DIPLOMATA magazine interview by Szendi Horváth Éva

Winner of Junior Prima and Prima Primissima Prizes, pianist Tamás Érdi was only fifteen when he had his very successful debut playing Mozart’s piano concerto at the Budapest Spring Festival. At the age of seventeen he won the Louis Braille International Piano Competition in Moscow, and a year later he got first in Salt Lake City as well. During the years now 35-year old pianist has had concerts in 27 countries and released several CDs and DVDs.

How was your exceptional musical talent revealed?

– Because of my eye operation I had to visit the USA many times until the age of three. My parents noticed back then that music was everything for me – Tamás Érdi says. Washing machines, dishwashers and spinners all ‘played music’ to me, the tram braked in F sharp and I found Chopin’s music in the birds’ singing. Melinda Kistétényi and Ilona Bartalus played me first Schubert pieces on the piano live. I immediately fell in love with the Trout Quintet, and based on it I composed new variations with my left hand.

How did it go on?

– On my first exam I played a Bach minuet, which was disturbed by a plane, and as long as I heard its sound I didn’t want to continue. Erika Becht ‘fell for me’ then, and she has been my ‘music sheet’ since then. She was recommended to us by Zoltán Kocsis, and now Erika teaches his son as well. Then I learned that you can never stop while playing music by any means…

You were very young when your international career began.

– Indeed, I was only fifteen when I won the Louis Braille International Piano Competition in Moscow. The success gave me wings, but at the same time I also had to face misery: in tragic circumstances I lost one of my brothers, Balázs. So my mother had to come back home, and only Erika stayed with me for the prize-giving ceremony. This event tied me even stronger to Erika, she also walked with me at the funeral. I will never forget how much strength she gave me then.

After winning a piano contest in Salt Lake City you started your musical studies at the Vienna Academy of Music.

– Together with the pianists from Dunakeszi we won a five-piano competition, and then I began my studies in Vienna. After graduating from the Járdányi Pál Music School I was rejected by the Budapest Academy of Music, I could not even go to the entrance exam. Yet in Vienna I was taken by a fantastic teacher, Imola Jó. She was very happy to have me – I remember, at our first meeting she called me crony king – and reassured me that I knew something that cannot be learned. ‘But now, you’ll learn to play the piano!’ – she said.

At the age of 19 you had your first CD released.

– At that time I was Leon Fleisher’s disciple at the Toronto Academy of Music, and I fell more and more for classical music. I realised I can live without Mozart, but it would be all pointless. At that time two of my Mozart CDs were released, which have had two encore releases since then and they were distributed in Canada as well. During the years I also released Schubert, Chopin, Liszt and Bartók CDs as well as DVDs.

You have already travelled the world many times, and have had concerts in a lot of countries. Which concert was the most memorable for you?

– Maybe my first tour in England. During the concert tour it was the first occasion I met world famous pianist Tamás Vásáry, who lived there at that time. Because of our First names – Tamás – many would think in England we were Polish, and that I was his son. He lost his wife, Ildikó when we lost my brother, Balázs. Tamás was convinced that our meeting was meant to be, and it was ‘arranged’ by Ildikó and Balázs. Working together gave me strength to cope with my loss.

You are often invited to cultural and diplomatic events.

– That’s right. I have many such invitations both in Hungary and abroad. I have already played the piano in Washington, and I have performed at the Chopin statue in Warsaw several times. Last time I was invited by Dr Anna Körmendi Consul to play in Krakow, where I opened the Jewish Festival.

I read the words she said after the concert: what he does is charming…

– Yes, it’s true. Yet, for me the greatest praise would be equal with the moment when in a small country school a little girl began crying during my playing a Chopin nocturne. She will ask the teacher why she had to cry…

How much practice do you need for the continuous concert tours?

– At least 5-6 hours a day. Ferenc Liszt said: “If I miss one day’s practice, I notice it. If I miss two days’ practice, the critics notice it. If I miss three days’ practice, the public notices it.”

In the summer you had a great, yet very interesting initiative.

– I am deeply convinced you cannot only meet demands, but also create them. We wanted to enrich the cultural events around the Lake Balaton with the summer evening concerts, so that it would not only be about light music. The concert tour entitled Class on the Shore was put together with the Danubia Orchestra from Óbuda, Budapest. Upon the sponsors’ request I was the face of the events, which I was happy to take, proving – not only to my companions of misfortune – that the impossible can be conquered! From Balatonfüred to Akarattya, from Szigliget through Csopak, Paloznak, Földvár and Keszthely to the shore of the Velencei Lake it was shown that classical music has its audience.

As far as I could see on your website your concert agenda is full until the end of December.

– We spent October with preparations, because November will be a bit busy. On 2nd November some fellow musicians and I will perform in MüPa. Bartók will be focused on in our series called Let’s Play Together! Then I will play the piano in Xavér Varnus’s concert series in the Calvinist Church of Kőbánya, Budapest. On 11th November I will travel to Vojvodina, and have a concert in the beautiful banquet hall of the Novi Sad City Hall. Around the middle of the month the charity concert organised by the Lions Club will be held in Gödöllő. On 21st November I will play at Éva Bodrogi’s soprano evening at the Zwack Museum, and on the 28th I will play at the concert commemorating Kálmán Strém in Nagykanizsa. On the last day of the month I will play two piano concertos with the University Orchestra at the Szeged National Theatre. In December we are travelling to Switzerland. After our concerts in Lausanne and Vevey I will finish the year with a solo concert at the Óbudai Társaskör, Budapest. Certainly I have already begun ‘filling’ my concert calendar for next year. At the moment we are fixing the dates for my performances in Craiova and in Bucharest which will also bring along a concert tour in Transylvania.