“Living the Classical Life”: Why Bother?
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.)
Filming in New York and the Hamptons:
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/
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.
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.
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.