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Spanish pianist Josu de Solaun, the winner of the 2014 Enescu Competition, Piano Section will perform an extraordinary recital on September 24, at the Romanian Athenaeum in Bucharest, during this edition of the Enescu Competition. While in Bucharest competing, Josu de Solaun has stayed in a rented apartment right below the apartment George Enescu lived in during the ’30’s before moving to the Cantacuzino Palace. This year, Josu de Solaun has recorded the complete works for piano by George Enescu at Naxos. The CD will also be released in Romania this autumn and will be followed by an autograph session.

Interview by Nona Beicu 

Up to the age of 17 you have studied in Spain, your native country. Then you moved to the United States to continue your studies at the Manhattan School of Music, and currently you have concerts all over the world. Where do you feel at home and want to come back every time after a major contest?

I mostly feel at home wherever there is one of three things: a piano, friends, and/or my family. Mostly now I leave near Houston, although I also keep an apartment in New York, where I have lived for 15 years, since the age of 17. And of course, my hometown in Spain, Valencia, always feels like home, and Mediterranean culture in general (Spain, Greece, Italy…). But I maybe should confess that New York will always hold a special place in my heart. After traveling so much, it’s hard to identify a single place as your home. Your home starts to be that place where your loved ones are, because historically, musicians have always been nomadic in their life style. Of course, my home city of Valencia, Spain, has an important emotional significance, because I spent my childhood there, but also Bilbao, and the Basque Country, where my father is from. And New York is also deeply engrained in my consciousness, as I mentioned, because I lived there from ages 17 to 32, experiencing some of the most important rites of passage of my life there. Now I live near Houston, because I teach at S. Houston State University, and I live in a beautiful house in the deep, wild woods, on a lake, which feels very much like home now, as I had lost touch with   nature a bit during all those years living in big cities. That is where home is now. But home is also Bulgaria, where some of my family is from, and Romania, a country that has shown me such affection, and where some of my bests friends in life and music live.

Josu de Solaun will give an extraordinary recital on September 24 at the Romanian Athenaeum during the 2016 edition of the Enescu Competition. He will also launch his record of Enescu and held an autograph session. Tickets for the recital are available through Eventim. 

How did you discover your passion for piano and who were the musicians who inspired you over the years?

I started playing the piano quite late, for most standards. My first instrument was the classical guitar, which I always loved, and still do. But at some point, around age 7 or 8, the piano started to awaken my interest, and it quickly took over. I would say that by age 10, in 1992, I already knew I wanted to be a pianist. I felt my identity was that of a pianist. As for the musicians that inspired me over the years, at first it was my teachers, specially Maria Teresa Naranjo (a student of Magda Tagliaferro), Nina Svetlanova (a student of Heinrich Neuhaus), and Horacio Gutierrez, a great virtuoso pianist who had won the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, and how had studied with Sergy Tarnowsky, Horowitz’s main teacher in Kiev; but also guitarists, such as John Williams, Narciso Yepes, and Andrés Segovia. Later also conductors, such as Bruno Aprea, or singers, such as Catherine Malfitano. Also artists who are no longer with us, such as Horowitz, Rachmaninov, Friedman, Maryla Jonas, Cortot (very influential in my music-making), Fürtwangler, Rosa Ponselle, Guinette Neveau, and composers such as Haydn, Chopin, Wagner, Schumann, Enescu, Janacek, Szymanowski, Elliott Carter, and John Adams. Lipatti was always a big influence, and of the living pianists, I would cite Lupu, Schiff, Perahia, Goode, and Barenboim. I also love the soprano Barbara Hannigan. She is a big inspiration. And the Bulgarian pianist Evgeni Bozhanov. Enescu has always been a model for what a musician should be, and so has Rachmaninov, who like Enescu, excelled in many fields. As for composers, I would say my ten favorites remain Haydn, Chopin, Schumann, Brahsm, Wagner, Debussy, Enescu, Janacek, Szymanowski, Elliott Carter, and John Adams. Their music has shaped my view of the universe, and consitutes the soundtrack of my life.

“The Enescu Competition prize came at a very difficult time in my personal biography”

 

Besides your passion for music you also have a great interest in philosophy and your studies that have followed are a confirmation. Music and philosophy can shape each other?

In our civilization, when arts, religions, sciences, technologies, have reached a certain stage of development, then philosophy usually appears, in order to solve or to at least try to explain certain contradictions that cannot be understood from within those disciplines themselves, but that nevertheless arise from them. For instance, there are certain paradoxes, certain contradictions, certain questions, that the creative activity of music-making poses – that arise from music making – that cannot be resolved or explained from within the musical discipline itself. For example, the question of what is music, or what is rhythm, or what constitutes a musical phrase, or what is musical meaning, or what is musical form, or what is the relation between music and other arts, or what is absolute music – these are not, despite their appearance, musical questions. They are philosophical questions. In other words, they cannot be answered musically – they must be answered philosophically. We therefore need this other discipline for this, and this discipline is what philosophy is, in my opinion. Philosophy, therefore, deals with the contradictions, the incompatibilities among different technical concepts (concepts produced by arts, religions, sciences, sciences, technologies), contradictions that cannot be explained from those discipline themselves, because they overwhelm them. Philosophy tries, then, to address and interpret all of this, to give us a map of the world we live in. Of course, the relationship between music and philosophy has always been, historically, very strong. Not only because many philosophers were also musicians (Pythagoras, Descartes, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche…), but because the mentor-disciple structure of philosophy is very similar to that of music. Beethoven was a student of Haydn. Plato was a student of Socrates, etc. Philosophy, despite not being very fashionable, is increasingly important to be able to both understand and transform the world we live in,  and for a musician, it is fundamental, in order to develop a critical mindset and not fall trap of fads and ideologies that can obstruct the musical act. For instance, a musician needs philosophy in order to understand the complex relationship between sound and notation. But this is just one of many examples.

At the previous edition of the George Enescu International Music Contest you won the first prize of the piano section. Being a great admirer of the Romanian composer’s music, what does winning this award mean to you and when did you start playing works of George Enescu? 

Winning the George Enescu International Piano Competition, being of only 11  First Prize winners since the competition’s founding 1958, is a great honor for me, and a great source of joy and even pride. The reasons are manifold. Firstly, it is a competition that carries the name of one of the greatest geniuses of Western Civilization, and in this sense, it is both a great honor and a great responsibility. A constant reminder, almost an ethical one. To carry furth Enescu’s message is to serve Music, without any vanity, with constant sacrifice, hard work, and search for beauty and truth. Also, it is very comforting to see one’s name, one’s little name, next to such giants of the piano as Radu Lupu or Elisabeth Leonskaja. The prize came at a very difficult time in my personal biography, and it served as a great encouragement to continue on this magical search we call art and music. A search in the darkness, with occasional miracles of light. Also, the prize has a strong symbolic meaning in my psyche, because I always loved and admired Enescu’s music deeply, and the competition (and my subsequent recording of Enescu’s complete piano works for Naxos these last two years), gave me a chance to delve more deeply into this amazing universe, this amazing creative cosmos that is his music. I started playing Enescu’s music quite young, but first only through pieces such as the flute Cantabile and Presto, or the trumpet Legend, which are not really his most representative music (the same happens with the Romanian Rhapsodies, whose popularity made him suffer greatly). Only later did I discover his piano music, the octet, the chamber music, the songs, Oedipe, the symphonies, Vox Maris, and I was simply overwhelmed by the sheer genius, inventiveness, audicity, density, and multi-layered craftsmanship of this amazing music. I consider Enescu a genius on the level of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven.

“I consider Enescu a genius on the level of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven”

 

Josu_de_Solaun_cu partitura

Because of this award you had the opportunity to participate, last year, at the Ravello Festival (Italy). How was this experience and what other benefits you had thanks to George Enescu International Music Competition?

Thanks to the prize I have been invited to play with the symphony orchestras of Ploiesti, Targu Mures, Satu Mare, Iasi, and Timisoara. Playing at the Ravello Festival, with the legendary Orchestra della Fenice, was of course a dream come true, and a great friendship was forged with the other musicians, Stefan Tarara and Eun-Sun Hong (also Enescu winners). Thanks to this friendship we are now recording two CDs together for Naxos, to be released next year: one with Enescu’s A-Minor Trio and Piano Quartet, Op. 16, and another with a selection of the best Haydn trios. In this sense the competition has not only given me amazing artistic and professional opportunities, but also the opportunity to forge new musical and artistic friendship that I’m sure will be with me for many years to come.

enescu buna

During the contest you stayed on George Enescu Street, right in the building where the composer lived for 6 years. Do you think this has inspired you and helped you to be closer to his energy?

This was a very special coincidence, totally unplanned, that I still have a difficult time explaining. I was staying at the same building, in Strada George Enescu (next to White Church, which Enescu attended often), in the apartment below where he lived in the late 30s and early 40s, before moving more permanently to the back rooms of the Cantacuzino Palace. It was in this apartment that he composed some of the pieces that I love, and it all gave me the feeling of a very surprising cosmic coincidence. Psychologically, it gave me a lot of strength during the competition, almost feeling that Enescu was encouraging me all along.

You have performed as a soloist with renowned international orchestras, such as the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, Mexico City Philharmonic Orchestra, New York Sinfonietta, Leos Janacek Symphony Orchestra. But still, what do you want to achieve in the future? What is your dream? 

One of my dreams is to play in the Enescu Festival. It would be an amazing honor. I hope one day it happens. As a First Prize winner of the competition, it would mean a lot to me, sort of the closing of a cycle. Also to play again with the Enescu Philharmonic (I only played with them once, in the competition finals) or with the Radio Orchestra, with which I’ve never collaborated. Other dreams, of course, are to keep playing with wonderful musicians and orchestras, and to get better, to improve my playing. This, probably, is my main dream.

cadru superb enescu

What advice do you have for young musicians who want to have an international career?

To love music unabashedly, uncompromisingly, to play with joy and passion, to always search for more, for deeper, to work and work and work, despite failures, depite rejections. To never, ever, ever, give up. Music is worth all possible sacrifices.

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