“I DIDN’T EVEN UNDERSTAND WHAT A CHILD PRODIGY WAS”
Being a child prodigy seemed like the most natural thing for Dimitris Sgouros, and not even his similarly-praised skills in mathematics could embarrass him. He performed a solo concert at the age of six and a half, and at 12 he had already made his debut at Carnegie Hall. Now, aged 47, Budapest audiences will be able to hear the Greek pianist as he performs alongside the Budapest Festival Orchestra. (Népszabadság)
BEFORE HIS DEATH, ARTHUR RUBINSTEIN SAID “I THANK GOD FOR KEEPING ME ALIVE SO THAT I WOULD BE ABLE TO HEAR SGOUROS PLAY WITH MY OWN EARS. HE IS THE BEST PIANIST I HAVE EVER HEARD, INCLUDING MYSELF.” DO YOU REMEMBER THIS SENTENCE?
It is difficult to express verbally what I felt upon hearing these words. I was standing in the antechamber of his flat in Geneva; there are quite a few good photos of this important meeting on my website. I was so young, barely 13, that I was virtually destroyed – even my voice left me. I was unable even to thank him for what he said, I couldn’t believe my ears. Then he handed me a box with one of his gold watches inside, engraved with the words ‘For Dimitris with love, Arthur Rubinstein’. I also have a photo of this. I was so overwhelmed I could hardly even roll up my sleeve to put the watch on.
YOU WERE SIX WHEN YOU FIRST PERFORMED ON STAGE. CAN YOU STILL RECALL THAT FEELING?
Of course, I remember it well. It is ingrained very deeply, and I still have the videos and audio recordings. But let me tell you that I was six and a half in May 1977, when I played two of my own compositions in Piraeus. That was my first full solo concert. Before that I had played in Athens alongside 10 other young pianists. But there, at six and a half, the audience gave me a standing ovation.
YOU WERE CONSIDERED A CHILD PRODIGY. DID YOU CONSTANTLY HAVE TO PROVE TO ADULTS THAT YOU WERE ENDOWED WITH SPECIAL ABILITIES?
Whatever I did back then, it was only because I loved playing the piano. Nobody forced me to do it. I didn’t even understand what a child prodigy was. Everything I did seemed simple and normal for me. Just like maths or chemistry problems I encountered later. And believe me when I tell you that I didn’t have to change my way of life at all because of my musical talents. Everyday life remained the same.
YOU BELONG TO THAT GROUP OF MUSICIANS WHO DO NOT KEEP TO TRADITION, TO THE GENERAL RULES. HOW DO YOU BREATHE NEW LIFE INTO WELL-KNOWN PIECES WHEN PERFORMING PUBLICLY?
When I’m playing, the primary thing for me is trying to impart my feelings to the audience. How I manage to do that exactly, I’m unable to explain. What is for certain is that I’m an old musician, I’ve lived on stage without a pause for almost 40 years. I have performed on every continent. Not just once or twice… At all times my goal has been to play according to my own imagination, while sticking to the prescribed rules and being faithful to the composer, as much as possible. At the same time, I consider it very important that my playing takes account of my inner world, my personal tools of expression and my wealth of experience, all without hurting the original concept of the composition.
I HAVE READ RAVE REVIEWS ABOUT YOU, MOSTLY FROM YOUNG MUSIC ENTHUSIASTS. THEY WAX LYRICAL ABOUT YOUR BRAHMS, PAGANINI, RACHMANINOFF AND TCHAIKOVSKY RECORDINGS. ACCORDING TO THE REVIEWS, YOU KNOW PRECISELY HOW TO CONVINCE TEENAGERS OF THE BEAUTY OF MUSIC. WHAT’S THE SECRET TO YOUR EXCELLENT RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUNG PEOPLE?
If truth be told, I enjoy playing in front of young audiences the most. I do not teach music in a traditional teacher-pupil relationship, but during my concerts I strive to make the music as understandable and graspable as possible. I also admit that I can only give really good advice to people who already have some practical musical experience; I wouldn’t know what to say to a beginner, since I didn’t learn to play music the normal way. I cannot relate to the theory of getting better step by step. I usually advise kids and their parents that the only people who should make music are those with a burning desire for it, and, if possible, that they play what they really love. I think that’s the only way to achieve results.
AM I CORRECT IN SAYING THAT MATHEMATICS IS ALSO VERY CLOSE TO YOUR HEART? IN FACT, YOU ALSO WERE CONSIDERED A MATHEMATICAL GENIUS.
Look, today my life is filled with music. I loved maths because I was really good at solving mathematical problems. I was also better at maths than the others; the teachers always praised me. But I think that was related to my musical talents because those two have a lot in common. Just think of the composition process; when you write music you are, in fact, doing a highly complex set of calculations. And then it’s the composer’s emotions that connect these beautiful numbers.
SO IF I UNDERSTAND YOU RIGHT, IT WAS OBVIOUS FROM THE VERY BEGINNING THAT YOUR LIFE WOULD BE ABOUT MUSIC. WERE YOUR PARENTS ALSO MUSICIANS?
Yes, my mother played piano. Her piano teacher started to teach me, too, in 1976. And one of my father’s cousins was a famous musician, but he rather got his fame in Greek pop music – not just in Greece, but in several countries. Unfortunately, he passed away not long ago. His name was the same as my father’s, Sotiris Sgouros.
YOU HAVE COME TO HUNGARY MANY TIMES TO PERFORM WITH THE BUDAPEST FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA. WHAT ARE YOUR EXPERIENCES?
Since 1999, I have worked regularly with Iván Fischer and the Festival Orchestra. We’ve had many concerts together, in Athens, Budapest, Amsterdam, Rome, etc… We must have performed at least ten or eleven concerts, and now this fantastic collaboration is continuing. Following the Budapest concert, I am going with the orchestra to the Canary Islands. As for the experiences I have gained? Throughout my musical career, the best times have always been those I have spent with the Festival Orchestra. I feel a very close and profound relationship, not only with Iván Fischer who I also consider a friend, but with the whole orchestra. And I consider Brahms’ First Piano Concerto, which I am going to play, to be a gigantic composition in every way, and one which I love playing. I have played it, and also his Second Piano Concerto, many times. I have even made successful recordings of them.
Symphony concert by the Budapest Festival Orchestra. 5,6 & 8 February 2016. Conductor: Iván Fischer