Dejan vu

Internationally acclaimed young pianist Dejan Lazic, believes in finding the courage to improvise.

Dejan Lazic 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dejan Lazic 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Internationally acclaimed pianist and composer of the younger generation Dejan Lazic returns to the stage of Eilat Chamber Music Festival for the first time after his Israeli debut at the same venue several years ago.
The recitalist and soloist with orchestra, who has appeared at major venues in Europe, North and South America, Asia and Australia – whose performance was hailed by The New York Times as “full of poetic, shapely phrasing and vivid dynamic effects that made this music sound fresh, spontaneous and impassioned” – will give a Schubert/Rachmaninoff recital on March 25.
Born in 1997 in Zagreb, Croatia, into a musical family, Lazic grew up in Salzburg.
“The reason was my teacher, whom I met at a Bartok festival in Hungary,” recollects Lazic in a Skype interview from his Amsterdam home. “He taught at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, which was, like, 400 to 500 kilometers from Zagreb, and every weekend I took a train there; until I told my parents: ‘I love these lessons so much that I wish I could take the classes every day!’ “They were so supportive – they moved with me to Salzburg, when I was only 11 and a half!” After studying at the Mozarteum for 10 years, Lazic moved to Munich, “a more international city, with a larger airport – I was already concertizing. But I wanted to live in Amsterdam; and now this dream has come true. I’ve been living here for only four months, but I feel completely at home in this cosmopolitan city, which has everything that other metropolitan European capitals like Berlin, Paris and London have to offer, but without this stressful atmosphere.
“It has a wonderful concert life, which is very inspiring for an artist, especially when you are surrounded with a well-preserved city, which dates centuries back. It has wonderful halls where I play quite often, as well as museums, cinemas, and so on.”
NOT MANY people are aware of the fact that Lazic, whose name one immediately associates with the piano, played both piano and clarinet for 15 years.
“This is a rather rare combination – usually it is a violin and viola, or two wind instruments,” notes Lazic. “But my mother is a pianist and my father a clarinetist; I was fascinated by my dad’s clarinet sound, and fell in love with the instrument.
“For years I could not make my choice, but at the age of 23, when I already was a performing artist and simply did not have enough time for composing and playing two instruments, I took this tough decision.
“Partly, it was society which made it for me, with the repertoire for piano being vaster and orchestras more of the time looking for pianists, and not clarinetists, for solo performances.”
In a way, the clarinet is the link that connects this primarily classical pianist to jazz.
“I often go to jazz clubs, I have many CDs and old LPs and, of course, playing the clarinet, I did a little bit of swing myself – yet I never dared to really perform jazz.
“But it’s a great balance for me as a classical musician, because improvisation is a virtue I deeply respect. With composers like Beethoven, you see this incredible ability to improvise, and this is what inspires me.”
“Asked about his tastes in classical music, Lasic emphasizes: “I love music too much to specialize in one field, one genre, and one period. On my discs I released music from Scarlatti to Bartok, from Viennese classic to Romantic concertos like Rachmaninoff and Brahms, as well as music of the 21st century.”
The pianist reveals that, as a musician, he has been deeply influenced by the Hungarian school.
“I met my teachers in Hungary, so I’m very much linked not just to the Hungarian school of piano playing, but to that of music-making in general. Coming to the Bartok Festival first as an 11-year-old boy and then returning every summer, also as a concertizing pianist, I remember seeing all these great Hungarian musicians – pianists, composers like Peter Eotvos and Gyorgy Kurtag, instrumentalists like cellist Miklos Perenyi – everybody was there in this amazing melting-pot.
“From the very beginning, I saw how different it was. In addition to piano lessons, we had general music classes, and my tutors encouraged me not only to improvise, but to compose on my own, to play both instruments as far as I can go with it.
“It was not just about the technical aspect, but about the music, about learning the background, reading the necessary literature about the pieces you are performing; about both going into detail and [yet] keeping the overall impression.
“This is what, for example, is characteristic of the scores of Bela Bartok, the father of modern Hungarian music: You can see the balance between his powerful intellect and the big heart of a great human being.”
DEVELOPING HIS connections with Hungarian musicians, next year Lazic will appear several times with the Budapest Philharmonic under Ivan Fischer, “one of the 20th century’s true maestros. I would definitely put his name alongside Carlos Kleiber, Sergiu Celibidache and Wilhelm Furtwängler – he is making a great job not only in the musical field, but is also a great humanitarian.”
Being a part of the young generation of world musicians, is Lazic able to look objectively at the musical life of today? Can he compare musicians of the past to our contemporaries? “What I’ve learned, and what I’m trying to give in my master classes, is to encourage young musicians not only to be reproductive in the sense of learning and performing all these wonderful pieces, but to be also productive and start writing cadenzas for Mozart, Beethoven or Haydn concertos; to improvise, to write their own pieces, to be a little more creative.
“This is the case with the musicians before World War II.
Look at Jascha Heifetz, who was primarily a great violinist, but also an arranger and a composer, and he played the piano wonderfully. This is what we need to have more of nowadays.
“I think there are too many specialists, who for example spend 90 percent of their time with Beethoven, because they are Beethoven players, and are categorized as such, but when one day they want to break out and play some Brahms, society does not believe them.
“I’m sure that in any art form, it is variety that counts. But I myself am still on a search,” he says.
In Eilat, Lazic’s concert program will feature Moments Musicaux by Franz Schubert and the piece of the same name by Sergey Rachmaninoff, as well as Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy.
“Schubert’s Moments Musicaux are maybe among the very first romantic miniatures, a really new form at the time, which he composed after escaping Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven’s influence. They were the source of inspiration for the young Rachmaninoff, who composed probably the last truly romantic pieces at the end of the 19th century. In between is sandwiched Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy, which is wonderfully dramatic and was a novelty for that time.”
Dejan Lazic performs at the Sixth Eilat Chamber Music Festival at 9 p.m. on March 25. For more details and reservations, visit the festival website at