Swiss pianist successfully says what’s needed
Houston audiences had a chance to hear Swiss pianist Frank Lévy when he came to town last month to perform Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 at the Round Top Festival Institute with conductor Libi Lebel and the Houston-based Texas Medical Center Orchestra.
Lévy spoke candidly and generously with us about his musicianship and how he got where he is today.
Q: Why did you choose to become a pianist?
A: I became a pianist because I always thought it would be more comfortable to sit at the piano than to stand playing a violin.
Q: Who were your musical influences?
A: Growing up, I was surrounded by beautiful music. My father would play on the accordion — his rhythm and sense of harmony was always natural and sensitive. My teacher, Madeleine Gottreaux, was likewise wonderful. She discovered I couldn’t read the bass clef, and recommended that I come twice a week to read piano duets. There were no symphonies or overtures that we didn’t play!
Another influence on me was pop music — Charles Aznavour, Yves Montand and Jacques Brel were great French musicians and actors.
They had a way of making the words and music become unforgettable. Barbara Streisand, Kate Buch, ABBA and the Beatles were also strong influences.
In Switzerland, I went with Mme. Gottreaux and my father to piano recitals at the Municipal Theatre. We heard Rubinstein, Michelangeli, Gilels, Richter and Argerich. I found my own voice there and I became drawn toward certain kinds of music.
Q: What would you say is your style?
A: Everyone has their own thing — I have affinities for Schubert, Brahms, Liszt and Schumann. It’s quasi-impossible to come down to one. Still, when I play the Schumann Fantasy, I always feel this is my favorite.
Q: Do you do any collaborative playing?
A: Sometimes, we collaborate — I have the privilege to play solo recitals, but there is nothing like joining a fellow pianist in a Rachmaninoff Suite, a violinist in a Brahms Sonata, or a quartet to play the Schumann quartet.
Q; What about performing?
A: The first recital I played was for a blind institute. I performed pieces by Beethoven, Chopin among others. Since then, I became fortunate to have played some of the truly great halls in the world — I performed in London at the Barbican (Queen Elisabeth Hall), in Avery Fisher Hall (the Lincoln Center), at Carnegie Hall and at the Royce Hall in Los Angeles.
I’m scheduled for concerts in New York next month, in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur in the summer, and in Santiago, Chile and Buenos Aires in the fall.
Q: Do you have any advice for future generations?
A: I’ll leave one final thought — what life is, is to succeed in saying what you wanted to say.
Kafka had a day job so he could write at night — Salieri was composer of the year, not Mozart. So, if true genius was missed and ignored, imagine how easy it is to overlook talent.