the Shepherds’ Song at the Manger), Die heiligen drei Könige (The Three Magi), and Das Wunder (the Miracle). A few years later, I was approached by Editions Hortus, a recording label, and asked to make a recording. Naturally, I thought about Liszt. Initially, I proposed a program that included the complete Via Crucis, the two Légendes, and a few movements from Christus. Somewhat to my surprise, Editions Hortus accepted my proposal right away, and they also asked me to write the liner notes for the recording. In the course of discussing my project with Leslie, who had already recorded 5 of the 14 movements, he pointed out the fact that the movement titled Tristis est anima mea could be also performable if, like in the Das Wunder movement, I would play the tenor soli with the piano part. So it was essentially a freestanding piano work. Given that Tristis est anima mea lasts nearly 15 minutes, I began to wonder if it were possible to dedicate the whole album to Christus. After some more detective work, I discovered at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France that Liszt had made two transcription of the movement titled Die Gründung der Kirsche (The Founding of the Church) for harmonium and organ. In reading through the manuscript of the harmonium transcription, I saw that Liszt included various dynamic and expression markings that cannot in fact be executed on the harmonium. I thus concluded that Liszt must have intended that this work be performed on the piano as well. I also compared the transcription to the same movement in the score for piano and singers, and I saw that the piano doubled the singers. This further led me to conclude that the movement can be performed as a work for piano solo. Intrigued by my findings, I carefully reread Liszt’s transcription for piano and singers, looking to see if there were other movements in which the piano doubled the singers. I thus came across the eighth piece included on the album—O Filii et Filiae. It lasts a little bit over 2 minutes, and it is easy to overlook given what comes before and after it in the vocal score, but I believe that provides a beautiful, quiet conclusion to the recital, akin to the ending of the Sonata. In addition, Einleitung and O Filii et Filiae are both reminiscent of Palestrina and Gregorian chant, and thus there is wonderful symmetry in the recital.”
I asked Horvath if he’s performed the 8 movements from Christus included on his album before a live audience. “I’ve performed the entire cycle 8 or 9 times, and I’ve played selected pieces dozens of times. The audience loves this music even though it is so different from what most of us associate with Liszt.” “Is performing Christus as difficult as performing Liszt’s treacherous etudes?” I asked. Horvath responded: “If many respects, it is harder to play these transcriptions. Understandably, the writing is not ‘pianistic,’ and in transcribing the orchestral parts on a lot fewer staves, Liszt tied to stay true to the original, so there are many pages that are nearly impossible to perform. In addition to myriad technical difficulties, it is also very hard to make this score come to life without the benefit of the orchestra and singers. The music is very abstract and ‘pure,’ closer in spirit to Mozart, Bach, and Palestrina, and it is difficult to make sense of it all on the piano, let alone convey through the story of Christ’s life in a respectful way, as Liszt intended”
Does he prefer the Liszt of Christus to the Liszt of the Transcendental Etudes? “I love almost everything that came out of Liszt’s pen, from the excesses of his early works to the abstraction of his late piano works. Many dismiss Liszt’s role in the history of music, but the truth of the matter is that he is the link between Romanticism and the music of the early 20th century. His constant experimentation with compositional techniques and tonality and harmony is part of the reason why I find Christus to be such a fascinating work.”
In parting, I asked Horvath about his future projects. “I have so many projects to look forward to. Next season, I will be performing all of Liszt’s works for piano and orchestra with the Monaco Philharmonic Orchestra and do the Ukrain premiere the last work for piano and orchestra by Arvo Pärt “Lamentate”. I am also planning a new Liszt recording, but the repertoire is yet to be determined. Long term, I would love to record all of Glass’s piano music and Scriabin’s complete piano sonatas.” Radu A. Lelutiu