This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Franz (Ferenc) Liszt. Many events have been scheduled around the world to mark this anniversary. In the coming weeks and months we will highlight some of the Canadian events that celebrate the life and work of this great Hungarian composer. This is the first such article; the second is a lecture-recital by Alan Walker and Valerie Tryon in Fredericton on May28th 2011.
How music flows from his head via his heart to the tips of his fingers
April 5, 2011
To be a successful concert artist is a major achievement. To accomplish this without being able to see shows what can happen when artistic giftedness, gutsy determination, and innovative teaching methods combine. The Budapest-born pianist, Tamás Érdi, now in his 30s, is a truly gifted musician with a flourishing international career behind him and ahead of him. He is not celebrated sympathetically as a blind musician, rather he is a successful classical musician who has found his own unique way to work around a debilitating challenge: blindness. His vision loss has not prevented him from playing concerts and recitals in Hungary, Canada - which he describes as his second home - and the United States.
In a recent interview Érdi says that he certainly looks forward to his visits to Canada “because the four years that I spent here defined my life. Each time I miss a year and don’t visit, I feel homesick for Canada. I miss my friends who helped me a great deal, I miss Bloor Street, and I honestly feel that this country is my second home.”
The four years Érdi mentions were spent at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music under the guidance of Leon Fleisher whose offer of a scholarship was the incentive that brought him to continue his studies there. Tamás spent four formative years guided by the internationally acclaimed concert pianist and mentor, Leon Fleisher who obviously recognized his talent from the start.
Érdi started out young. He was 8 years old when he gave his first recital and 10 when he began classes with Imola Joó at Vienna’s Music Academy in Vienna. By the time he was 15, he had performed a Mozart piano concerto at Budapest Spring Festival and in the Hungarian Parliament under the baton of Tamás Vásáry. By 17, he had won an international piano competition in Moscow. And all the while, Érdi was continuing to build his repertoire, including the solo, chamber, and works for piano and orchestra by Liszt, Bartok, Beethoven, Weber, Mozart, Chopin, Schumann, Debussy, Bach, Brahms, Prokofiev, Handel, and Tchaikovsky.
So how does Érdi learn new repertoire? This is where the real musical innovation of Tamás Érdi becomes evident. Sighted musicians usually just open the score, start reading, and immediately translate all the notes through their hands on the piano keyboard. Most musicians who are blind use Braille music scores. But to work with a music score in Braille requires two hands on the score, fingers gently feeling for each cluster of raised dots which identify each note, chord, time value, and articulation details. As Érdi explains: “Well, this is really not simple and causes a lot of headache to everyone. Braille music scores are too slow and I am just not able to learn new materials with them. It would take about a year to touch each note and notation of a piece, not to mention the fact that the pieces I play nowadays are not even transcribed in Braille.”
Faced with those limitations Érdi and his teachers came up with a completely different solution. “So my teachers and I developed a special method, which is not copying other people play. Learning by hearing is not possible. Everyone thinks I do that but that would not be serious. It is impossible to distinguish each note from someone else play a piece,” explains the young musician.
How does he do it, then? “First, I always need to experience the raw music, then I sort of reconstruct each piece while learning it. They are structurally branded so much into my brain that I do not forget them. When I was little, I always thought, and even said, that this was my Mozart, my Schubert, when I heard other people play the pieces that I already thought were mine. A few weeks ago I was learning a few parts from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet and now I am learning Tchaikovsky’s Dumka. I love to get acquainted with new pieces!”
Érdi also loves to perform to people who may not have heard this kind of music before. “I have incredible experiences with school recitals,” he explains. “I regularly visit small rural schools in Hungary. This year I talked to school children about Liszt. The idea came from a conversation with a journalist, when we talked about my experiences with children in the US and Kuwait. When I was studying at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, I was invited to Florida to visit six art schools and talk to pupils about Bartók and Kodály. Of course, I illustrated my talk with playing their music. The kids - several hundred at a time - came prepared, they were interested in Kodály and Bartók, asked questions and enjoyed the recitals. I will never forget these visits. Then someone read my account of this tour and decided to organise similar visits in Hungary. These outings are my favourite activities these days and I wish I could go to all schools!”
Érdi plays to students of all ages but he specifically remembers a particular moment playing to an audience of under-10 year-olds. “Last year I had a very special encounter in a small village by Lake Balaton where I was about to play for the little ones, they must have been between 7 and 9 years old. I was somewhat nervous and wondered if they would listen quietly. But of course the Chopin soon enchanted them. After the recital, their teacher came to me in tears and told me that one of the little girls asked her why it was that she had felt like crying during the nocturne.”
Tamás Érdi’s Canadian connections run deep. In 2008 in Hungary, he performed for the then Governor General, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, during her state visit there. Later, in December 2010 when he won Hungary’s Prima Primissima prize in the category of classical music, one of Hungary's major arts awards, during the live national broadcast watched by hundreds of thousands, he once again expressed his gratitude to Canada, his “second home.” He told the audience that if it were not for Toronto’s Royal Conservatory his career would have taken him on a very different path indeed.
On Tuesday May 24, at 8:00 p.m., Tamás Érdi will be back in Toronto, and even on his favourite street: Bloor. He is performing a solo recital in the Royal Conservatory of Music’s elegantly restored Mazzoleni Recital Hall. The first half of the programme features the music of Chopin, and to mark the bicentenary of the birth of Liszt, Érdi has included six compositions by "Liszt: Funérailles", "Consolation in D-flat major", "Sposalizio", "Les jeux d'eaux á la Villa d'Este", "Mephisto Waltz No.1", and "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6".
For tickets and more information, visit the Royal Conservatory’s website.
To read more about Tamás and hear him play, visit his website.