an extra component, a spiritual component — extra value
added. We all know the difference between a pop song
and classical music, a movie and a film, going to the disco
and going to the ballet. We need both entertainment and
art in our lives. Although it’s not a thick border, there is a
functional difference: we all need that spiritual component
in our lives, and art is one way to add that value. That’s
how I see my role when I play classical concerts. Folk
music, traditional music, shares that same function in life.
It was more obvious in the old days, in ancient history,
when music was the spiritual component used in religious
services: shamanic music in ceremonies to create ecstasy
and uplifting effect. And later on, art music as we know
it grew out of a religious function. That’s why folk music/
traditional music and art music/classical music share a lot
in this sense. It’s [all] music and it moves you in a spiritual
I think a great jumping-off point is the bartók, the Six
romanian Folk Dances, which were written for piano but
when you hear them on the mandolin sound as though they
were written expressly for it.
[Laughs.] Thank you; that’s a good compliment. Definitely:
Bartók is the symbol of this album; this is the first piece
that started the idea [for the recording], the first inspiration
that I had. He wrote this piece exactly one hundred years
ago in 1914. And I tried to imagine sitting in a piano recital
in 1914 at Carnegie Hall, say, and listening to Brahms,
Beethoven, whatever — and then suddenly hear folk music
played on a piano. Exotic modes. Exotic rhythms.
Could have been written yesterday.
Yes, indeed, but at that time it was so modern and so
I of course came to the piece having a harpsichord — or
advanced for Bartók to take folk music and put it in
a concert hall, something that in 2014 is unusual but
not unheard of. We now know much more about other
cultures than people did a hundred years ago. If you ask
‘What is a Romanian folk dance?’, everyone has a vague
idea of how it may sound or look, and if not you have
You Tube — and with one click, you’re there. So in this
sense we are privileged. But back then, I’m sure it was
extremely advanced to bring music from remote villages
in Romania and Hungary and all over the Balkans and
translate it into something so classical — like music for
piano, string quartet, symphony orchestra, which he also
can still maintain the tension of it and the sense of it by
reducing or summarizing the essence, the important
content of the music. So it’s very virtuosic, very difficult,
but it still works even though you don’t have two hands
working for you all time, like with the harpsichord.
piano — version in my head. but after hearing it you have
to admit that the mandolin maybe has an expressive
— over the harpsichord. And, like you said, since it’s all
about the melody, to hear those melodies on mandolin is an
Yes, that’s exactly the point I was hoping to make. Instead
of just playing music on a mandolin because there’s no
repertoire for the mandolin, it’s about hearing pieces you
know or that your ear is used to in a different light, from
a different perspective. I think mandolin is very nice way
to listen… especially to Bach, because his music goes
beyond the instrument in its universality. With a fresh ear,
suddenly you hear inner voices that are not necessarily
coming through with a violin or another instrument
that our ears are more used to hearing. As an artist, it’s a
privilege to be able to offer such a fresh perspective.
your most recent album, Between Worlds [(Deutsche
Grammophon)]. I’m looking at the cover here.
you’re leaping between heaven and earth; you’re straddling
the yellow line of the road. It’s clear that you’re making a
statement about crossing borders, but I imagine it’s pegged
to something a bit more specific.
It reflects the idea of playing with the border, the unexist-
ing border, between folk music and classical music.
There’s an interesting bit of intentional phrasing. Tell me
why you feel that border is so permeable.
We consume entertainment — pop music, TV series,
funny movies — because it’s enjoyable. With art, there is
‘we All neeD thAt spirituAl component in our
lives, AnD Art is one wAy to ADD thAt vAlue.’