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Pianist Adam Gyorgy makes Aspen debut

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
György Ádám zongoraművész Pomázon a Teleki-Wattay-kastélyban mesterkurzusa szünetében ül a zongoránál. A mesterkurzus programsorozat lényege, hogy bemutassa a György Ádám által képviselt stílust a zongoraoktatásban, melyben három fogalom, az inspiráció, a zene és a technika játszik meghatározó szerepet. György Ádám zongoraművész mellett, Steven Spooner, a Kansas University egyetemi tanára és Réti Balázs egyetemi tanár ad órákat 8 fiatal művésznek.
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ASPEN – Early last year, Adam Gyorgy wrote a piano piece for a concert he had coming up at Carnegie Hall. The composition was about New York City, where he has lived the past few years, and he titled it “A Day in New York.”

“It literally talks about my day, what I feel when I wake up, go to Central Park, the East River, my feelings and emotions when I walk around New York City,” the 31-year-old Gyorgy said from his Upper East Side apartment.

As New York-centric as the piece was, Gyorgy couldn’t help sneaking in several references to another geographic location. Hidden in the melody of “A Day in New York” are two Hungarian folk tunes: “The Spring Wind” and one that Gyorgy translated as “I Departed From My Beloved Country,” a song about emigration. Though his home is now in Manhattan and much of his career as a concert pianist takes place in the countries of Southeast Asia, Gyorgy’s musical heart remains very much in his native Hungary. When Gyorgy makes his Aspen debut – on Saturday at the Wheeler Opera House, in a benefit for Vital, an organization with local ties that helps children in India – the concert will spotlight Hungarian sounds. Gyorgy will play “A Day in New York,” with its folk-song references, and more significantly, he says, Franz Liszt’s Sonata in B minor, which Gyorgy performed last month on a Budapest TV station.

“It’s a phenomenal journey, a journey of a human being – how we’re born and die, and what happens in between,” he said of the Liszt piece, which was dedicated to fellow composer Robert Schumann on its publication, in 1854, and is generally regarded as Liszt’s greatest work for solo piano.

Gyorgy’s affection for the Liszt sonata, and for Liszt generally, doesn’t make him unusual, at least not in his home country. It just makes him Hungarian.

“Liszt is our national hero. I’m not exaggerating. He was a rock star in his time, an absolute phenomenon,” Gyorgy said. “There’s a lot of legacy left in Hungary. Everybody’s aware of his legacy and importance. Bartok, Kodaly and Liszt – this triangle is very strong in our music education.”

Gyorgy does his share to spread that legacy outside Middle Europe. At his Carnegie Hall concert in late 2011, the program was heavy on Liszt, including the popular Hungarian Rhapsody. In two recent solo recitals at Carnegie’s big hall, he played Liszt’s Sonata in B minor. Gyorgy says that Hungary’s contributions to classical music are enormous, with a particularly strong impact in the U.S. Three of the conductors who were prominent in establishing top-notch American orchestras – Georg Solti, who led the Chicago Symphony from 1969-’91; George Szell, music director of the Cleveland Orchestra from 1946-’70; and Eugene Ormandy, who led the Philadelphia Orchestra for 44 years – were all Hungarian-born. Christoph von Dohnanyi, the music director in Cleveland from 1984-2001, was born in Germany, but of Hungarian ancestry. That influence just needs to be given a bit more of a spotlight.

“They came and planted the orchestral idea here. In the 20th century life of classical music, there’s a lot of fingerprints of Hungary,” Gyorgy said, also noting the contemporary, A-list pianist Andras Schiff, who was born in Hungary.

•-•-•-•

Growing up in a small town near Budapest, Gyorgy’s first aim was not to carry on the Hungarian classical tradition. The first big influences were his father, an engineer who played guitar and saxophone as well as piano, and the Beatles. “If I go back now, I see that I always thought that the Beatles, those three- or four-minute songs, the pop songs that were going on, they opened the door for me to walk into the world of music,” he said. When he began improvising at the piano, at the age of 4, it was “the music we hear every day.”

At 6, Gyorgy was scheduled to make his first public performance, at a semester-closing recital at his school. He was prepared to play Scott Joplin’s ragtime classic “The Entertainer” for four hands, but the other pianist got stuck in the snow and the piece was about to be canceled. “I stood up and said, ‘I can play it alone, myself, with two hands,'” he recalled. At 14, he played his first solo concert in a proper music venue; at 18, he made his first TV appearance. And at 20, when a Japanese pianist canceled a concert on 10 days’ notice, Gyorgy made his debut at Hungary’s most significant hall – the Liszt Academy. He performed Liszt’s First Concerto, which he had learned in those 10 days. It was the start of his international career.

The pinnacle of that career, so far, came on Gyorgy’s 30th birthday. He performed at Carnegie’s Stern Hall, and also introduced his Adam Gyorgy Foundation, which teaches piano to young musicians. Part of his vision for the organization is to immerse students in the music of his homeland.

“When I established this music academy, one of the ideas behind it was I wanted to offer the Hungarian tradition, the Lisztian tradition, to the world. It’s about following a tradition, something that is important to us,” said Gyorgy, who launched his foundation in 2008 by bringing young pianists from Southeast Asia to Budapest.

Another peak moment came last summer, when Gyorgy played at the opening of the European football championship in Warsaw. The stadium was packed; the TV audience numbered 300 million.

“That was a life-changer,” he said, noting that he played the Polish composer Chopin for the Polish crowd. “Because one of my visions is to make classical music accessible to everyone. Which isn’t always easy. But to bring classical music to 60,000 crazy fans was incredible. We succeeded to open up classical music to the sports world.”

Much of what Gyorgy talks about is making sure that music never comes to a standstill. Much of his playing is improvised, which assures that the music moves forward. His performance of “A Day in New York” changes from day to day, giving him a chance to examine where he is at each time.

“I believe music helps to re-identify ourselves,” he said. “Music is not only to bend back to the traditions. We always want to be reinventing ourselves. If the arts can help the audience reinvent themselves, reconnect to themselves, that’s what it’s all about. If you just grab them and keep them as they are, they don’t survive.”

At the same time, there are traditions worth studying and learning from. Gyorgy believes that Hungarian music, and Liszt in particular, had a certain style that is worth paying attention to.

“It’s not about harsh, fast and loud playing. It’s sensitivity. Many artists misinterpret Liszt’s music and ideas. It’s about understanding the sensitivity and spirituality. There’s shiny stuff in there, but the meaning is in the beauty and sensitivity. He left that to us. My job is to be an ambassador, bring his thoughts around the world.”

stewart@aspentimes.com


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