Listening to the Inner Voice

In Budapest

János Balázs

György Cziffra was a pianist who made a huge impact on 20th-century music. His style, his approach to interpreting music, his art management and support skills open new horizons even decades later and bring back lost traditions into concert halls, the opportunity for improvisation and the freedom of the performing artist, as set by Franz Liszt.

From the very beginning of his career, Kossuth Prize-awarded Steinway Artist János Balázs has sought to continue Cziffra’s legacy. According to critics and notable artists, Balázs’ technical skills, his musicality and his improvising ability make him truly an artistic and spiritual successor to Cziffra. His concerts are widely acclaimed, his ability to connect with the audience allowing him to blur the distance between the performer and the public.

In 2017, Balázs founded the Cziffra Fesztivál, which has become one of the most appreciated classical music events in Budapest. The festival features world-class performers, as well as many awards, master classes, and concert opportunities for young artists. This year, marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Cziffra, the organizers pay their homage with a year-long event in Hungary and abroad, in cooperation with international partners. The series has been included in the official anniversary calendar of UNESCO, and the Hungarian government has declared it an official memorial year. Balázs, artistic director of both the Cziffra Fesztivál and the György Cziffra memorial year shared details of the event with the Budapest Business Journal.

BBJ: How did the Cziffra Fesztivál begin?

János Balázs: Cziffra was an iconic and legendary artist of the romantic interpretation started by Franz Liszt. Apart from being an example for me as a child, later it became important for me to give space and focus to artists who are representative of this style, but also for the new generations of artists. We have been organizing the Cziffra Fesztivál in Budapest for five years with world-renowned artists in the most prestigious concert halls in Hungary. Education is also important for us, so we are supporting artists who continue this ideology. This year we are celebrating 100 years from the birth of György Cziffra and, as an artistic director, I thought why not make this a truly international memorial year, when we could celebrate Cziffra together with the world’s greatest orchestras and artists? I am happy to say that we have succeeded. To mention only some of our guests: the Radio Symphonic Orchestra of Paris, the Victoria Hall in Geneva, the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, altogether 35 cities from 15 countries, more than 100 programs and 100 performers will participate between February 2021 and May 2022. We can commemorate an artist in many ways, but since Cziffra was not a creator, we would rather integrate again and again into the international music stream the perception of music that he represented.

BBJ: Since Cziffra had such an enormous influence, how did the personal style of János Balázs unfold?

JB: Through the records, Cziffra helped me to find my inner self. An artist can unfold only if he listens to his inner voice. What I experienced in many concert halls around the world was that audiences are looking for what makes someone special, for individuality. They are not interested in listening to the same piano sheet played the same way again and again. The audience is interested to see how it is reconstructed by the artist.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of  May 7, 2021.

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