Cziffra Festival – We can still learn from the artist

It was February 2016 when the program series of Cziffra Festival started on the initiation of János Balázs concert pianist awarded with Franz Liszt and Junior Prima Prize to commemorate the extraordinary pianist György Cziffra, in his own country. Although few were given the chance to learn directly from the master, his spirit lives on among us today, as many recordings preserve his playing, and we can learn from those artists who knew him personally or consider him their role model.

Within the framework of the festival, several concerts, masterclasses, competitions, musical instrument presentations and drawing competitions will be held, so people of all ages have the opportunity to participate. Events in were hosted by the MOM Cultural Center and Villa Barabás. We made an intervuew with the founder and artistic director of Cziffra Festival, János Balázs, about how such a series of events can serve music education.

János, do you remember how the pianist György Cziffra became your role model?

Since I was young, I have been meeting György Cziffra somehow throughout my life. The very first encounter was through records, because at home, if my father wasn't playing the piano, György Cziffra's records were being played. It is interesting that my father played jazz and light music at home, so I first encountered classical music only through György Cziffra. It was these Liszt recordings that prompted me to sit down at the piano. I looked up the melodies of these Liszt pieces and started practicing in a self-taught way. This happened when I was about 4-5 years old, and for 2-3 years it was practically like that, I was constantly searching for these melodies that I listened to. Then I was constantly interested in the master's life, I read Cannons And Flowers his autobiographical book, which reveals a lot, I was lucky enough to go to the piano competitions named after him in Baden bei Wien and in the famous chapel Senlis, and I was also able to meet his grandchildren. Even then it became clear to me that the Hungarian musical life has a very long history, that there is no worthy commemoration here in Hungary, and even though I have been calling my recitals 'Hommage a Cziffra' since I was 16 years old, so that at least the name would get around, I already felt that this is not enough. It is not only me who has to give recitals, but also others, and much more. I came up with this György Cziffra Festival last year, and I feel that I cught this opportunity at a very good time, because a lot of people supported me, and it was a great success, which is due to my enthusiasm and incredible effort, but much more to the personality of György Cziffra, his cult and the love of people. Tickets were snapped up in no time, lots of people signed up for all the programs. György Cziffra is a legend for the older age group, my task is to show him among the young as well.

What kind of cult surrounds György Cziffra in other countries, for example in France?

It is much bigger than here in Hungary. I noticed that when I travel abroad and Hungarians are mentioned, they know Ferenc Puskás, paprika, goulash, gypsy music, Franz Liszt and György Cziffra. In France, they consider György Cziffra as one of the greatest artists, and feel a little bit like their own. I feel that in a few years we will be able to achieve the recognition that he deserved in his lifetime.

How did you decide to start a festival in his memory in Hungary?

As I mentioned, many people must participate in this, as there are many Cziffra scholarship holders and Cziffra fans here in Hungary, both in the profession and in the public, so it was clear that a series had to be started. It was also clear to me that if I do anything under György Cziffra's name, it must be faithful to Cziffra's original vision. He also founded a festival in France. It shouldn't just be a series of concerts, but let's also teach, focus on young people, and even offer something to the youngest who can't sit through a 90-minute concert, that's why we launched a drawing competition. We created the Cziffra Slice together with Szamos Confectionery to evoke the atmosphere of a café. The point was to achieve global coverage of György Cziffra's name, which affects all social segments, and the best form for this is the festival.

How did the 2016 program series come together?

A fesztivál fő bázisa a négynapos koncertsorozat volt, ami tulajdonképpen öt koncert lett, mert a gálakoncert előtt egy nyilvános főpróbát is tartanuk kellett. Az volt a lényeg, hogy olyan emberek szerepeljenek a koncerteken, akik valamilyen szinten kapcsolatban álltak Cziffra Györggyel, vagy a Cziffra György-féle zenei életpályát és zenei Credo-t képviselik egész életükben. Ezt a koncertsorozatot egészítette ki egy háromnapos mesterkurzus, ahol remek tanár kollégáimmal együtt remek diákokat, fiatalokat hallgattunk meg, volt egy rajzpályázat „Az én zenemanóm” címmel, ez a kisgyerekeknek szólt, volt egy hangszerbemutató koncert is nagyobb gyerekeknek, és természetesen a Cziffra Gasztro is jeles részét képezte ennek a fesztiválnak. Ősszel kerül megrendezésre a zongoraverseny, ami még az első fesztiválnak a hozadéka, viszont nem lehetett mindent februárban megrendezni. Ez a verseny is nagy várakozással tölt el minket, és remélem, a versenyzőket is.

The concerts combined with the discussion were equivalent to a music history lesson. What was the theme of the concerts?

The goal was for those who met György Cziffra to tell what kind of person he was. Through his recordings, we know what kind of artist he was, what brilliant technical virtuosity and musical depth he possessed, but it is not clear from the recordings what his favorite food was, or why he was so fond of electronics, and how his career developed. Tamás Vásáry, who also knew the young Cziffra, László Andrássy, György Cziffra's relative, and Károly Mocsári, who was a scholarship holder, answered this. These round table discussions also dispelled a lot of questions about György Cziffra's life, since there is usually a little fog around every star, and we are slowly starting to clear this fog, and for this we need authentic people who have met him.

Who performed at the concerts? What kind of relationship did the performers have with György Cziffra?

Most of the performers met him personally and got to know him better. Those who don't, such as myself, because of their age, we also try to follow the path that Ferenc Liszt and György Cziffra set for us. Without claiming to be complete: Tamás Vásáry, Barnabás Kelemen, Katalin Kokas, Ferenc Snétberger, Félix Lajkó, Károly Mocsári, Péter Sárik, Andrea Malek. I was very happy that when the idea of the festival came to fruition and the participants had to be assembled and everyone said yes at the first word, even though this is a start-up festival and we had to approach artists who fill the biggest concert halls and have a full calendar. The festival became a business, it was not only a performance for the artists, but they feel that by adding their name to the György Cziffra Festival, they are also bringing György Cziffra a little closer to Hungarian culture.

Great artists often give masterclasses independently, and within the framework of the festival, the participants could now learn from four masters. Who taught on the masterclass?

I tried to put together the masterclass in such a way that it would be authentic and that we could pass on the musicality represented by Cziffra to the students. The biggest name was Tamás Vásáry, who - as I mentioned - also knew the young Cziffra, Károly Mocsári and Kálmán Dráfi also learned from him. Among the teachers, I unfortunately did not get to meet György Cziffra, since I was 6 years old when he passed away, but I dealt with him a lot, and for me music becomes so much one with György Cziffra's performance that maybe I could also add something to this course. It was a great pleasure for me that the participants represented an incredibly high standard. The students had such technical perfection and musical depth that they often had to take away from the productions instead of adding to them. So many different ideas and so many fantasies were imposed on them by other pianists, that it was first necessary to uncover who he was, since sooner or later every talented artist is swallowed up and wanted to be imitated on some level, you have to notice who he really is.

Who could actively participate in the masterclass, what kind of opuses could be prepared?

The masterclass was completely open, anyone could apply, and of course there was a professional selection. Those we selected represented the highest quality. Since being György Cziffra Masterclass, they had to prepare with romantic piano literature: works by Liszt, Chopin, Schumann and Brahms, but we also listened to Beethoven and Rachmaninov with great love.

What age group was the musical instrument presentation aimed at, how was the program structured?

We were expecting interested childred from 3 to 15 years old. The point was to present instruments in an interactive way, combined with conversation. It was a great success, we completely filled the room.

At MOM Cultural Center, you have been giving musical instrument presentations regularly for three years now, putting the piano at the center. Within the framework of Cziffra Festival, what musical instruments could the children get to know?

It was a very special concert, as we presented the harp, the guitar, the violin and the cello. I always introduce the piano to them, and now they were introduced four instruments that have not yet been put on the table. Four artists awarded with Junior Prima Prize (Anasztázia Razvaljajeva - harp, Miklós Környei - guitar, Ernő Kállai - violin, Gergely Devich - cello) played, it was a very enjoyable concert, worthy of the spirit of György Cziffra.

Miről szólt „Az én zenemanóm” rajzpályázat, kik vehettek részt, és milyen rajzokat küldhettek be?

Children as young as a few years old could apply, and our goal was to involve them in the realm of music. We wanted to lure the musical creatures living in their fantasy. A lot of drawings, almost 600, were submitted for the competition, and we tried to select the best ones, it was very difficult to make a fair decision. The prize for the winners was that the drawn musical elf was sewn by a textile artist, so they could go home with their own small plush figure.

National György Cziffra Piano Competition was announced recently and will take place at the end of October - beginning of November. What is the purpose of the competition, who will be able to participate?

We want to find young talents, they can apply from anywhere in the country between the ages of 15 and 25. For now, we are planning a national competition, in the future we would like to expand it into an international competition.

How many rounds will the competition be, and what works can the competitors play?

The competition program covers the original piano competition represented and chaired by György Cziffra. The competition consists of two rounds: a semi-final and a final, each round lasting 25-40 minutes. Romantic piano works are in the foreground: works by Liszt and Chopin, as well as Cziffra transcriptions, and a contemporary work must also be played, among the piano pieces of László Dubrovay. He is a fantastic composer and contemporary music should always be promoted. Young people will have a very difficult task, despite this, we expect that we will have quite a few applicants, as there are a lot of talents in Hungary. Together with the jury, we try to give the talents prizes and opportunities that will start them on the field and allow them to find their way. This is also György Cziffra's idea, and we organize it with all the more pleasure, love and devotion.

Who will be the members of the jury?

Tamás Vásáry, Károly Mocsári, Kálmán Dráfi, László Dubrovay and myself as the artistic director of the festival. It will be a great experience for the pianists that the author of one of the works is also sitting in the audience, since no one knows how to perform it better than him. It would be an eerie experience to play Liszt to Fraznz Liszt or Chopin to Chopin. The participants of the competition will also consider it a great experience, and 40 years from now they will tell me that Dubrovay sat there and I played his work for him.

What rewards do successful competitors receive?

We set monetary rewards for the first 3 winners: HUF 800,000, HUF 600,000 and HUF 400,000 respectively, László Dubrovay offered a HUF 200,000 special prize. In addition to the financial benefits, it is perhaps even more important that we also prepare domestic and foreign concert invitations for the prize winners, as they need to get into both domestic and international circulation, and for this, hopefully, a place in the piano competition will be very good.

How will Cziffra Festival continue in the upcoming years? What are your plans for this?

Although the program has already been completely put together, for now there is the only publicity that, in addition to the MOM Cultural Center, we will also organize concerts in the Great Hall of Liszt Academy, and the festival will take place for a week. In the thematic area, we will leave many programs and there will be new programs, and we will also host foreign performers. The complete, official program will be announced on 21st September, 2016, as part of a press conference.

What feedback did you receive about Cziffra Festival?

I received a lot of positive feedback, and it gives me power to continue, since the organization is a lot of work, and we didn't sleep much during that period. Creating and establishing a full festival is difficult in itself, but continuing it is even more difficult, since we have set the bar so high that it is a test to jump, but we definitely want to give more, better, more beautiful to the audience and especially to György Cziffra, we hope for a good continuation .

We would like to congratulate you on the organization of the Cziffra Festival and the successful implementation of the programs so far, and we wish you a lot of power for your future plans! I hope to see you again in 2017.

The official website of György Cziffra Festival