Matei Varga, pianist

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano pursue a career in music?

I have not chosen my instrument. When I was a child I would sing all day long (Romanian disco-pop from the 80’s FYI) and my parents were advised by many people to make me study music, and therefore to start playing an instrument. My kindergarten teacher had a piano for sale (an upright, quite expensive at that time) and my parents bought it, in spite of the hefty price, simply because its colour matched our furniture in the living room. They were convinced it will be for decorative purposes only.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

All my teachers, really. But if I had to single out some, I would say my piano teachers between the ages of 14 and 24 (Sandu Sandrin, Ana Pitis and Ioana Minei) and soprano Mariana Nicolesco who supported, encouraged and led my development as an artist throughout the most important years of learning.

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

To transition from the more competitive, goal-driven attitude of the past (and especially the relatively uptight musical upbringing in eastern Europe) towards the more “user-friendly” attitude that is expected from us today, especially in America…

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Presumably I get better with time (I certainly hope so), therefore my latest should be always the best!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Early 20th century post-romantic and quasi-impressionistic repertoire. In fact, I would have loved to live in those times; they weren’t easy, but I think I would have fitted in well. I’m really a nostalgic, you know!

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I don’t think many of us have a lot of choice when it comes to that. I think presenters inspire (to put it mildly) our choice of programming. We have to be relevant and people have to be interested in coming to hear us. Also, there is a major difference between venues and audiences. In New York, I would seldom play a complete programme of Beethoven Sonatas; however, when I go back to my native Romania, such a recital would be sold out months in advance… You have to adapt!

Do you have a favorite concert venue to perform in and why?

The Romanian Atheneum in Bucharest. It is one of the most beautiful concert halls in Europe, with sublime acoustics and atmosphere, and it is there I first felt the frisson of performing for a real audience.

Who are your favorite musicians?

Dinu Lipatti, Sviatoslav Richter, Emil Gilels, Krystian Zimerman and Monserrat Caballe.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Listening to what I think was Krystian Zimerman’s last recital in New York City (so far). It was years ago at Carnegie Hall and he played, among others, the Chopin B flat minor sonata. The final movement (which is incredibly hard to make sense of) was transcendental!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I don’t think success has a definition. Radu Lupu is successful, and Liberace was successful. Ingmar Bergman was a successful film-maker, and the Fifty Shades movies are great hits. If you can make sense out of that, please email me ASAP.

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

Resist assimilation.


Matei Varga’s album album, Early Departures, is released on June 29. More information here


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