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Josu de Solaun, winner of the Piano Section at the XIII George Enescu Competition in 2014, has seen his wish to perform an extraordinary recital at the Romanian Atheneum come true on September 24 2016. The concert was followed by the launching of Solaun’s recording of Enescu’s complete piano works, three of which had never been recorded before.

On stage, the pianist’s face was illuminated and smiling, as his body became a living extension of the piano. Off the stage, what stroke me the most about Josu De Solaun, beyond the numerous awards confirming his consistent artistic growth, was his bright, humble spirit, delicately and yet intensely vibrating, and his deep, heartfelt passion for music. Music is not just beautiful or entertaining, it triggers transformations of one’s soul and life and catalyses the access to a world of truth and beauty beyond what words can describe.

Josu de Solaun’s recital made the excited audience at the Romanian Atheneum be swept away, often immersed in a magical silence for seconds after he finished playing. Rather than him playing for us, it felt like we were the privileged, secret witnesses of a dialogue between De Solaun and Schumann, Brahms, Chopin and Wagner/Liszt. An outstanding, explosive yet intimate act of beauty, after which the Spanish born pianist living and teaching in the US offered an exceptional insight into the magnificence of our most celebrated composer and musical personality. Josu de Solaun made me eager to (re)discover George Enescu.

Interview by Cristina Enescu originally published in  Ziarul Metropolis

Congratulations for the elaborate work with Enescu’s scripts, whose fruits we see launched tonight. What was special about this recording for you, besides its obvious complexity and novelty?

I have been working a lot with his manuscripts, thanks to The George Enescu Museum. I found some pieces from his youth which I thought were worthy of being heard, that had never been published, performed, recorded before, so I thought it would be nice to shed some light on the very origins of his musical career. It’s very interesting, these are pieces that he composed when he was 12, 13 years old in Vienna, and they are so influenced by Brahms, Schubert. These influences later receded into the background. For example, an early ballade that I recorded, almost sounds like it could have been written by Brahms. Enescu was only 13 years old then…

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“For example, an early ballade composed by George Enescu that I recorded, almost sounds like it could have been written by Brahms. Enescu was only 13 years old then…”

 

You reached a very in-depth connection with Enescu’s world while working on the manuscripts. Aside from his celebrated genius, what amazed and delighted you particularly, on a personal level?

You see, when you get to know somebody very intimately, you get to see parts of their being that maybe are not so easily perceived on a first glance. Studying his manuscripts, his life, his letters, I felt that I was in touch with a very unique human being that, despite not always having the external success that he deserved during his lifetime, never plunged into some sickly depression. He probably went through some very hard times, but that didn’t affect his work, his search for perfection. Some of these pieces were never performed in his lifetime, maybe some weren’t even published, and yet he worked them to perfection, despite the noises of the outside world. That was a great lesson; it’s very difficult, you have to have an incredible character and gut for that. Beneath that soft character of his, I could really see very real strength.

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“We are always in need of and looking for validation and encouragement, external success. And yet, there was this man who worked at such an incredibly high level of sophistication, and he did it almost unaware or certainly uninfluenced by the demands of the external world. That inspired me, made me be humbler and also find more courage for what I do.”

 

Is this one of the reasons why you said, during tonight’s concert, that this musical experience changed you as a person?

Yes, it changed me as a person because, someone who worked so hard to achieve such a pure idea of art, and yet is was not seeking any kind of reward, that was a great lesson in humility for me. We are always in need of and looking for validation and encouragement, external success. And yet, there was this man who worked at such an incredibly high level of sophistication, and he did it almost unaware or certainly uninfluenced by the demands of the external world. That inspired me, made me be humbler and also find more courage for what I do. To do such work regardless if people will like it or not, that is a hard thing for a musician, all artists want to be loved. But there are more important things than that, and Enescu showed me that.

 

You had some other quite coincidental meetings with Enescu, one through a very different composer and recording, that of Igor Stravinsky.

It’s almost like Enescu is a thread in my life… Actually I recoded Stravinsky before coming to the Enescu competition, it just came out now. It’s interesting, I found out much later that, at the American premiere of “Les Noces” (1929 at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York), which is scored for choir, singers, percussion and four pianists, Enescu was one of them. This is a very, very demanding, virtuoso piano part, and this shows just how incredible a musician he was. I was so happy to know about that thread between two different artistic projects. There is some kind of symmetry in that.

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“Some of these pieces were never performed during Enescu’s lifetime, maybe some weren’t even published, and yet he worked them to perfection, despite the noises of the outside world. That was a great lesson; it’s very difficult, you have to have an incredible character and gut for that. Beneath that soft character of his, I could really see very real strength.”

 

What makes this transition period that he belonged to, at the brim of two centuries, so fertile and appealing for you?

Well, that was the age of the disintegration of the big Empires. I think that always when something is reaching an end, before something new begins, there is a very special kind of energy in the air. Those transitional moments I find particularly fertile for creativity because people feel that they are on the edge, and when that happens, people bring out the best in them – and also the worst. Their extremes. I like that era because people experimented a lot, almost not knowing what they were doing, which is fascinating.

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What is the essence of the Enescu feeling and experience for you?

Like Mozart or some other of the greatest geniuses of music, his music has that quality of universality. I was born in Valencia, Spain, historically my connections to Romania are very thin. And yet, here is a Romanian, and I understand what he is writing. That’s greatness, the ability to reach so many people in such a deep way, it invites one to re-read, you want more of it, deeper, it’s like a person you don’t get tired of and wish to know more about. He is an artist that you have to rewind again and again for a deeper understanding. Enescu’s work is durable.

As a student of and passionate for philosophy, which, in your own words, tries to explain some of the contradictions of our world – what do you feel classical music does for our nowadays attempts of understanding the world?

I think art and music are the biggest challenges to human intelligence, they are pointing out to what we cannot understand. Like in science, astrophysics for example. We live in a sort of a common place, most of the times. Good music is always dealing with what is at the limit of human intelligence and capability. It’s wonderful because it shows us the vastness of the human spirit.

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