Anton Gerzenberg: Rachmaninoff, Liszt and Dohnányi fit well together

Discoveries – Young Geniuses, Classical Orchestras. This is the title of Müpa’s series which is soon going to bring together pianist Anton Gerzenberg and the Miskolc Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Levente Török. Where have these two young talents first met, how did Rachmaninoff make it to the concert programme, and how was it to grow up in a family of musicians? Among other things, this is what you can find out from my below conversation with Anton Gerzenberg…

In the concert, you are going to play Rachmaninoff, who is usually associated with incredibly difficult and complex pieces. How did Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor make it to the programme?

The organisers gave me a free hand, and I chose Rachmaninoff because 2023 is his jubilee year, the 150th anniversary of his birth, so I wanted to make him part of the programme. This music is close to me anyway, which mostly comes from my family: my mother who is a pianist herself (Lilya Zilberstein – editor’s note) has also played it. Yes, it is a difficult piece, but compared to other Rachmaninoff works, the audience can relate to it very well. It is widely known, and people like it a lot.

Because you mentioned: how was it to grow up in a family of musicians? Your biography states that your mother was one of your teachers, too…

Yes, I started learning music with her, but it was a short period until other teachers took over. She had the idea that I start the piano at the age of four, which had a bit of a rough start, so I stopped for a while. However, with five, it was already me who asked for it to continue. At least this is what my mum says, I don’t really remember. (laughs) With a trumpeter father and a pianist mother, it was totally natural for us that there are our instruments in the living room and music is always flowing in the home. We also had a big library of musical scores, which were collected by my mother, and we children were studying and playing them. No surprise both my brother and I became pianists.

And when did you play Rachmaninoff for the first time?

I don’t remember the exact date, but I certainly didn’t want to play him for a quite long time, thinking it was still “not allowed” and that I wasn’t ready. Like many others, I thought he was for older and more experienced musicians, yet one day I tried Piano Concerto No. 3. It is interesting that I played it before No. 2.

In 2021 you won first prize at the Géza Anda International Piano Competition and the special prize by Müpa at the same time. How do you remember this?

That was a very exciting competition! I put a lot of work and concentration in it. This is how it went: we needed to prepare twice as much as what we actually played, with the organisers choosing what they wanted to hear. I prepared approximately four hours of music, then in the morning a sealed envelope arrived with the titles of the chosen pieces, and 90 minutes later I was already playing in front of the jury. I played around two hours in total during the competition, and there was something exciting in this spontaneity. Of course, it was exhausting both psychically and physically, and I had troubles with an arm, but fortunately it vanished on the stage. In the final, the orchestra and I played Totentanz by Liszt, and after winning the competition, Dávid Zsoldos from Müpa came to me, gave me a special prize as well, and invited me for this concert.

Do you like to play with an orchestra?

Yes, it is a great feeling to stand in a beautiful big concert hall with a whole orchestra next to and behind me, and also a huge responsibility. Such a concert requires a completely different preparation than a solo night, but according to my experiences, it includes the same amount of attention and work hours. I am looking forward to the Miskolc Symphonic Orchestra, especially because the Dohnányi piece is also new to me. I am very curious how it will sound. The programme is indeed exciting with the three pianist-componists Rachmaninoff, Liszt and Dohnányi, and the mixture of pieces written for piano and orchestra.

What is also interesting: I recall conductor Levente Török from our joint student years at the University of Music in Vienna. We haven’t played together back then, but I remember his name, and it’s an intriguing experience to meet again on stage this time. And this is exactly the time when I’m moving back to Vienna after some time, starting a strong cooperation with the Konzerthaus where I’m going to play a lot throughout this season.

Budapest is not far away from Vienna – do you plan to come other times, too?

I hope there will be some opportunities. Not so long ago I played at the Liszt Academy, it was lovely. Now we’re performing in the Müpa. But what’s next? Let’s see what the future brings…