artsJournal/Norman Lebrecht Feature about Zsolt Bognár
On August 7, 2013, Norman Lebrecht’s “Slipped Disc” and artsJournal published the following feature about my outdoor performance project in Cleveland. Lebrecht is one of the most famous arts and culture authors and commentators in the world, with a monthly readership of nearly one million people. It was exciting to have been contacted by him to be asked to write the piece, which I mirror here on my own site.
“I played every piano around the town”
August 7, 2013 by Norman Lebrecht
Zsolt Bognar was thrilled to find that Cleveland had placed 25 pianos around the city. What else could he do? He played them. Then he wrote to Slipped Disc.
Cleveland, Ohio—on the shores of America’s so-called North Coast of Lake Erie, at the heart of a recent Rustbelt cultural renaissance fueled by ingenuity in education, medicine, food, and the arts—has placed 25 pianos outside around the city. Placed in conjunction with the Cleveland International Piano Competition taking place this summer in University Circle—a unique cultural mecca that was listed by Forbes magazine as one of America’s ten most beautiful neighborhoods—these pianos aim to bring the community together through shared experience. Having returned the previous night from Berlin and Vienna from concerts to promote my upcoming first CD release, I had witnessed an outdoor piano with a single performer near St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The spectacle drew passing glances and spare change, but the scene in Cleveland was on a different scale. Construction workers, mothers, fathers, children, friends, coworkers on break—all seemed to have a tune to sit and play in solo or duet performances, and I added my own throughout the day on various pianos.
The evening after I returned, I found myself seated with my friend Marc at the just-opened ABC Tavern behind Farshid Moussavi’s shiny new Cleveland MOCA. A cool evening invited a capacity patio, and while waiting for food, I noticed a piano. I lightly touched C major chords, and I started to walk away. Simultaneously from three directions came “Aww, come on, you can’t just tease us like that—you have to play something for us.” Despite my rule of never playing while drinking, I excused myself for the ensuing scotch-induced Schumann, the Sonata in g minor. The patio, first silent while listening, erupted into cheers. “We want more!” cried a lady, and “Do Beethoven!” was the holler from a man in a sports jersey. By now a large crowd was gathering from passers-by and from within the restaurant itself. I complied and played Beethoven’s light and humorous sixth sonata in F major. They cheered even louder. I thought my deed was finished, but a well-dressed man with his family asked in a reflective hush: “I will buy you the best scotch if you play anything of Schubert. Perhaps Schubert Lieder.” I never expected to hear this phrase in my life, so I obliged with Schubert’s haunting piece in E-flat, D.946#2, a work I performed in Europe as a selection from my CD. During the middle of it, a scotch appeared on top of the piano. A couple in sports regalia wanted themes from Tosca.
A question and answer session ensued with the crowd, and the waiter declared: “anything on the menu. It’s yours.” The entire patio and surroundings had stopped to listen to this quiet, intimate piece. In fact, the question and answer session answered my own question—the very subject at the center of my documentary film series of interviews with musicians from around the world, and my most expensive venture to date—how to bring classical music to the general public?” …Wheel out a piano, and play by request. The next day on a walk to Little Italy nearby, a construction worker wiggled his fingers at me and hollered: “Hey, great playing, dude!” University Circle has prided itself on rebirth through medicine, education, and the arts. With these outdoor pianos, perhaps for a moment, I was able to provide a hint of all three.