Rant ‘N’ Roll: Adam Gyorgy – The Classical Piano Man

“…and the piano it sounds like a carnival,” Billy Joel, 1973.

Those words, written by Billy Joel in 1973, were never more apt than when it comes to 30-year-old Hungarian piano player Adam Gyorgy. On his new self-released album, Adam Gyorgy Plays Liszt, Bach & Mozart (adamgyorgy.com), he not only makes the piano sound like a carnival but a whole symphony, as if he had 30 fingers instead of 10.

Franz Liszt (1811-1886), Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) and Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) wrote notes so stirring to arouse the senses that those exact notes, in the exact order in which they were written, will be enjoyed, studied, performed and recorded for time immemorial. Gyorgy, though, like a jazz musician, takes liberties, at least with the last two composers. On Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Flight Of The Bumble Bee,” composed in 1899, he flies, skips, dances and struts his considerable stuff so dream-like it’s stunning. On Mendelssohn’s “The Wedding March,” written in 1842, he throws in more Liszt and even some Vladimir Horowitz (1903-1989).

Critics have mentioned his “relentless consistency.” Adam likens his style to “having sharp ears and an understanding of sound projection, exercising control and playing with a warm heart and a cold head. For me,” he continues, “music starts when words end. Every single note has so much information and you really can get anything and everything behind the music in a heartbeat. I come from a traditional European piano school, which is basically a fascinating mixture of technical Russian with French and German detail. I call it the international language, never forcing the piano but aiming to get the most out of it.”

A child prodigy since age four, he’s charismatic and also composes with a playful air of deconstructing and reimagining well-known melodies. He recently sold out Carnegie Hall, with critics going gaga over his enthusiasm and energy—calling it infectious. He could replace Keith Emerson in Emerson, Lake & Palmer. That’s how eclectic his musical worldview is.

The music on the new album, set to be released April 17, is kinetic. There’s constant action. It’s moving. And it moves like a raging wind or an angry sea. This sense of movement is heightened by dramatic interludes, respites of loveliness, counterpoint, flowing glissando passages and his unerring ear for continual edge-of-your-seat suspense. Succinctly put, it is not background music.

“Being from Budapest,” he says, “I’m experiencing a totally new life touring the U.S. I communicate myself through these composers. I’m particularly close to Liszt and Chopin. Liszt speaks my language. In the Bartok Conservatory where I graduated at 18, we had an obligatory repertoire to play and I played Bach’s `Partita In G Major’ which I put on the album. Mozart is also very near to me. In Vienna, I won a competition playing Haydn’s `Sonata In G-Major.’ Mozart and Haydn’s sonatas are always so important in any pianist’s education. That’s why I put Mozart’s `Sonata In C Major’ on the album.

“The first half of my solo Carnegie Hall recital was improvisation,” he explains. “Music bridges cultures and connects people. Classical music shouldn’t be put in a box like at a museum, but should be accessible.”

But where is the room for improvisation when you’re performing the note-the-note works of these composers?

“It’s a new chapter in music,” he boldly proclaims.

Adam, who owns three Steinway pianos, will perform live June 8 at the European Football Championship in front of an estimated audience of 300 million people, broadcasted live all over the world.