Frank Horvat, composer & pianist

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

I started to learn to play the accordion when I was 5. I wanted to play the organ but I was too short to reach the pedals. At age 9, I started piano lessons and eventually (and unfortunately) stopped taking accordion lessons. Around that same time, I composed my first piece, “Sabirna” (was supposed to be “Sabrina”, character from an Archie comic, but I misspelled itJ). From an early age, I was always stimulated by the sound of music. I would sit on the floor drumming on pails with cooking spoons, playing and singing along with my parents’ records. This life path I took was inevitable.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

As a child, my mom would take me to the library and we would get books about the lives of great composers, I was motivated by their stories. Being of Hungarian ancestry, I wanted to be Liszt. Otherwise in those early days, I was very motivated by the older and more advanced students in my local community. I practiced more so I can be as good as them.

At present, I have a long list of musicians I revere that act as both influence on my musical aesthetic and how to go about my career. These include but are not limited to Frank Zappa, Philip Glass, Tori Amos, Bjork, Marjan Mozetich and Christos Hatzis.

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?

Dealing with my own personal demons in relation to the music making. As I battle depression and anxiety issues, at times those can limit my creative output or make me hesitant to try something bold.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

Not to be too flippant about it, but a pleasure is to be paid to create! I know some people find the deadline of a commission to be challenging, but for me it’s the opposite…I do my best creative work when I know when it has to be done. The greatest challenge again is myself…doubt and bad self-esteem wondering if the commissioner will actually like what I composed.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

For me, it can be challenging to collaborate with someone I don’t know very well personally. Not knowing what makes them tick or even if what I composed for them resonates on a higher level than just what it takes to play or sing what’s on the printed page. For me, developing a relationship with a collaborator is valuable.

Of which works are you most proud?

The last piece I composed.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Music for contemplation. Music to go into a different headspace. I think that’s why many of my works tend to rely on minimalist and ambient elements along with exploring elongated structures and durations.

How do you work?

Improvisation is a very important first step in my creative process. I often improvise the basic gist of an entire piece before I record it into my computer via MIDI. Once recorded in Logic, I edit, and edit and edit. I like the feeling of being able to hear back rhythms and sonorities even with virtual instruments. I always know a piece is complete once I have no more edits to make. Then I transfer the MIDI files to Finale where I compile the score and parts. Making the score can sometimes take longer than the composing. Then it goes to the performers where more revisions can result.


As a musician, what is your definition of success?

That I don’t need to get another job outside of music to support my creative endeavours. I’m not interested in fame or riches. I’m interested in being able to survive while doing what I love.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Only pursue a life as a professional musician if you truly love making and/or playing music. When I was young, I tried to quit…many times. The only reason why I didn’t is because I couldn’t think of anything else to do that would make me happier. I guess that’s a good litmus test to see if it’s worth the effort.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Doing what I’m doing now – working on more creative projects with interesting and talented people.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To love and be loved.

What is your most treasured possession?

My body.

What do you enjoy doing most?

My daily routine.

What is your present state of mind?

Pretty good. In my 20s and 30s, I was always very focussed on what the world thought of me. Now into my 40s, I still feel it’s important to be proactive in sharing my creativity but I don’t expect anything in return…I just consider any positive feedback a bonus. The journey is the primary joy.

Emotional and intense, Frank Horvat is an accomplished multi-genre composer and pianist who has made the tricky musical leap that allows him to pursue a niche of his own (Edmonton Journal). Frank gives his audiences time and space to reflect in this fast-paced world. His compositions tell deeply personal stories while permitting audiences to ponder their own.

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(photo: Anita Zvonar)

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