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Martina FiljakMartina FiljakInterview with the Croatian pianist Martina Filjak, who played Bartók's Piano concerto No. 2. in the opening concert called ’Bartók, the romantic’ at the 'Bartók+ Opera Festival' in Miskolc, Hungary. The interview with the pianist was made before the concert.






Martina Filjak was grown-up in a family of musicians, her parents are piano teachers. Martina started playing the piano at the age of five, obtained her degree in Zagreb, then studied at the Conservatory of Wien and the Hochschule für Musik in Hannover. She won the Viotti International Piano Competition in Italy in 2007 and the Maria Canals International Piano Competition in Spain in 2008. However, her greatest success was winning the Cleveland International Piano Competition next year. After that she became a sought-after pianist worldwide and since then has performed in such famous venues as the Konzerthaus Berlin, the Musikverein in Vienna and the Carnegie Hall in New York. This year she gave concerts in Spain, the United States, Austria and Italy. After the Miskolc Opera Festival she is going back to the United States, then she will perform in Brazil, Slovenia and Japan. Her wide repertory encompasses - besides solo piano pieces and chamber works - 30 concertos, as well.

You have already performed both Bartók’s Piano concerto No. 2 and Piano concerto No. 3. They are very different works, aren’t they?

They are totally opposite works. Piano concerto No. 2 is one of the greatest and most difficult piano concertos, not only when it comes to Bartók’s works but in the whole piano literature, too. Piano concerto No. 3 is more lyrical and more approachable for the audience and it is also easier for the performer. I feel Bartók’s music very close to me, because, amongst other reasons, I love nature and folk music. I think in piano literature maybe Bartók and Ravel were the only ones who could make you feel that you hear the sounds of nature. As if you were walking in a forest…

Is it difficult for a non-Hungarian to play the Hungarian folk music elements in this music authentically?

I think for me it isn’t, I can feel it… I am Croatian, we are neighbours, and there are many similarities between our folk music and yours. So this music language is not unfamiliar and not completely new to me. Moreover, besides Bartók’s concertos I have played a good number of his other piano works, so I’ve had the opportunity to come to know his music well.

Martina Filjak at the Opening ConcertMartina Filjak at the Opening ConcertDo you have a favourite composer?

It’s not an easy question. I think it is like asking a child who she loves more: her father or her mother. And it is also difficult because people constantly keep changing. For me there is no absolute truth in music. As time goes by I judge the same work differently, because I also change. It is true in a wider sense, too, as the judgment of music can change with the ages. Today the music of Rahmaninoff is not played the same way as it was 30 or 50 years ago. Back to my personal preferences: there was a time, for example, when I enjoyed playing the music of Russian composers the most. However, in a few months I began to feel more and more depressed, so I quickly changed them and began to play something else. [laughing]

You mentioned the different styles of performing in different eras. Do you listen to old recordings?

When I am learning a new piece, I never listen to anything, because first I want to get my own idea about it. This is the more difficult way, as there are no models, only the score and me. Of course, there are several great recordings of the well-known works, but that is the problem: you can easily be influenced by them. Many musicians are not even aware of copying somebody else. Others are very much aware of it but they don’t have their own ideas about the piece… It is true that listening to a famous recording can also help sometimes, since it can help you get a general direction, but I think in the long run it is better to try to find your own voice. Once I have had my own idea, I am very happy to listen to good recordings.

What piece are you learning now? And how long do you know in advance which work you will have to learn next?

It depends on several things, especially on the planning of my concerts, on how I assess my time. I like having a mixed repertoire, where I can alternate between chamber music, recitals and concertos. I also like playing difficult works, because it is a challenge, I can get out of my comfort zone and this is the way to develope. It is not good to do the same things over and over again. Right now I am not learning anything but soon I will begin to learn Brahms’ Concerto No. 2. I am very happy, because it has been a dream for me for a long time!

Are you always requested to play specified pieces or you can choose?

Both can happen, but we, young pianists usually do not have the opportunity yet to say we want to play this or that work.

At the Miskolc Opera Festival were you invited to play this particular piano concerto of Bartók?


You said you like challenges. Which piano concerto has been the biggest challenge for you?

Martina Filjak at the Opening ConcertMartina Filjak at the Opening ConcertI think Bartók’s Piano concerto No. 2. I usually practise three or four different works at the same time, which is often a kind of juggling... But with Bartók’s Piano concerto No. 2 you really cannot juggle. It is difficult technically, hard for your entire body. When practising this, you shouldn’t play anything else.

You have been the winner of different competitions, including the Cleveland International Piano Competition. Are you still planning to enter for competitions?

Never again. The Cleveland Competiton was very important and also very exciting for me. But before that, when I was practising 7-8 hours a day for several weeks, I promised myself that if I win I will never do this again.


Are you nervous before your concerts?

No, I am not. When it happens very rarely, it has to do with something else, not the music.

’Bartók +’ is primarily an opera festival. Do you like operas?

Yes, very much. My mother also worked in an opera house as a répétiteur, so I grew up with operas and listened to many.

Will you be able to watch any programs on this festival?

Unfortunately not. After the concert I have to go back to Hannover, and practise at home, because in some days I am going to perform in Houston.

What do you think makes you different from other pianists?

It is a very difficult question. In a sense you are right that all of us should know what makes us special. Otherwise we could not develope. On the other side it is also important to stay humble and put music first, not yourself. So I’d rather say: what I hope is that the lot of work I do will bear fruit and in 10 or 20 years people will see me as a pianist who has a unique, appreciative and honest connection with the piece she is playing. A pianist who is fresh, who loves music, respects the composer but at the same time does not try to be like someone else and is free of foreign influences. I hope to become someone like this, and I am working on it very hard.

Balázs Csák



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