Marcell Szabó started playing the piano by coincidence: his family was looking after a piano for a friend who was moving house, and he spontaneously began to play simple melodies by ear. He was eight when he received his first official piano lessons from Márta Batke. She later introduced him to Katalin Csáky, who has helped him in his career ever since then. By the age of twelve he was studying in the Liszt Academy’s Special School for Exceptional Young Talents, under the tutelage of Gábor Eckhardt. “He had a very healthy attitude to musicality, and often urged me not to spend all my time just playing the piano. He also helped me consolidate the classical grounding I’d received from my first piano teachers.” For a long time Marcell put at least as much energy into roller skating as playing the piano, but after a series of injuries he had to decide, and chose the piano over the extreme sport. At the Liszt Academy of Music he continued his studies under the tutelage of András Kemenes and György Nádor. “I learned a lot from György about stage presence; he had an incredible understanding of what makes a piece work on stage. András, on the other hand, helped me study the sheet music in minute detail, and his highly analytic approach way exemplary". In the 2010-2011 academic year, Marcell was a student at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, and since 2012 he has studied at the Doctoral School of the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music.
The pianist, who in 2016 was awarded the Annie Fischer Scholarship and in 2015 the Junior Prima Award, has also swept up the prizes at numerous international competitions in recent years. In 2014 he took 1st prize, as well as the contemporary music and orchestra special prize at the International Béla Bartók Piano Competition in Szeged, in the same year he won 3rd prize in the 33rd International Delia Steinberg Piano Competition in Madrid, and 1st prize and a special prize in the 16th International Île de France Piano Competition in Paris; then in 2015 he took 2nd prize at the 20th Carl Filtsch International Piano Competition. The success in Paris in 2014 was one of the events on his “bucket list”, and led to many festival invitations, while he also got the opportunity to perform at a solo evening in the French capital. The orchestra award that he won at the Bartók competition, meanwhile, provided him with the opportunity to perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (C minor) on stage in 2015.
Rachmaninoff’s music has always held an attraction for the pianist. “His unusual, Russian melodies, forms and world of harmony are especially close to my heart. In fact, Rachmaninoff had an influence on me even before I started playing the piano. On various long car journeys my parents regularly listened to recordings of Ashkenazy playing Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos, for example.” Later, he must have been 14-15 years old when, through the études, he got to know the Rachmaninoff performances recorded by Evgeny Kissin at around the same age that he was then, which was a strong source of motivation for him. But as well as Rachmaninoff, audiences have had the chance to hear him as the soloist in several other piano concertos: with the Academy of Music’s Symphonic Orchestra he played Liszt’s Dance of the Dead, the Budafok Dohnányi Orchestra accompanied his performance of Mozart’s Piano concerto in C major, and he has played Liszt’s Piano Concerto in E-sharp major in Japan, among other countries.
As the lead player in performances of solo and chamber music, he has given concerts in Vienna, Madrid, Hamburg, Brussels, Luxembourg, Nagoya and the Crimean Peninsula. He has studied in master classes given by such illustrious teachers as Dmitrij Bashkirov, Rohmann Imre, Balázs Szokolay, Jan Michiels, Maurizio Moretti or Zoltán Kocsis. “I found the mindset of Zoltán Kocsis’ to be exceptionally inspiring – the way he approaches the works will always be something that I aspire to achieve. I grew up listening to his recordings, and in his classes I was always met with the purest, and at times the bluntest, honesty.”
Besides playing concerts in the classic sense of the word, Marcell Szabó participates every year in the charity concerts held by the National Institute of Oncology. He recently took part in an unusual school programme, at which Liszt’s Dance of the Dead was interpreted by grammar school students in collaboration with theatre dramatists and directors. In the upcoming season Marcell Szabó – in the company of some of his most outstanding fellow musicians – will perform all of Debussy’s chamber pieces in two concerts at the Academy of Music. His most important plans include promoting Russian and French music through a selection of some of the more popular, as well as the less frequently played works.