My hands are hold from above! – Interview with Katica Illényi

She began as a violinist and since then she is singing and dancing at her concerts and now she has discovered a new musical instrument for herself. Katica Illényi, a popular Hungarian musician, is going to have a concert on 14th of January in Budapest Congress Center and she also told us, what she is preparing for Christmas and why she likes that strange musical instrument, which cannot be touched.

Author: Miklós Kövesdi

If we look at Hilary Hahnt or Anne Sophie Mutter, their face is always very serious when they are playing a piece. You are rather like Janine Jansen: you are always smiling and it seems to us that you enjoy this very much. Am I right? Perhaps this is due to fact that you are constantly looking for new challenges within the music.

I am very pleased that you said this, because this is exactly my goal and that’s the reason why somebody is smiling. I think that there are two types of artists. One who is on the stage in order to be seen and to be admired and the other type who is on the stage simply because the person enjoys it and wants to share this joy with other people. Thanks God, I belong to the latter one and in fact I am always looking for something new. For me, the most important things are to entertain and to share my experiences.

You can play classical music, jazz and so many other genres. Mixing different styles became your trademark. You are playing Bach violin concertos or Liszt II. Hungarian Rhapsody and while you are playing on violin you are also dancing. Are you looking for this unconventional solutions consciously?

Definitely not. Nothing was planned in my life in advance, I was interested in many things. I have always admired those artists who are versatile. For example, Fred Astaire, who is one of the world’s most famous dancer and singer, and who could also sing and play on the piano very well. These forms of art are so interrelated. Besides playing on violin, I became interested in singing. After all, this is also used for expressing things. Then I thought that those people who are on the stage also have to know how to move their body. So I started to dance. These were just hobbies, but slowly they became duties. Actually, each form of art requires a whole person, this is very similar to situation when you speak different languages. The most important thing is that if something entertains me, I am sure that other people will also like it. It is like when you hear a good joke and you are eager to tell it.

Despite the continuous success, you can always find something new. You have just discovered this musical instrument. What do we need to know about this instrument?

I have a habit. Every piece that I play, I usually search on YouTube to listen from other artists as well. I listen the good ones, the bad ones and also the young and old musicians as well. You can learn from everything and I am interested in how others do. So when I was searching for one of the pieces that I played I discovered the theremin. At first, I thought that the woman was singing, because it is very similar to a human’s voice. Then I noticed that she was making strange movements with her hands. It was written that it is a theremin. I have search for this, because I have never heard about this before. I read everything about this. I was so excited that I didn’t sleep at that night. I was searching for a place where I could try it. Then, with great difficulty, I have found an exhibited piece in a musical instrument shop in Budapest, but they did not sell it. However, they ordered me one from America, because you cannot buy one in Hungary. I began to learn to play on this instrument alone, without a teacher.

Are there many people who can play on this strange musical instrument?

No, there are only a few people. Those who play on theremin know each other, regardless that they live in America, Russia, or Japan. Later, I have found a teacher, I went to Germany to take some lessons and I also took a master course in France. What you should know about this instrument is that you do not need to touch it to produce sounds. I have to put my hands between the antennas, which are at the end of the musical instrument and these produce an electromagnetic field. And by moving my hands, I can change the pitch and the volume. This invention is based on the laws of physics, Leon Theremin invented it in 1919, so it is still not one hundred years old. It is a very interesting instrument, it is like doing magic on the stage. It requires a lot of practice, because you have to find the invisible sounds in the invisible electromagnetic field. I can rely only on my ears.

Maybe it’s a banal question. Can the following happen: a fly passes and the sounds will be modified?

It is a very clever question. The following happened: I was playing outdoors and I saw a fly coming towards the antenna. I was thinking what I should do. If someone touches the antenna then this produces a very sharp, screaming sound. But fortunately, the fly was so small that it did not influence the instrument. However, a German artist blows soap bubbles to the antenna and the antenna detects this. As the bubble approaches the antenna it produces a very interesting sound.

You have also mentioned that there are only a few people who can play on theremin professionally. The following evil question came to my mind: how seriously can the theremin be taken? Don’t the other colleagues look strangely at you?

My experience is that the colleagues with whom I perform always want to try it. It is like a big toy. All the theremin performers are “crazy”, it is a very interesting team. The musicians approach to this with great interest. It is relatively easy to understand the operation of the instrument, but you need patience to learn to play on this. Some people are obsessively interested in the theremin, while others aren’t. Some people want to try it, while others do not even want to touch it.

How does it come to your mind to release a Christmas album with this instrument and how did you choose the songs?

The sounds of theremin is very similar to a human person’s voice and it really fits into the reverential music. It has an ethereal tone, you can play Christmas songs beautifully. So it was clear to me that in the first album there is going to be Christmas songs. I remembered the moment when people are decorating the Christmas tree and they want to listen to good Christmas songs. The main ideas was that every song has to fit into this mood. During the Advent season, there should be a music which help people to get into the mood of this period, like White Christmas, Ave Maria or Lajos Bárdos Lullaby Song. Each of them is slightly different, but the essence of this is to bring the feeling of calmness and the pure spiritual atmosphere.



Many musicians make Christmas albums and let’s face the fact that they do it for material reasons. You are a believer, obviously the message of Christmas touches you. What does Christmas mean to you?

Christmas is about the birth of Jesus. My family is Catholics. During the making of the album, when I was choosing the songs, I think that my whole life from my childhood affected my choice. If I had time, I could tell you why I had chosen these songs and what personal attachment do I have for certain songs.

I know that it’s hard to talk about this in a few sentences, but can you tell me what does faith mean to you? How does this appear in your everyday life and even in your work?

I think every human being has a unique, completely private relationship with God. Perhaps we do not really talk about this. The point is to have a relationship, an umbilical cord, which is always there in people’s lives. I had many moments in my life when I felt that my hands were hold from above. It has also happened that I terribly wanted an opportunity, a school, a relationship or I had a professional desire, but it was always proven that it is so good that things happened differently. God knows better what’s good for you, and everything happened in that way because it had to be in that way. I had a very nice life until the moment. It wasn’t easy, there was a lot of work to do, but I’m grateful for everything. I have got a lot from God: musical talent, good nerve system in order to do a good job. I was born in a good family. In my family there were no divorces. I grew up in a very stable morale environment. I was born in a place, where everything was given to be the person who I am now. Every day I say thanks for everything. I think the essence of happiness is to notice all the good things you get. And it is very important to have a continuous relationship with God. If there is this relationship, then you can always feel yourself safe. Even if you feel that everything collapses around you.

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