Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
It all started with my grandfather’s intimidating passion for music, and more specifically church organ music, which surrounded most of my childhood. He was a really exotic bird in the village, insisting, back in the days of heavy farming under the communist regime [in Romania], on building a family “band” in a quintet version (unfortunately there were only five in the family, otherwise we could’ve had some full orchestra arrangements) of two violins, two accordions and a sort of upright organ which he built himself by customising an old Bösendorfer baby grand that was stubborn enough not to fit anywhere in the house. So they played arrangements of chorales written for organ with this improvised quintet, which really spiced up my father’s childhood in a very cheerful way. Whenever I was on a visit to my grandfather’s home in the countryside I could never escape a Bach prelude with no fugue on his personalised piano. My exposure to this inspiring person who happened to be my grandfather and my father’s inability at the time to pursue a career in such a bourgeois field as classical music, resulted in the conclusion that I should take the legacy forward, and so I ended up in front of this black and white beast.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
Definitely my grandfather triggered the first sparks of curiosity towards classical music, and they were afterwards wonderfully nurtured by my first piano teacher, Cosma Magdolna, who understood that the most important element of musical education is to introduce the child to the beauty and joyful part of being a musician first, and then work on the intimidating technical aspects that certainly allow the music to speak as freely and genuinely to the mind as possible. Once my fingers could make some sense of all this eccentric chess board, then I started to really listen and dig into the auditory world of the great pianists like Horowitz, who could keep me genuinely interested in the music for more than 8 seconds. With such a vivid sound canvas he could pull out of any musical piece he invoked a sincerity of sound and emotion to which I was really unable to remain indifferent; it was almost religious (until later I found the “rascal” side of his interpretations which made me fall in even deeper and desperate love). Rubinstein singing so organically with the piano, Volodos with his incredible imagination of the sound world and brain-twisting technique, and the composers with whom one can sense that their existence was somehow an extension of their innate passion for music, like Prokofiev, who can achieve really the best of both worlds – heart-melting simple melodies and the most spicy sarcastic political satires (becoming thus my favourite composer), Chopin with such penetrating inner monologues which were always the piano obligato of my early cries of anguish after breaking up with my girlfriends in adolescent years, and Beethoven with his enfant terrible attitude and revolutionary itch. Recently Keith Jarrett also lit up his own temple in my heart with a lot of candles and strange noises.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Perhaps like most of the kamikaze-minded career pianists, the difficulties come from finding the right equilibrium between the practice room and daily life. Piano practice is a heavy roasting machine that is very needy and can devour your existence completely with the smallest lack of organisation and forgetfulness for your inner child’s needs. Don’t get me wrong, is a very pleasurable process if you know when to stop and allow curiosity to regain its powers for the next day of musical intercourse.
To domesticate an idea at the piano, or perhaps any other instrument, that’s running like a wild and abstract stallion through your head, maybe a single passage of only a few bars, which can be 0.1 % of a single work, can abduct you into hours of separation from reality – if you’re lucky to find it first of all, and then to genuinely believe in it for more than a day. It’s a long grotesque Socratic marathon, of questions and barefoot answers.
Then to be happily captive by what is so unique and rewarding about music making, you need to let yourself be vulnerable to the infinite ramifications of life outside routine, which is also difficult, to surrender yourself into the hands of the world and get as intimate as possible with it, so then the music can relate to an intensity of emotions such as those that were actually lived out so it can feed itself out of them, good or terrible. It can become an extreme sport.
But it’s very difficult to otherwise find yourself above the water throughout a live performance and present your feelings palpably to an audience. We can of course ignite emotions through literature too from the comfort zone of our goose feathered pillows and electronic cigarettes, and our subconscious power has the ability to make connections with the emotions triggered by these informational pheromones. But an emotion that was consumed in real life and stored in our inner laboratory has more potency and unique fragrance to our own selves and the music starts to unravel in a more personal way and it becomes forged in the silhouette of our own personality.
For now this is the greatest challenge. The rest of the things in life come and go as they please with no injuries so far, even insomnia or pre-concert panic attacks.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I try as much as possible to relate to some sort of a theme, if not for the entire programme at least for each half of it. I wish actually that there would be a change in the “system” and that programmes would have no break and would be a bit shorter too.
I also try to travel as much as my current knowledge permits and reach for more distant composers that seem foreign to my taste buds, so basically to balance a programme that also gets me out of my comfort zone. I find it tremendously important to allow yourself as a musician to be in a constant swing with the unknown that is waiting to be devoured or devour itself.
Also coming from a rage of doing so many competitions, I still have the pitbull tendency to construct a very muscular programme, which in a way is promoted by the nature of “competition”, so I try now to pull back my sleeves and present some ingredients that have a more natural way of digestion.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I feel recently that basically the people make “the venue”. Their energy, interest, respect and vulnerability to be touched and create this sort of tension of curiosity in the hall is what feeds me most, and therefore I also open up and can overcome anything that presents itself to be problematic and I can become one with the whole set-up. Also a medium-rare acoustic between reverberation and dehydration, and a piano with enough generosity in its sound palette, makes any concert venue “my favourite”.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Perhaps when one person suffering from severe depression came after a concert in London at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, smiling and as joyful as a euphoric young child, telling me it was the first time in a couple of years he had felt happiness again. It was so sincere and humble, we started crying together.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
To go on stage with pleasure.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Don’t forget to always “B” natural . You will “B” flat in the afterlife for eternity, so enjoy the power of now, and “B” sharp with your current decisions.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
On my own island. Yes. A very short career indeed but with a confident tierce de Picardie.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
To be surrounded with people who nurture your inner child, who also know how to appreciate a divinely crafted gin and tonic.
What is your most treasured possession?
My hands and my friends.
Daniel Ciobanu has recently been signed to the Intermusica agency and is appearing in London (7 November 2019), Amsterdam (8 November) and Genappe, Belgium (10 November) as part of EUROPALIA Arts Festival Romania. He is the director of the Neamt Music Festival in Neamt, Romania.