Author: Zsuzsa Réfi

He is not bothered by the fact that he is always measured to his grandfather or father, neither is he bothered when all his concerts start by taking his shoes off. Gábor András Virágh composes more and more pieces in addition to playing the organ, and really enjoys teaching as well as studying. INTERVIEW

– As a son and grandson of organ players, did you have a choice?

– No one forced me to play. When I was around 10 or 11, my father told me to choose this vocation, if I think it is more important than anything else, since this is not an eight-hour job – as a musician there is no weekend or lunchtime. But also as a little boy, I was only interested in music. My gift for the birthdays of family members was copies of musical pieces. Of course, I am always compared to my father or grandfather, but it doesn’t bother me. We might play the same piece, but it will always sound differently.

– A difference is that they are conductors and organists, while you are a composer as well. You have succeeded at a number of competitions, but it is quite interesting that you compose pieces for other instruments. What is the reason for this?

– I think I play the organ “too” much. As a four-or-five-year-old boy, I put down some notes, and I did have a few compositions for the family instrument. Now I don’t feel that I have ideas that a good for organs. I am more interested in other instruments, and, as of now, chamber music is of key interest. I am currently working on two pieces for piano, and I also have to write a horn-vibraphone composition, a piece for a marimba and a cello, and there is a request for a piece for a cello, a horn and a piano as well. I also agree to write a piece I feel like writing. Winning a competition is an important feedback, but what is even more important is that my pieces are actually played. A musical piece is alive only when performers play it by themselves!

– When playing an organ, there is hardly any feedback, because your back is to the audience, and you may not even see the listeners at all.

– An organist can feel how his play is received, and, of course, the silence during the concert and the cheers you get in the end, as well as the well wishes and the invitations show how much your play is worth for the people listening. I have been the organist of the Basilica for two years, which is a real joy to me, since I am following the footsteps of my master, István Koloss. From among the three organs there, the large, 95-register one with 7544 pipes is my favourite, but I also love the small instrument in the chapel which is 121 years old. It has an old sound, but it can really embrace you. When I sit down to this instrument, I can disappear from the public view or from the view of the congregation, which feels very relaxing at times.

– You have a great routine in playing the organ in churches, since you became the organist of the Downtown Parish Church at the age of 14. Wasn’t that too early?

– Well, it was. After a year of playing, I entered this cycle or routine, and I had to learn to play masses, accompany the choir and improvise. It took me a year and a half to get used to this. It was an important learning experience that brought me a job at the Kántus in Debrecen. The point is that you have to be able to react to the unexpected situations. You can benefit from this in other walks of life as well. There are no two identical organs, and it is always the instrument that defines the repertoire and the opportunities. In the Basilica, I have been learning the appropriate registration on the big organ for two years now, since the public hears things differently than I do upstairs. You also have to get used to playing in four different directions with your hands and feet, and the concerts start by leaving your elegant shoes behind.

– You mentioned in an interview that your role model is Messiaen whose style can be recognized after listening to one chord of his. Can you compose in such a special style?

– I would love to. To achieve this, however, I have to listen to a lot more pieces and of course write even more. You have to improve your way of thinking. A creator or a performer must have some individuality in them. But uniqueness must not be faked by playing music with features that are full of allures and are alien to your style. That is also a path down the road, but it leads to abusing music.

– There is a series of concerts in the Basilica now. Concerts starts every Monday at 5 p.m., a singer and a cellist also perform with you. Do you use all three organs of the church this time?

– No, these concerts are special, because it is the big organ only that is played for 45 minutes to the public. In this series, my father, András Virágh, and I both play. The situation is the same on Fridays starting at 8 at the same location, when we play two organs with singers and trumpet players.

– Have you earned your degree in composition?

– No, I have had my diploma concert, and I still have a year to go at the Academy of Music. Two years ago, I was invited to teach style studies, basics of composition, solfeggio and musical arrangement in Debrecen. I had to prepare so much that I did not have enough energy for my own studies. The teacher’s role was frightening in the first year, but now I can feel its beauty. And I have been aware of the fact that time is never enough since my teenage years. You always have to do more than it would be convenient, but I hope it will stay like this in my lifetime.


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