Nicolas Horvath at the piano in Lyon
I first heard of this young Monacan pianist and composer when a composer friend, David Toub, told me that he was going to program one of this piano pieces. That piece along with quite a few other performances are available on Nicolas Horvath’s You Tube video channel here.
Horvath developed a strong interest in contemporary music from Gerard Frémy among others and has been programming a great deal of new music ranging from the more familiar such as Philip Glass to a host of others including quite a few pieces written for or premiered by him as well as his own transcriptions and reconstructions. He is known for his concerts in non-traditional venues with very non-traditional lengths of performance as well as traditional concerts.
His current projects include Night of Minimalism in which he performs continuously for 10-15 hours with a wide variety of minimalist and post-minimalist pieces and Glass Worlds in which he performs the complete solo piano works of Philip Glass (approximately 15 hours) along with pieces by an international list of composers written in tribute to Glass. He is also an electroacoustic composer (he counts Francois Bayle among his teachers) and a visual artist all with a passion for contemporary works.
The artist standing in one of his installations.
We had corresponded via e-mail over the last year or so and when I suggested the idea of interviewing him he responded by arranging time after a (traditional length) concert he gave in Minsk, Belarus on December 1, 2014. I prepared for what I anticipated would be a one hour interview after which I imagined he would probably need to get to sleep. But when I attempted to wrap up our conversation (at a couple of points) he immediately asked, “Don’t you have any more questions?”. What followed resulted in approximately three and an half hours of delightful and wide-ranging conversation about this man and his art which he ended with the comment, “I must go, the piano is calling me.” It appears that his seemingly boundless energy extends well beyond the stage. The following January (2015) he gave the world premiere performance of all of Philip Glass’ 20 Etudes in none other than Carnegie Hall.
Horvath with spent score pages as he traverses one of his extended performance ventures. (copyright Jean Therry Boisseau)
Since that time we have continued our correspondence and this affable, patient young artist continues on various projects and no sign of his interest or energy waning. He recently sent me various photos of him in various settings pursuing his varied artistic interests for this article.
Composer as well as performer in an electroacoustic performance without piano.
Horvath was born in Monaco in 1977. He studied piano at the Académie de Musique Rainier III de Monaco and the École Normale de Musique de Paris. At 16, Lawrence Foster took notice of him in a concert and, securing a three year scholarship for him from the Princess Grace Foundation, was able to invite him to the Aspen Music Festival. After his studies in the École Normale de Musique in Paris, he worked for three years with
Bruno-Léonardo Gelber, Gérard Frémy who instilled in him a sensitivity to music of our time as well as Eric Heidsieck, Gabriel Tacchino, Nelson Delle-Vigne, Philippe Entremont and Oxana Yablonskaya. Leslie Howard got to know him and invited him to perform before the Liszt Society in the United Kingdom. He has been playing professionally for 7 years and puts his own characteristic style into his productions and performances.
In a move reminiscent of Terry Riley’s all night solo improv fests Horvath has performed several lengthy programs. He has performed Erik Satie’s proto-minimalist Vexations (1893) in performances that ranged widely in length. One notable performance at the Palais de Tokyo lasted 35 hours, the longest solo piano performance on record as far as I can determine. Previously this piece has been performed by tag teams of pianists (the first in 1967 in New York was curated by John Cage) to perform the 840 repetitions of the piece whose tempo or recommended duration is not specified. Horvath, taking on a musicological mantle is preparing his own edition of this unique work. He has published an 24 hour version on his You Tube channel here.
Given his intense schedule and vast repertoire he has been remarkably responsive and has an irrepressibly strong appetite for new music. He tells me that he had worked on a project in which he planned to play all the piano music of the French composer Jean Catoire (1923-2005), some 35 hours of material (in a single program, of course). Unfortunately that composer’s relative obscurity seems to have resulted in insufficient support for the project which is, for now, on hold. Here’s hoping that this can be realized sometime soon.
Horvath’s fascination with authenticity, completeness and performances of unconventional lengths uninterrupted by applause where audiences are invited to lay on the floor with blankets and sleeping bags and approach the piano seems unusual but he has been getting enthusiastic audiences and has enjoyed overflow crowds. Like Terry Riley and perhaps even some of Keith Jarrett’s solo concerts there is a ritual feel to these marathon performances. Regrettably I have not yet been able to attend one but I would love to partake in what must be a powerful shared experience. He invites people to come to the piano and to watch, look at the score. It is unlike the conventional recital and therein lies some of its charm. At least one of his videos features a small sign which reads, “Don’t feed the pianist” and attests to his warmth and wonderful sense of humor.
His passion has parallels in his spirituality and he has pursued sacred pilgrimages which require a great deal of time and energy but without doubt fill a very deep and sincere need. More details and photos are available on his blog. And, as with music, he is very open to discussing this very personal aspect of his life.
The artist braving the elements on one of his pilgrimages.
There are conventional two hour with intermission style recitals in more conventional concert venues that he has played and Horvath also enjoys playing with an orchestra. His performances of both of Philip Glass’ piano concertos can be viewed on You Tube and you can see the intensity of his execution. This came through in the course of our interview as well when Mr. Horvath would speak of the music and then verbally imitate the rhythms (no doubt endlessly practiced) which drive his enthusiasm. The music seems to be deeply integrated into his very being.
His first solo commercial recording was released in 2012. It consists of Franz Liszt’s ‘Christus’, an oratorio composed in 1862-66 for narrator, soloists, chorus and orchestra. Horvath plays a piano reduction done by the composer. This is the first known recording of this unique and virtuosic set of piano works. It is certainly an unusual choice for a debut recording but it is consistent with his very personal tastes. (He lists Scriabin and Chopin as among his favorite composers.). He is in the process of recording all of Philip Glass’ piano music for Grand Piano records distributed by Naxos. At the time of this writing four well-received volumes have been released. He is also planning to record all of Satie’s piano music and he has just recently released his rendition of Cornelius Cardew’s indeterminate masterpiece, Treatise.
I have seldom encountered a musician with such intensity and drive. He is also one of the most skilled in using the internet to promote himself and his projects. And though this is no doubt a man with a considerable ego he is in fact very unpretentious and very genuinely turned on, driven by the music itself. Don’t get me wrong, he is concerned with developing his image and career but he seems happy to be doing the work he has been doing and he is, like any really good musician, self-critical and a perfectionist.
A quick look at his YouTube channel here reveals some of the range of his interests which include the standard repertoire along with interest in contemporary works. Just released is a creative video with Horvath playing Glass’ Morning Passages while he apparently experiences a reverie involving a beautiful woman which could have been on MTV at its height. Perhaps he is even channeling Oscar Levant who embraced roles in films along with his pianistic talents. His website is a good resource for updates on his various projects and performances.
Focused concentration at the keyboard.
As of the time of this writing his discography includes:
Hortus Records 100 (2012)
A very unusual choice for a debut recording. Nonetheless this is a distinctive recording which reflects the virtuosity as well as the careful scholarship which continues to characterize his work. He managed to locate a couple of previously lost pieces in this set of composer transcriptions. One also can’t miss the spiritual dimension here, as close to his heart as music and an equally important aspect of his personality.
Grand Piano GP 677 (2015)
This first disc in the series manages to provide the listener with truly inspired interpretations of Glass’ keyboard oeuvre and gives us a world premiere recording of How Now as well.
Grand Piano GP 690 (2015)
The complete Piano Etudes by the man who premiered the set at Carnegie Hall. These etudes were also recorded by the wonderful Maki Namekawa and the opportunity to hear these really different takes is positively revelatory.
Grand Piano GP 691 (2016)
The third disc in the traversal of Glass’ piano music (original and transcribed) also offers world premieres. Horvath’s inclusion of Glass’ early Sonatina No. 2 reflects his work under the tutelage of Darius Milhaud and provides insight into the composer’s early development before he developed his more familiar mature style.
Grand Piano GP 692 (2016)
Haven’t yet heard this disc but I have in queued for ordering in the next few weeks.
Demerara Records (2016)
Haven’t heard this one yet either but, again, it’s in my Amazon shopping cart.
Horvath’s interpretation of this important work by Cornelius Cardew
Cornelius Cardew (1936-1981) was sort of England’s John Cage, a major voice in 20th Century experimental music. Scholarship has yet to do justice to the late composer’s work but this disc is an important contribution toward that end..
Horvath’s career is characterized by innovation and passion combined with astute scholarship and a keen sense of what is new and interesting in music while clearly being schooled in the classic repertoire. The piano calls him as do his other passions and I highly recommend paying attention as he answers those calls. He is truly an artist to watch.
N.B. Mr. Horvath generously read and approved an advance draft of this article shortly after arriving in the United States for concerts at Steinway Hall in Rockville with a Chopin program and a recital at The Spectrum in New York City which will include two pieces written for him by Michael Vincent Waller along with some Chopin pieces.