“People don’t hate classical music, they just don’t know it” by Zita Izsó

Katica Illényi, a Liszt Prize winner violinist, has five different repertoires in this year and two of her albums will be released: one of them is going to be a CD-DVD recording about the January’s New Year concert and the other will promote her special instrument, the theremin. We have talked with her about diversity, her relationship with the audience and her classical music mission.

IZSÓ ZITA – 061.hu

This year you have three different classical music programs and two jazz repertoires. What are the specialties of these concerts? How are the different genres compatible with each other? I have graduated as a classical musician at the Music Academy, but I was always interested in other genres. Initially jazz was just a hobby, but soon I have realized that it really inspires me, because it approaches music in a very different way thanks to the improvisation. For me, all the genres are equally important, because I can express different things with different genres, so it gives me great freedom that I don’t have to choose one. This year I will perform with Péter Sárik and his orchestra and with my brother, Csaba Illényi, in Nyírbátor and in Hévíz and I have already played a jazz repertoire with Csaba DeseÅ‘ at the Jazz Festival near Lake Bánk. I will also have three different classical music concerts: one with the Budapest String Orchestra in Kapolcs and one with the Jordan National Symphony Orchestra and István Bundzik in Jordan. We will have a very special concert, called Tango Classic. I will play tango music with the Anima Musicae Chamber Orchestra at Vígadó. I am preparing for this, for example I have been learning for a long time Four Seasons of Buenos Aires by Astor Piazzolla, and recently I have started to take Argentinian tango classes because I want to feel how is to dance tango. Of course, I will not play the piece better, but maybe it will help me imagine how an Argentinian dancer is standing on the stage. If I can master it well, I may have an Argentinean dance at a later concert, who knows. (Laughs).

This is really close to you, as you are regularly singing, dancing at your concerts and you are also playing another instrument, called theremin. For me, besides technical perfection, it is also very important to serve the audience and what I am doing has to be entertaining for them. Everything can be included if this makes the performance better and more interesting. Before every performance, I spend months with preparation. Sometimes I dream about this, and I realize in the morning that the order is not good and I have to rethink it. Over the years, I have learnt a lot from my relationship with the audience: my knowledge of people has deepened. It’s unbelievable to feel on the stage how the audience is: they are interested in the performance, opened or they are tired, closed. In my opinion, this is something that a performer cannot ignore.

Can you react immediately, even during the concert? Yes. I feel it many times when I am playing a song. I have to play the pieces in a different order than I have planned. It is also very important to tell something about the pieces, before I play it, because it is necessary to have a dialogue with the audience. I think this is why I have not remained only a classical music performer, who stands on the stage, bows and plays the piece. I could not bear to stand on the stage and I cannot say good night.

How can you find the balance between entertainment and quality to make something popular, though in order not to be a hit? For me, this is a very enjoyable challenge. I always work with excellent artists, I am accompanied by string or symphonic orchestra, especially formations from classical music. Everything depends on the implementation, what kind of instrumentation we use for each piece.

Soon, a theremin album will be released, where popular movie soundtracks can be found. Why did you choose this genre? What should we know about the instrument? There are a very few people around the world who are playing this instrument because of its difficulty. An incredible patience is needed to find the right sound and playing a piece needs even more time. It cannot be bought in Hungary, I have ordered my instrument from America, and if it had any problem, I could only fix it in France. On my album, my brother will accompany me on violin and we are going to play movie soundtracks, because most of the people are looking for this genre, so it was clear for us that the best promotion of this special instrument is with such an album.

You are playing many genres, you are playing several repertoires in the same time. Besides these, you are also dancing and singing. How do you get enough time to do these? I am very conscientious. When I go to sleep I always realize that I did not do something. This usually goes with anxiety, but I try to get used to this feeling. The violin always enjoys priority. For example, I was practicing at 8:15 this morning. It’s not easy to do it physically as well, so I’m trying to do sports every day: I love yoga, but I also do body art training. Even if I have a little time, I do sports for half an hour and I feel myself a lot better all the day. It also helps me that I know well in advance what I need to learn at what time. For example, the Piazzolla piece, as I mentioned before, I started to learn months ago, because it is a very difficult piece. A two hour show needs a half year preparation. It’s okay, I’m learning all my life, and the transition between the genres does not cause me a problem, in fact I really enjoy it. If I had to play the same repertoire for many years, I feel that I would die. I’m tired of things pretty soon, I always have to invent something new.

Would the performance be mechanical if you had to play the same? When I was younger I played in several bands. Once in Holland, we played the same pieces in different cities five weeks every night. In the end, I was so tired that I felt physical pain. I am very grateful to have such freedom now. Of course, this freedom has enormous responsibility, because this decides what you are going to play on the stage. A soloist affects the audience, so the choice of the piece and what you tell about the composer really matters. It is important for me to promote the pieces of Hungarian authors. I am travelling a lot, but I would like to live in Hungary and the more I am away, the more I am convinced that Budapest is the most beautiful city in the world.

Many people go to your concerts even if they are not fans of classical music. The greatest success is if those people come to my concerts who would never listen to a Bach violin piece, but they love me, they want to see me and they admit after the concert that they have not thought that this kind of music is so good. In my opinion, people don’t hate classical music, they just don’t quite know it. Therefore, artists have in some respect pedagogical work. I was lucky because my dad worked in the Opera, my three siblings and I have listed classical music at a very young age. I knew the story of Rigoletto in the kindergarten and I was amazed when my father told me the story of a piece. I think every kid would be interested in this if you told them these stories. I have a mission, I really want people to love classical music. I believe with all of my heart that this is possible.

Photos: IKP


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