By Fanny Revault
The international career of the Greek pianist began when he won the First Prize at the Queen Sophie International Piano Competition in Madrid. Janis Vakarelis has performed in prestigious halls such as the Vienna Musikverein, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Festspielhaus in Salzburg, the Concergebouw in Amsterdam, the Royal AlbertHall in London, the London Proms, and has performed with the greatest orchestras conducted by Zubin Mehta, Sir Simon Rattle, Charles Dutoit, Rostropovitch… He has been the artistic director of the International Nafplion Festival in Greece since 1991.
Janis Vakarelis performs at Salle Gaveau on March 26, 2019 alongside three other passionate pianists, Hélène Mercier, Cyprien Katsaris and Ferhan Önder, to offer a new look at great works. Meet a virtuoso pianist…
Where did this passion for the piano come from?
I was five when my mother introduced me to music and the piano. So I got a taste for it from a very young age. Then I started winning contests, first prizes and I started my international career.
You are Greek, you studied in London and you live in Paris. How rich is this cultural diversity in your life as a pianist?
First of all, it’s important to belong to a country. Greece is a long story of love, inspiration and admiration for me… Then I had the chance to study at the Vienna Music Academy and in London with great masters like Nikita Magaloff and Bruno Leonardo Gelber… Changing countries, changing masters, wanting to imitate them and being inspired by them is something unique. It’s the beginning of his own thoughts and his real talent.
Who are your favorite composers?
I really like Brahms, the Russian composers Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Scriabin, Prokoviev. During a moment, I also really liked Spanish composers. It happens to me that after five or ten years, I change preferences or inspirations a bit.
Alone on an island, I would choose to listen to Schubert’s 4 Impromptus but interpreted by someone we love. You see, music is not like reading. There are many people who can read but few people can read music. For me, the best piano performer of Schubert’s 4 Impromptus is Murray Perahia.
You have a brilliant international career. What is the most rewarding thing about your music practice? And the most difficult?
The most rewarding thing is when I sometimes interpret or play a work as I imagined it in my head. I imagine how it should sound and be played, it all goes through the body, the brain, the heart, the emotions and the ten fingers. And when I realize my dream of playing a piece of music on stage this way, I’m very happy and very full.
What are your most memorable experiences?
Concerts with great orchestral conductors such as Simon Rattle, Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel, Christoph Eschenbach or Colin Davis because these people are incredibly simple… Playing with geniuses like them, it moves me, it m ‘inspire, it makes me forget all the inconveniences that we may have experienced before the concert, the stage fright, because it’s fascinating to meet myths like them… And the result is something unforgettable.
Why do you think music is important in our lives?
Because I find that from time to time, the human being needs the absolute in beauty, in truth, in ideas … In a music concert, we find this beauty. It’s Ali Baba’s cave that opens because we are in a sentimental, mental, emotional place where everything is beautiful and harmonious. I think that man sometimes needs to find himself in a place like this, a little paradise to forget everyday life, the bad music he can hear. That’s why art and music are important.
What is your dream as a pianist?
It’s to be as true as possible and faithful to my imagination, my ideas, my way of conceiving a work and of transmitting it to the public with a universal language. Beautiful music passes because it does not require knowledge of a language. It is addressed to the heart and like all people have a heart, it is enough to find the right key to open it and make it move.
You will soon be playing in the Gaveau hall alongside three other passionate pianists to offer a new look at great works. How did the idea for this unique meeting come about?
This is a project I thought about six years ago with my friend Cyprien Katsaris. We had the idea of forming a quartet of pianists with two other partners. And it was, for us, a great pleasure, an experience so new, so original that the concert organizers were very happy, the public was enthusiastic and receptive, the critics as well.
Then, we formed a quartet with an excellent French-Canadian pianist, Hélène Mercier, and a Turkish pianist, Ferhan Önder. We are presenting a revisited program at Salle Gaveau with well-known works such as Boléro by Maurice Ravel, Fantaisie sur Carmen by Georges Bizet…. All of this is transcribed wonderfully well by a friend of ours. This concert should mark the Parisian scene.
Music : Janis Vakarelis – Concerto de Liszt avec l’Orchestre Royal Philhramonique de Londres.