“Living the Classical Life”: Why Bother?

Early1

Filming in Ohio: the early days were filmed as a portrait of me: there was not an idea for interviews yet.

An Accidental Start:

“Living the Classical Life”. So, what is it? Why do I bother hosting it when I should be practicing piano? How did it start? Why should anybody care?

The show seeks to illuminate the world of classical musicians, to interest new audiences, and to provide hope and wisdom for aspiring musicians from the experiences of seasoned performers. It is neither a blog nor vlog, nor merely an internet venture–though sometimes, for lack of category, people have referred to it as such.

Few people know it started out as a filmed portrait about me that accidentally turned into interviews within a series. Some of my closest friends in Oberlin wanted to help establish a short film to put on my website, but after filming in Ohio and in New York, it became clear that I was asking others about their paths, so Peter Hobbs and Elyria Pictures created an interview series out of footage of me with my close friend Joshua Roman, cellist. The first few episodes were derived from similar material. The early incarnation of the show was called “Zsolt Bognár and Friends” until the rebranding.

Early2

UL: filming the theme music (Beethoven) with Elizabeth DeMio. UR: with Dmitri Levkovich. LL: in the Bronx with record producer Joe Patrych. LR: the accidental first episode with cellist Joshua Roman

How is it different?

Each episode is enormously difficult and expensive to film and produce–and we travel with our crew. Almost half to the budget is required by the two RED digital production cameras that bring cinematic possibilities and great lenses: these were the same types of cameras that filmed the Hobbit. Musicians’ interviews are nothing new–but filmed with rigor and hosted as musician-to-musician talks in intimate settings, we have not seen anything quite like it.

L: accidental episode with President Joel Smirnoff at Stone Oven in Cleveland. R: with Denajua at her crêpe restaurant in my building

L: accidental episode with President Joel Smirnoff at Stone Oven in Cleveland. R: with Denajua at her crêpe restaurant in my building

Is it a piano show?

Nope. Many of our first guests were pianists, because many of my friends play piano. The point of the show was never to get a lineup of famous guests, but the show started to take off after featuring some prominent ones, especially with Daniil Trifonov. His episode and Yuja Wang’s are the most-viewed in the series.

Crew

Pete, Liz, and Ben, our cameras, and assistants. These are long filming days that require endurance–sometimes the entire day.

Planning each episode

Each episode involves enormous amounts of planning and logistics over many weeks and months. The post-production work also takes similar amounts of time and collaboration between a team of producers and advisors, including our publicist Jonathan Eifert.

Host

I sometimes spend weeks preparing questions with my team. Having researched every existing interview, I try to reveal new material.

“Stupid Questions” and good answers

Our production team helps research every existing interview of our upcoming featured guests–we plan questions, place them in order, and monitor their progress on set. We always have a “stupid questions” feature that suggests common curiosities. These often elicit the best answers.

 

Daniil

One of our unique episodes in terms of look and content–Daniil Trifonov demonstrated unusual practice techniques.

I am always amazed how people open up on camera about their lives and process, given the opportunity. Some of the episodes are even confessional, which we do aspire to. Those are riveting.

Yuja

Yuja Wang filmed in old Steinway Hall in NYC–she used the piano to demonstrate musical examples.

Post-production: many weeks and months

Each episode goes through many drafts and subtle edits in post-production, and these have to be reviewed tirelessly by everybody involved. People wonder why I do this when first and foremost I am a pianist. Well, I have a passion for this too, and I don’t know of anything quite like it. I also benefit the most, because I get to ask the questions I always wondered about. We get daily mail from conservatory students around the world saying mostly one of two things: “thank you for giving me hope” and “thank goodness I am not alone”. (For the record, I still aim for eight hours a day at the piano.)

Gunn

Studying questions with producer Elizabeth Foley, ahead of filming with baritone Nathan Gunn: our first episode in partnership with Rhinegold Publishing in London.

Filming in New York and the Hamptons:

Collage1

UL: Joshua Bell in his home in NYC. UR: Jerome Lowenthal. LL: Mark Ainley LR: Isabel Leonard at Carnegie Hall

How is it funded?

Our show has relied so far almost entirely on private individual donations, many from viewers, to continue. We were also very thankful to receive a significant donation from the Dr. Lee Edwards Charitable Foundation. If you like the show, please support it! Even one dollar makes a difference. We have a very long list of very exciting guests we would like to be able to film. Donate at our website: http://www.LivingTheClassicalLife.com/

Collage2

UL: The Jupiter Quartet. UR: Case Scaglione, Associate Conductor at the NY Phil. LL: Christopher O’Riley. LR: Stephen Hough

The other detail about doing this, as a pianist (a caveman lifestyle), is that one gets to have adventures and travel–and the laughs are many.

Collage3

UL: Liz DeMio turned the tables and interviewed me (not yet released). UR: Peter Takacs. LL: Young Classical Musicians. LR: David Aladashvili

One of my very favorite episodes is that of violist Roger Chase. It is more a conversation than an interview, and really the heart of what the show is about. I don’t think I have heard a more stunning confession about the struggles and privileges of being a musician.

Roger

Rogue violist Roger Chase–an astonishing conversation and rehearsal

Coming Soon:

One of the many episodes we filmed that we have not yet released is that of violinist Anne Akiko Meyers. This was enormous fun to do, because of her charm, honesty, and incredible stories.

Anne

One of our most recent shoots at Time Warner Center in NYC: Anne Akiko Meyers, violinist.

 

Thanks to Jonathan Eifert, our publicist, and the teams of editors at Rhinegold, we will soon have a global media partnership--this means subscribers and a large distribution network

Thanks to Jonathan Eifert, our publicist, and the teams of editors at Rhinegold, we will soon have a global media partnership–this means subscribers and a large distribution network

One comment


  • Zsolt Bognar connects the audience to the professional musician with insightful questions welling from his own experience as a musician. This allows others to share the deeper thoughts of one musician to another. The series of interviews is unique and outstandingly well done.

    March 05, 2015

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