He learned almost everything from his Hungarian teacher, Ferenc Rados. The Greek violin virtuoso? Leonidas Kavakos is coming to Hungary to play together with the Budapest Festival Orchestra. We were talking about the humour and genious of Béla Bartók and the unbeliavable musical talents of Hungary. Interview.
At this moment you are in Brussels, but soon travel to Germany and then come to Hungary, because you will play with the Budapest Festival Orchestra in Budapest. As a well-known soloist you travel a lot in the world. Which is the country, you prefer the most?
I cannot tell you which city is my favourite, I feel myself the best where I can play the violin. And of course Athens is my home city, that I would mention as first.
You have already played several times in Hungary, you met the BFO more than once. Last time it was in 2013. I know that you have important connections in Hungary. How do you feel about returning to our country?
Hungary has a special place in my heart, and I also feel close to this country professionally, because of the absolutely genius human being, Ferenc Rados, who does not only know so much about music, but he also has the ability to transfer his knowledge to the younger generations. Although it is pretty difficult to teach music in an appropriate way, he is the person who really knows about it a lot. I fortunately had the privilege to spend nine years with him, as a student. I believe that most of what I know and what I do as a musician is thanks to him. With his way of teaching and looking at the music opened a horizon for me that allows for a musician to approach the essence of music. I have never met anybody who was teaching this way. With him one wouldn’t learn how to play a piece, but how to look at a composer. Every time I was together with him, I felt that I could understand the composer he showed me and I could understand the work of the composer. He could explain us how the instinctive and the intellectual are combined in the composing process. Because everybody uses both, the intellectual and the instinctive side of his brain, making music. These two factors are very important.
How old were you when you met him? And how did it happen?
I met him through my pianist friend, Péter Nagy in Bloomington, Indiana. He told me about Rados and promised me to arrange a meeting with him. When I visited Rados Ferenc, I had to play for him. That’s how it started. I don’t remember exactly when it was, but for sure in the beginning of the nineties.
When you showed him how you play the violin, did he recognize your special ability? I am asking it, because everybody who ever heard you playing, talks about the unique way of your performing.
I would say, there were some elements of my violin playing before already, which he liked, but soon after he helped me to develop my gift, and the success was to thank clearly to him. I had some other good teachers as well, but nobody ever gave me so much as him.
As you mentioned before, your relationship to Hungary was stronger than to other places in the world because of Rados Ferenc. How did you look upon this country?
It was obvious for me that Hungary is a special place in the world in terms of music, based on its wonderful pianists and violinists, as well as the composers. This means that there are very good schools for music and an ideal education system. It is for sure not by accident that there are so fantastic piano players, and violin players. (For instance my favourite violinist was Szigeti József). It turned out that this country has produced amazing musicians, especially if you measure the size of it. So for sure you have a great tradition and a wonderful education. At least in the past that was the case.
You told me about the way how Rados thought you how to understand the composer’s ideas. In Budapest this time you are going to play Bartók 2. Violin Concerto. What is your relationship to Bartók’s music, especially to this piece?
Bartók in my opinion is one of the greatest composers ever. The most amazing thing is his relationship to the folk music. He gave a new dimension to classical music. In my opinion, he is still not measured on the level where he would belong. He worked very hard on combining the folk music with the classical tunes. I never knew anybody who gave more effort to give a new form to the simple sounds to build into the higher level of music. Nobody can stay untouched by Bartók’s music. I played both concertos, in fact the first I played with BFO, when Kocsis Zoltán was conducting. It is very sad, that he just passed away. My relation to this orchestra is very old. I really know them very well.
The two concertos are rather different. The second concerto is very special because of it’s endlessness. Bartók did first not plan to write a concerto, only variations. At the end he wrote a concerto, but he built it on the variations. For me the most exciting part is in the second movement, where he isolates different sections of the orchestra from other sections. And he adjusts the sound of the violin as well to the different instruments, to the percussion, to the oboes, later to the drum, etc. In this part the violin sounds really as different instruments. It’s ingenious! I have never heard anything like that from other composers. This wonderful playfulness is going on in all movements.
Can we feel that Bartók wrote this piece right before he died? He couldn’t even finish the concerto.
Yes, the music was written before he died. But you cannot feel any grief or suffering. In a funny way I feel Bartók very close to Beethoven. The sense of humour in both composers is similar. It is an ironic humour, their sarcasms are close. There are very similar approaches in their way of musical thinking. They both built the composing on the contrasts between the different sounds, in this way they both could write very emotional music, but not romantic at all.
As I hear from your voice, you are looking forward to coming to Hungary. Is that right?
Yes, I am very happy that I will play with Ivan Fischer again, as we did several times. It was for me a great day, when we played the 2nd concerto of Bartók in the Concertgebouw some years ago. That was a really big success. To play with the BFO is always a special experience, because they know everything about music!