I have fallen in love. Truly, madly, deeply. I know I do so at a somewhat alarming rate, but this time it’s for keeps. I simply can’t imagine any circumstances under which I would fall out of love with this man. And no. This isn’t the lustful blush of a fatal attraction but rather the result of an earth-shattering, mountain-moving, tsunami-like surge of emotion that has lodged itself firmly in my bones, having already run roughshod over my heart.
Havasi Balázs defies all conventional wisdom as to what an internationally renowned concert pianist should look like. Not for him the gloved hands and associated delicacy. Although clad in black from head to toe, his ensemble – shiney patent boots, black jeans, fitted black shirt, black suit jacket – was a far cry from the tuxedo’d look favoured by many in his position. Foregoing the combed-back or side-parted hairstyle also favoured by his ilk, his shock of blond hair screamed rad!
Taking the stage for the final session of the TEDx Danubia in the Urania theatre in Budapest, Havasi’s mandate was to share with us something of his search to find a new musical lanuguage to communicate, ‘not to copy, not to imitate, not to replay the concepts of others. Rather to create a new style in which his classically trained style is mixed with the musical inspiration of the modern world around him’. He was coming on after the legendary John Foppe, who had had the first standing ovation of the day; a hard act to follow. But follow it he did, and in what style!
According to Havasi, with the advent of social media, composing music is a little like writing a message, putting it in a bottle, and then casting it into the ocean for somene else to fish out and add their creativity to it. The compostion is the music. The ocean is the Internet. One tune he composed in his attic room in Hungary – Tüdérálom – has found him aclaim all over the world in the package of Tracey Thorn’s You are a lover. In 2009, he set a new world record for the fastest pianist, 498 repetitions in 60 seconds. And when you see him in action, beating the music with his left foot, rising and falling on his seat, leaning in to the keyboard, you see how this is possible. He plays with every inch of his body and soul – not just with his hands, heart, and mind.
He told us of how uncool it was to be a pianist growing up, how he took pains to hide it from his friends, afraid that playing the piano would exclude him from playing ball or hanging out. But that when they came to see him play (he was playing classical music back then) they all converted. Who said Bach could not be fun? This classically trained graduate of the Hungarian Academy of Music always wanted to be a rock star. And he sees no reason why his classical training should stop him. So when he launched into his latest piece, it was loud, loud, loud. The sound filled the Urania and I had little trouble imagining him playing Wembley or O2. Not far into his piece, we could hear the drums but not see them. Then on stage wheeled Andy – the drummer from the Hungarian band, Hooligans, who made the news a while back for being accused of causing ‘moral damage’ to the citizens of Moráhalom. With tatoos for sleeves, he too was in black, punctuated by chains, studs, and piercings. That the pair have played together before was obvious; that they share a mutual respect was tangible, that this unlikely duo from two completely different musical backgrounds could together produce such an amazing sound, was inspiring on so many levels.
I have no doubt in my mind that Havasi will accomplish his goal of ‘reinterpreting the possibilities and dusting off the concept of piano concerts that has solidified over the course of centuries’. In front of 400+ in the Urania on Friday, 25th March, 2011, he made a start. For me, the performance last night ranks right up there with seeing BB King play in a boxing ring in Dublin so many years ago and seeing Leonard Cohen on his comeback tour in an outdoor gig in Amsterdam.
I am kicking myself that I didn’t know of him in time to catch his concert here earlier this month, the Symphonic Red. Symphonic conveys a musical world that cannot be categorized into any of the traditional musical genres. It contains elements from New Age, World Music, classical and pop music, as universal contents cannot be squeezed into the limitations of a single genre. Bertie Downs, the manager of REM heralded the birth of a new musical category in relation to this project, which he labeled World Classical Music. It is a new, multicultural genre that will touch the souls of people all around the world.
So, my friends, help me keep this love affair alive. If any of you reading this ever hears of another gig, anywhere, let me know. My bags are packed and I’m ready to go…