Interview with Ágnes Langer, 3rd prize winner of the Bartók World Competition

30. September 2017

Although Ágnes Langer has just recently conquered Hungarian music, she took its stages by storm. She has been studying in Germany since 2005 but turned out to be the most successful Hungarian contestant of the Bartók World Competition and Festival.

As a Hungarian competitor, how did you feel while playing before a Hungarian audience?

This was one of the reasons why I submitted my application to this contest. I hardly ever perform in my home-country, so I am not at all present in Hungarian music circles. What mattered to me was to make the Hungarian audience and professionals more familiar with myself. I took to the stage at the Liszt Academy, so my family and friends could sit among the audience, which was a completely new experience for me. I had performed in Hungary only a few times before. As I am from Gödöllő, I would sometimes collaborate with the Gödöllő Symphony Orchestra.

You have reached your goal: the audience has come to know and love you. As to your programme choice, you picked Bartók’s Rhapsody No. 2, Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 and finally, Violin Concerto No. 2. Why did you end up opting for these pieces?

I was perhaps the contestant to have chosen the most Bartók compositions. I began immersing into his world a couple of years ago, when I learned to play the rhapsody and the sonata. When I read the requested repertoire of the Bartók World Competition –, it didn’t take long to make up my mind. As I hadn’t studied the Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 before, only No. 1, the choice was obvious. With the rhapsodies, the decision was less easy, since I was very much fond of both of them. I finally opted for No. 2., as it is a more complex piece, so I expected fewer candidates to mark it as their pick.

How did you get to prepare for the Competition?

It did count that I didn’t have to learn the pieces specially for the Competition but had studied them before. I had also played Mozart’s Violin Concerto in D major, so it was on my repertoire. I made a more focussed effort in the last one- one and a half months, but there was no significant difference compared to my usual work routine, as in this period I would have practised quite a lot anyway.

 


Photo: Liszt Academy / Zoltán Adrián

 

Which concerto represented the greatest challenge to you?

The Violin Concerto No. 2. No matter how long I had been playing it, it was absolutely different to perform it with an orchestra. It required a lot of energy, concentration and physical fitness to carry it through.

To what extent can music competitions claim justification for their existence in general? How can a subjective performance be judged in an objective way?  

I am quite convinced it is rather hard to stay objective, this is why I am especially glad to have been shortlisted as a finalist. This was what really mattered to me and not who actually came to be the winner. Competition is not the point, and we don’t play for that. For us, musicians, contests represent an opportunity to show ourselves to the audience and to receive more attention. In the end, it is really the audience that matters.

How important is it for young musicians to actively attend competitions?

I don’t often take part in contests, as I believe you can burn out it in too. The repertoires tend to be similar, which is quite flat after a while. Besides, in my opinion, an artist’s life should not revolve around competition. I prefer picking the contests that I decide to attend quite consciously and with a specific aim.

 


Photo: Liszt Academy / Zoltán Adrián

 

Do you think it is possible for young musicians today to gain recognition without competitions?  

I think so, but that is a harder path. I strongly believe that the „push” comes along in everyone’s life at the right moment, when they are prepared for it. This push can be a competition, an unexpected telephone call, an accidental offer or any other thing.

Did you have time to get to know the others?

I couldn’t listen to any other performances: during the rounds, I chose not to as a conscious decision, and at the end, I had little time and little energy for it. It was only after the Grand final that I had the opportunity to exchange some words with the other finalists.

You are not a student of the Liszt Ferenc Academy Music but of the Mainz School of Music. How is the German music education different from the Hungarian one? How is Bartók’s oeuvre assessed there?

During my university studies, I never came across Bartók’s work, nevertheless he is regarded internationally as an important composer. I am studying with the Chinese violinist Anne Shih, who used to be under the tutelage of the legendary Prof Gingold in the US, so I am not so closely connected to the German way of teaching music. It is a great difference between the two systems, however, that the German primary music education is practically non-existent or quite poor. I consider myself very fortunate to have attended Ágota Béres’s classes in my first years in music school, so I feel that I have a really strong foundation.

 


Photo: Liszt Academy / Zoltán Adrián

 

In Hungary, the instruction of music theory is rather strong, while in foreign countries it is not yet the case.

When I tell people that in Hungary you have to attend music theory classes for a year before starting to play an instrument, they are really surprised, as children there hardly learn to read music. There are barely any music schools, and most of them are in private ownership.

Life is still before you. Do you have specific goals or plans for the future?

I have a year left of my university studies, and I’m just about to move to another school in the Netherlands, to Boris Belkin’s class. Shortly, I am going to give an important concert in Moscow: I will be playing Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto with the National Philharmonic of Russia, which is theyield” of a previous competition. I won’t have too much time to relax and will soon resume work. But as a Hungarian contestant, I certainly hope to return to Hungary more often than before. 

 

A.U.