David Pavlovits

by J. Andrew Dickenson
June 2007

David Pavlovits was first heard by New Yorkers last year, when he gave a stunning recital at Carnegie Hall. The day after, he surprised the guitar community with an impromptu performance at the Society’s monthly meeting, and the enthusiasm for the young virtuoso resulted in an invitation to perform on the Spring Concert Series. In the interview below, Pavlovits discusses his musical background, compositions, and how playing piano influenced his technique.

Are you excited about playing in America?

I’m very much looking forward to playing in the States again, especially in New York, where I found the audience amazingly enthusiastic. I will play in Cleveland, Washington, D.C., and California, too.

Tell me about your musical background.

My grandmother was a pianist, but she died in the Second World War, in 1945. Her husband, my still-living grandfather, used to be choir member in the Budapest State Opera in the twenties. The rest of my family are non-musicians: theater directors, inside architects, painters, etc.

I started guitar and piano at the same time, actually quite late, at the age of 17. My first teacher was pianist (Julia Danyi), but I self-taught myself guitar for a while. Two years later I passed the entrance exam at the Liszt Conservatory of Szeged, where I had been studying guitar and composition. My Hungarian master was Ede Roth. Finally, I graduated in Germany (Darmstadt, Mainz and Munich), where my most important teachers were Tilman Hoppstock (guitar) and Grigory Gruzman (piano). Later I took classes with Leo Brouwer and Gyorgy Kurtag, which gave me a life-long influence in musical thinking.

What inspired you to play guitar?

The inspiration was partly the versatility of styles which reached me through the guitar: jazz, ethnic music, flamenco, Latin music, and of course the classical styles, where still there are so many undiscovered paths.

What are the similarities and differences in guitar and piano?

Playing two instruments helped one another all the time, until today. Although nails are a drawback for the piano, my piano professor helped to develop a low-wrist technique, a little similar to the way Horowitz used to play.

Apparently there are many techniques and values, especially playing polyphony, articulation, rhythmic severity, conducting, orchestral thinking or the so called ‘declamation,’ which I think I could have hardly learned beyond a certain extent without playing the piano.

On the other hand, the warm and singing nature, the Mediterranean character of the guitar, and the face-to-face contact to the birth of the sound has given me many things, which the piano cannot really give.

What do your parents do?

My father was a theater director and screenplay writer, later a journalist, and my mother used to be a dentist. They’ve never played any instruments.

You are also a composer. Can you tell me about your compositional style?

My style is strongly influenced by human gestures, instincts, primitive or aboriginal emotions and rhythmic sensations, but also by the folklore of south-eastern Europe. The language is connected to tonality, sometimes bi- or polytonal, or polyrhythmic. In general serious, but not too complicated or sophisticated, I guess.

How does being a performer affect your composing?

It is one of the most important points: the daily contact with the instrument, and the joy of playing pieces which tend to give joy also for the fingers, not only for the ears. I’m searching to avoid the mainstreams, but also trying to remain as guitaristic as I can. My ideal from this point of view are Beethoven’s or Chopin’s piano music: the greatest masterworks ever, but also such pleasure for the fingers, the most natural thing ever.

Where do you teach?

I have been teaching for the past six years history of music (for instance about the musical background of T. Mann’s Doctor Faustus, or the relation between Goethe and Beethoven), theory, chamber music, harmony on the guitar, and guitar, of course, at the Faculty of Music of the University of Szeged, in Hungary.

What plans do you have for the future?

I have many plans, including some new compositions for guitar and other instruments, as well as a piano sonata. Also, I have plans for new recordings: One with arrangements of Mozart and Scarlatti, another one with Hungarian contemporary works, including new pieces by Gyorgy Kurtag.