...a country (Hungary) whose population, even today, is barely over ten million has produced so many musicians and so much outstanding music. I am grateful for having been born and trained there.

Sir Georg Solti

Dialogue with Bartók’s universe

25 September 2019

With top awards from over 20 international piano competitions to his credit,  Russian-born Alexandre Moutouzkine, who now lives and teaches in New York and is a member of the jury for the competition, will contribute to the decision on which young talent is to be the winner. A lecturer at the Manhattan School of Music, he admits that discovering Bartók’s universe is an experience beyond description to a performing artist.

In 2017, an American classical music radio station placed your album Steinway & Sons in the top 10. Are you a Steinway fan?

The brand is not everything, but the ultimate sound results from a close collaboration between the pianist and his instrument. Each instrument has a soul of its own and plays a part in the way a melody will sound on it. Also, you have to consider the space that is filled by the music. One of my favourite teachers once said that there are no bad pianos, only bad pianists. For me, playing on an unfamiliar or unusual piano is an exciting challenge.


Alexandre Moutouzkine. Photo: Liszt Academy/Gábor Valuska



Which Bartók piece did you play first?

As a child, I played Mikrokosmos first. Later, when I discovered his Piano Concerto No. 2, I was completely fascinated. Putting everything else aside, I spent days poring over Bartók’s notes on that piece. I was 15 then and studying in Hanover. Slowly, Bartók’s philosophy revealed itself to me and helped me understand the continuity from Johann Sebastian Bach through Beethoven and Chopin to Liszt and Bartók.


In what ways have Bartók’s pieces changed piano playing throughout the world?

That is an exciting proposition particularly because unfortunately too few recordings have survived to show us how Bartók played his own pieces. I’m referring mostly to recordings of Mikrokosmos and folk-inspired compositions. The narrative style of performance, or parlando, attributed to him definitely opened a new chapter in the history of music. He moved beyond the melodious cantando style and enriched universal piano playing through this new approach.


Does playing Bartók enrich the performing artist?

It is no exaggeration to say that Bartók is a self-contained universe. It was probably a Greek philosopher who said that music is one of the gifts that humankind received to remind them of Paradise lost. Bartók and other musical geniuses like him are able to create a world of their own through their music, and its discovery and the journey itself  are beyond description. It’s an experience like fairy tales coming to life where the discoverer is enriched with hitherto unknown feelings.


What is your favourite piano piece by Bartók?

It is always the one I am just exploring. What is more, when I return to a particular piece, I always discover a new layer in it. You can fall in love with the same piece several times. I am always overwhelmed by his Piano Concerti Nos. 1 and 2 and his Sonata for Piano, but I am equally amazed again and again by the simple beauty of minor folk-inspired pieces. In each case, the question of the “right” mode of interpretation is an exciting one. As regards Piano Concerto No. 3, I have been most deeply impressed by the way it was played by György Sándor, the outstanding Hungarian pianist. You can sense there a deep understanding and insider quality whereby a piece and its performer enter into a dialogue. To accomplish this is the ultimate joy for an artist.


Réka Muray-Klementisz