The program series of Cziffra Festival started in February 2016 by the initiation of János Balázs Liszt and Junior Prima awarded concert pianist to represent a worthy memory for the extraordinary pianist Georges Cziffra. However few were given to learn directly from the master, his spirituality lives among us while many recordings preserve his playing and we can learn from the artists who knew himpersonally or consider him as a role model.
There are more concerts, masterclasses, competitions, an instrument presentation and a drawing competition is organized within the frames of the festival so all ages have the possibility to take part. The events in 2016 were hosted by MOM Cultural Center and Barabás Villa. We were talking with János Balázs, founder and artistic director of Cziffra Festival about this kind of program series' role in music education.
János, do you remember how Georges Cziffra concert pianist became your role model?
From my early years in my whole life I always meet Georges Cziffra somehow. The very first meeting with him happened via vinyl records, namely, if my dad paused playing the piano at home, always the records of Georges Cziffra were being played. It's a curiosity that my father played jazz and popular music at home, I met classical music only by Georges Cziffra. These Liszt recordings were those, that forwarded my urge to sit down at the piano. I searched the keys for these Liszt melodies and I started to practise as an autodidact. I was aroung 4 or 5, and I followed this self-teaching method for 2 or 3 years. Then I was interested in the life of the master, I read his autobiographichal book Cannons and Flowers from which many things became clear, I could attend the piano competitions named after him in Baden bei Wien and in the famous chapel in Senlis, I could meet his grandchildren, too. It came to light for me at that time it's a huge backlog of the Hungarian music life that Hungary has no worthy memory of him, although I titled my concerts 'Hommage a Cziffra' since my age of 16, I felt it was very little. It's not only me but also others who should give concerts under his name, and much more. I gave birth to this Georges Cziffra Festival last year and I felt I caught this possibility at a very good time because many people sided with it and it becam a great success due to my enthusiasm and effort on the one hand, rather Cziffra's personality and cult affecting long ages. The tickets were sold in moments, many people applied for all programs. Georges Cziffra is a legend for the senior citizens, my task is to show him to the youth.
How big cult is surrounding Georges Cziffra in pther countries, for example in France?
Much larger then here in Hungary. Going abroad I noticed when it is about Hungarians that Ferenc Puskás, paprika, goulash, gypsy music, Franz Liszt and Georges Cziffra are well known. In France, Georges Cziffra is considered one of the greatest artist and they feel him somewhat theirs. I hope we can fight that recognition for him in Hungary that he would have deserved already in life.
How did it emerge to start a festival in memory of him in Hungary?
As I mentioned, many people should take part in this initiative since many Cziffra-scholars and worshippers live in Hungary both in the profession and the audience so it was clear to start a sequence. It was also unequivocal that anything I do under the name of Georges Cziffra, that should be loyal to Cziffra's original notion. He also established a festival in France. Not only concerts should be organized, we also should teach, take attention to the youth, offer something for even the youngest who can't sit out a concert of 90 minutes, that's why we launched a drawing competition. Citing the atmosphere of a coffee house, we created the Cziffra Slice together with Szamos Marzipan Manufacture. The essence was the global cover for the name of Georges Cziffra that affects all social segments, the best form for this purpose is the festival.
How were the programs of 2016 made up?
The main basis of the festival was the concert series during four days which meant five concerts since we had to hold a public dress rehearsal for the gala concert. The essence was to act those artists on the concerts who were in contact with Georges Cziffra or represent the career and musical Credo of György Cziffra all their lives. This concert series was completed with a masterclass for three days where great students, youngsters were listened by my great teacher colleagues and me, there was a drawing competition called "My Music Pixie" for small children, an instrument presentation for bigger children, and also the Cziffra Gastro was a significanp part of this festival. The piano competition will be held in autumn which is also part of the first festival but we couldn't organize all programy in February. We are looking forward to this competition with great expectation and I hope the competitors, too.
The concerts with concersations were like a music history lesson. What were the theme of these concerts?
We set the goal that those people who met Georges Cziffra should tell what kind of person he was. We know by recordings what kind of artist he was, how brilliant technical virtuosity and musical deepness he had but it doesn't come to light what his favourite meal was or why he was crazy about electronics and how his career developed. These questions were answered by Tamás Vásáry who knew even the young Cziffra, László Andrássy, relative of Georges Cziffra os Károly Mocsári who was his scholar. These roundtable conversations blew away many interrogation points about the life of Georges Cziffra because there used to be some mist around all starts, and to make this mist clear we need authentic people who met him.
Who performed on the concerts? In what relationship were they with Georges Cziffra?
Most of the performers have met him personally and knew him closer. Who didn't - like me - they didn't meet him because of their age but we try to go along the same path designated by Franz Liszt and Georges Cziffra. Including but not limited to: Tamás Vásáry, Barnabás Kelemen, Katalin Kokas, Ferenc Snétberger, Félix Lajkó, Károly Mocsári, Péter Sárik, Andrea Malek. I was very glad when the idea of the festival came true and it was to gather the performers, all of them acquiesced immediately even through it is a start-up festival and I had to invite such artists who can fill the greatest concert halls and whose calendar is already full. This festival became an affair, not only a performance for the artists so they feel they bring closer the name of Georges Cziffra to the Hungarian culture if they give their name to the Cziffra Festival.
Great artists usually give masterclasses singly, however, participants could learn from four professors within the frames of this festival. Who gave mesterclasses now?
I tried to edit the masterclass to be authentic and to pass Cziffra's musicalits on to the students. The greatest professor wasTamás Vásáry who - as I mentioned - met the young Cziffra as well, Károly Mocsári and Kálmán Dráfi also learned from him. I myself clould'n't meet Georges Cziffra since I was 6 when he passed away but I dealt with him much and music for me becomes one with the performance of Georges Cziffra that I could add something to this masterclass. It was a great pleasure for me that the participants represented very high quality. The sudents had such percfect technique and musical deepness that many times we couldn't add but had to take something away from the productions. There were many different ideas and imaginations superimposed from other pianists that we had to unwrap the original work since all talented artists will be imitated sooner or later, we have to notice who is the original.
Who could take part in the masterclass, what kind of opuses did they have to prepare with?
The masterclass was completely open, everyone could apply, however, there was a professional filter. Those who were selected, represented the highest quality. According to the name Georges Cziffra Masterclass, romantic opuses had to be chosen: works by Liszt, Chopin, Schumann and Brahms, but we also accepted some pieces by Beethoven or Rachmaninov also.
Which age group was targeted by the instrument presentation? How was the program made up?
We expected visitors from the age of 3 to 15. The essence of the presentation was to introduce instruments interactively, with conversations. It was a great success, we could fill the room completely.
You are making instrument presentations regularly in MOM Cultural Center since 3 years, focusing on the piano. With which instruments could children get in touch now, within the frames of Cziffra Festival?
It was a very special concert since we introduced the harp, the guitar, the violin ant the violoncello. Piano has always been introduced, now four instruments were presented that haven't been yet. Four Junior Prima awarded artists were playing (Anasztázia Razvaljajeva - harp, Miklós Környei - guitar, Ernő Kállai - violin, Gergely Devich - violoncello), it was a very enjoyable concert, worthy to the spirit of Georges Ciffra.
What was the drawing competition called "My Music Pixie" about? Who could attend and what kind of drawinds could they submit?
Very small, only few years old children, our goal was to lead them into the empire of music. We tried to facilitate the musical creatures from their imagination. We received a lot of drawings (nearly 600) drawings, we tried to select the best ones, it was very difficult to make the right decision. The winners' reward was that the drawn music pixies were sewn by a textile artist so children could return home and sleep with a small own plush figure.
The Georges Cziffra National Piano Competition has been recently announced and will take place in the end of October - beginning of November. What's the goal of this competition, who can attend?
We would like to find young talents, everyone can apply between 15 and 25 from any location of our country. For the time being we plan a nation-wide competition but we would like to extend it to an internatonal competition in the future.
How many turns will the competition have, what kind of music pieces should be played?
The program of the competition covers the original piano competition presided and represented by Georges Cziffra. It will have two turns: a semifinal and a final, with a timeframe of 25-40 minutes each. Romantic opuses for piano are in the foreground: works by Liszt and Chopin, transcriptions by Cziffra, and a contemporary piece is obligatory from the piano works of László Dubrovay. He is a fantastic composer and contemporary music should be publicized all the time. Competitors will have a difficult task, nevertheless we suppose that many we get applicants since many talents live in Hungary. With the jury, we try to give such prizes and opportunities to the talents that launch them on their career and they can find their way. This goal is also the imagination of Georges Cziffra, we organize it with great pleasure, love and devotion.
Who will be the members of the jury?
Tamás Vásáry, Károly Mocsári, Kálmán Dráfi, László Dubrovay and me as the artistic director of the festival. It will be a great experience for the pianists that the composer of a certain opus also listens to the production, since no one knows better how it should be performed. It would be a weird experience to play Liszt in the presence of Franz Liszt or to play Chopin in the presence of Chopin himself. Participants of the competition will remember and narrate after 40 years that Dubrovay was there and "I played his work to him".
What kind of rewards will the successful competitors receive?
The first 3 rated will gain cash reward of HUF 800.000, 600.000 and 400.000, as well as a special reward of HUF 200.000 offered by László Dubrovay. Beside cash rewards, it is more important that winners will gain also national and foreign concert invitations since good pianists should join the Hungarian and the international circulation, a good place at a piano competition will help this goal.
How will Cziffra Festival continue in the following years? What plans do you have in this respect?
Although the program is completely set up already, the only public features are that not only MOM Cultural Center but Franz Liszt Academy of Music will host concerts, and the festival will last for a week. Many programs will be preserved but there will be launched new programs as well, and also foreign artists will perform. The complete official program will be announced on a press conference on 21th September, 2016.
Have you received any feedback from Cziffra Festival?
I got many positive feedback, this gives me power to continue this project since organizing is a great work with little sleep. Launching a complete festival is very difficult by itself but even more difficult to continue while we set the measure very high that accomplishing it will put us to the proof. We would like to give the audience and Georges Cziffra more and better by all means, we hope the beautiful sequel.
Let us congratulate hereby for organizing Cziffra Festival and effecting the programs so far and wish much power for the future plans! I hope we also meet in 2017.
The CZF logo and some of the images are from the downloadable press material of Cziffra Festival, the othes photos are personal recordings.
Official website of Georges Cziffra Festival