Where do you think you are in your career?
It is a very difficult question. I feel that now is the best part of my life. I’ve got to the point that if anything comes to my mind, I can do it artistically and technically. I must add that I get all the support and help from above and here on the floor. I just have to practice. I think that every artist’s dream is to make up something! It wasn’t always like this, I have had a lot of difficulties, like for all young musicians. That’s exactly why I appreciate what I have now. After being more than 20 years on the stage, I can say that I’m free to create, I can achieve my plans, the audience loves it and the professionals welcome it.
If we know well, you put a great emphasis on supporting young artists. Where does the motivation come from? How can you help young musicians?
On the one hand, it’s easier for the young musician generation nowadays, but on the other hand, it’s harder than when I was a beginner. Easier because you can show yourself through the internet or in the television or radio channels, you don’t have to wait for the recording company’s A&R managers will say yes or no, so that you can make a recording myself, but because of this, it’s also harder as there are million albums, videos and sound recordings which are waiting to become well-known and success. It’s much harder to be remarkable. Fortunately, there is a chance to get state support which helps you to start, to create recordings and to hold concerts, but the most important fact is that the musical education in Hungary has a very high level, it is world-renowned in classical and jazz genre, too. However, going to concerts that help the student’s musical development is often not possible because of the money. For this reason, since 2014, if I hold a big concert, I always ensure free of charge tickets for the young musicians and their teachers, so there are at least 300 to 500 people per concert. I am very thankful for Mr. István Tarlós, Lord major of Budapest, who supports this intention. Free tickets are oversubscribed. I hope that I can help with my experience gained through my career and I can show them the good direction for musical development, so that they can experience the magic of the stage and a live performance. And through this, they can understand the meaning of the practice and resignation and I really hope that I can also deepen their love of jazz and classical music and I can also strengthen the growth of well-educated musical society.
Do you also teach?
In addition to my artistic degree, I also have the teaching degree, but I do not teach regularly. Sometimes I have a few students, but honestly I have brought the love of teaching from home. My mother is a teacher, my father was a violinist of the Opera House. He taught me and my siblings and of course others as well.
I don’t have a teaching position anywhere, though I love teaching, but I have so many performances that I would not have time to teach. Even if I could give a few hours, as a human being I could hardly reconcile it with my stage life. I would go spiritually into my students’ development and this would take my focus. Sometimes I make an exception and some young students come to me, but usually instead of one hour we practice four or five hours. I can imagine my elderly years teaching young people. I’m fanatically interested in pedagogy, my childhood hobby was to tell all things what I have learnt in the school and I usually taught my sister too … I remember that I had a fantastic music teacher, Ilonka Adorján. She was 86 years old when she began to teach me. She taught me until she was 93 years old, then she died.
Katica Illényi’s art is very diverse. How far did you stay faithful to the classical music in which you were brought up?
I’m completely faithful to classical music. Basically, I was brought up in this. We went to the Opera House several times a week, because my dad played in the orchestra. I always heard classical music at home. I have studied at the Franz Liszt Music Academy. So for these reasons, I always feel myself as a classical musician. I have learnt to read first the music sheet then the letters when I was 3,5 years old. In my repertoire, classical music is the basic, everything is based on this. In this respect, one of my main goals is to familiarize the works of Hungarian composers. Of course I do a lot of other things, I play jazz, light music, contemporary pieces, I am dancing, I play theremin. I also tap-dance. I did not break away from my roots, I also give classical music concerts.
What are your plans for this year? Are you planning a big concert?
I will give a concert which is called “Tango Classic” at the Vigadó Ceremonial Hall on the 21st of October. I will perform classical and world-famous tango pieces, including Astor Piazzolla “Four Seasons in Buenos Aires” with the Anima Musicae Chamber Orchestra. This is a successful, new musician generation band. I will give a jubilee concert next year on my birthday, on the 17th of February at the Budapest Congress Center. I am already preparing for this. In addition, my latest, 2017 New Year Concert album will be released in this year. Next year my new album will also be released, on which pieces of contemporary composers, which were written on piano and violin, can be heard. Meanwhile, I also make a new theremin album with well-known pieces. Release date is October 21st. I’ll perform in Amman, with the Jordan National Symphony Orchestra at the end of this September, next March I’ll play in West Palm Beach, Florida. So I’m doing many things …
How many years are you planning ahead?
In case of the concerts, I plan ahead for two or three years. For example, I have invitations to America and Asia for the next year, and the major concert agencies and houses also have their shows prepared for several years. I’ve a ‘Sylvester Concert’ with Musikkolegium Winterhur on 31 of December 2018 and we signed a contract now. In Hungary, the dates and the place of my bigger concerts must be decided in advance for at least two years. Fortunately, the cultural life is very colorful and rich in Hungary, there are better and better programs and great performances by our artists, so it is worth thinking ahead. My list with the recordings is so long, I will not reach to the end for 10 years.
You have many performances abroad. What was the most memorable international show which you had recently?
Last time, I was in Vietnam, which was a great experience because Vietnam is so different. People were so friendly, it was the best thing. I gave a concert at the Hanoi National Music Academy with the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra and the Japanese conductor, Honna Tetsuji. This was the opening concert of the European Countries Musical Festival in Vietnam. Then I had a violin-piano concert at the Music Conservatory in Ho Chi Minh City. I got a lot of love from the audience there too.
How do you get these foreign invitations? How can an artist become famous beyond the borders?
The internet helps me, mainly the YouTube. My official channel has many viewers and 95% of the viewers are foreign people, though there are many classical pieces. So mostly this is how I get foreign invitations. Musicians, music directors, conductors, artist managements watch my video and they invite me. Additionally, there are agencies, managers who represent me in different areas and this is how I also get invitations. It’s a fantastic thing that today artists can contact each other and they can see each other’s recordings. For example, the violinist of the Sanghai Quartet wrote me on Facebook that he is coming to Budapest to perform at the Spring Festival. He is following me on YouTube for a long time and now he wants to meet me personally. We got to know each other, we made friends and we spoke the same language in every respect. I know many musicians and composers whom I don’t know personally, just online. Of course, there are quite a lot of people besides Shanghai Quartet, whom I personally met later somewhere.
Who are your favorite foreign performers and why?
There are so many, it would be difficult to list everybody, and Bobby McFerrin has an important position in my list. Also Jasha Heifetz, Stéphane Grappelli, Yo Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Janine Jansen, Rusanda Panfili, Janoska Ensemble, Yolanda Adams, Whitney Houston, John Williams, Michael Jackson, Fred Astaire and so many others …