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Dreams come true: when Timberlake meets Bach

Those who say that classical music is boring must not yet have heard about Bence Péter, the young pianist who, by combining different music genres, shows that even the “classical” can be modern. How does he do it? He will reveal it himself!

When did you start to play the piano, and how did you realize that music is the right thing for you?


I started it at the age of three, playing different tunes by ear; at the age of seven I had already written my first own pieces. After this came the music school, and then the Zoltán Kodály Vocational Music School in Debrecen where I continued my studies in piano and music composition.


 After which you immediately opted for Berklee. 


Even during my high school years I was very interested in the U.S. and the Berklee which was presented to me as the best school of the world, as a place where they teach you not only classical music but all kinds of genres, including music composition for film. The latter was especially appealing to me because I wanted to be a composer for cinema at that time – I was listening to John Williams day and night, and this is why I applied to Berklee, among other things.


How was the application interview?


Even the submission of my application was a very long process. At first I had to choose a location where the interview would be held because Berklee is such a huge institution that it organizes interviews in several European capitals. Paris was the closest to me. The interview itself took only half an hour – it consisted of a musical part and a short discussion.


The musical part is similar to a solfege entrance exam in Hungary: I had to play tunes by ear and improvise, and I also brought there some of my own pieces because at Berklee they put a strong emphasis on making your own music, they highly appreciate it – even in the form of a scholarship. During the interview I was asked about my future plans and they wanted to know why I had chosen the Berklee. From this they could assess your English language skills – I didn’t need to present a language exam. You’d better apply in time since the application and deliberation processes may take months – this is why I did it one year before my high school graduation.


According to you, what are the differences between the American and Hungarian methods used to teach music?


In the United States, there is a completely different mentality and people have a distinct way of thinking. I had a lot of positive impulses and experiences there. Everything goes a little more smoothly and people have a more positive attitude towards life, they are more open. In Hungary, the emphasis is put on the high-level education of classical music, whereas in the U.S. they focus on pragmatism – for example, courses are not only about folk songs and solmization. It’s a pity that you cannot learn music production in Hungarian high schools or at universities, that there are no music business, music management studies here.


This is why you went to the United States?


I traveled to the States because I wanted to open up my world a little, learn new music styles and discover everything that is not available at home. I think that it’s not enough to see things from one single angle. Modern artists must be ready for everything, you cannot close yourself off. If I may quote from Star Wars, I’d say that if you want to have a comprehensive knowledge of the force, you must learn its dark side as well.


We could see you with Balázs Farkas-Jenser in the 2015 edition of “Dal” (The Song).


I have to admit that I’ve never thought that once I would nominate one of my songs in “Dal.” It hasn’t been so long that I’ve been doing this (I wrote my first pop song two years ago), but I like it very much. There is a huge amount of work in every pop song, you can work on them a lot, chiseling them – it’s like a classical masterpiece, a chef-d’œuvre. 


Justin Timberlake - Cry Me a River - Bence Peter [Timberlake Meets Bach]


Last year I happened to be at home, and I wrote a song in five minutes – which is a good sign since if something is born quickly it means sudden inspiration and is generally good. I and Kata Kozma, the co-author of the song, we sought a male artist with good English pronunciation for this song, and they recommended us Balázs Farkas-Jenser. He really liked it, and we worked on it together from then on, and suddenly came the idea that we should go for the Eurovision. There’s an enormous amount of work behind this song: we remade it several times, refined and polished it, just to make it perfect. And in the last minute came the idea to remix it in such a way that it remain popular yet have a little twist that adds a classical touch to it, and this is how we added the piano solo in the end.


Did you want to make classical music more popular?


It was not necessarily classical music that we wanted to spread, but good taste instead. We wanted to serve as an example by showing that pop music too can be creative and of high standard. Unfortunately we made it only into the best 30, but many people love this song at home and abroad as well: for example, they are making a remix from it in Los Angeles, and several professionals consider it to be a very good song.


You’re a Guinness Record holder, too. 


It was still back in Kodály that while I was looking at a Havasi CD, one of my teachers drew my attention to the fact that he was the world’s fastest pianist – it was written on the case. I checked what this exactly meant and I found that it was about hitting the same key as many times as possible in a minute. Then I thought to myself: what if I broke this record? It happened only two years later because in the meantime I studied at Berklee, and we started to work on this only after I had come home for the first time. It went with a lot of administration and paperwork, but finally the new record was born at the Debrecen Ball of the City.


So currently you are the fastest pianist of the world.


I decided to share this title with Balázs Havasi. Although I don’t like that people search me on the Internet because of this – most Guinness records let you have a good laugh and are about pushing human limits – it helped me a lot and gates opened up before me. Probably this is why they invited me to Japan as well because in Asian countries there’s a great cult of Guinness records. I’m grateful and proud of it, but if I have to introduce myself or if I speak with a group of strangers I would not mention it.  


Are you mostly a pianist, a producer, or a composer?


All of them together, but now I’m focusing on my career as a pianist because this is where can I stand out the most. During the past year, while I was at home, we made several video clips, and we wish to go into this direction.  


You said this in the plural. Is there a team behind you?


Yes, there are two managers who help me. When we made the Timberlake meets Bach video last year, we came up with the idea of creating a management and producing even more video clips. It is a very familial, harmonious team, the work goes smoothly, yet we still have a lot to learn, it’s true.


And what about the future? What to do next?


Nowadays online presence and YouTube views are very important for a musician. Currently we’re trying to concentrate on making me more well-known with the help of these videos and getting more international recognition and attention so that we can organize concerts or tours in any part of the world. This is one of my short-term goals, but I’m interested in many things. I’d love to travel the world in the future, not getting settled anywhere – not even in the U.S.: what appeals to me the most is to be on the road all the time.


What is your biggest dream: to fill a stadium with your music or to see your name among the composers of a film?


Since I’m focusing on the piano, the ideal success would be to become known as a pianist, filling stadiums with my own music and remakes. As for composing music, I had to neglect it a little since it would be easier to stand out as a performer – the success thus achieved would then make it possible for me to compose music for a film. Lately I’ve been uploading remakes to my YouTube channel instead of my own creations, because people are more likely to search these, and it is easier to get popular like this. If you are not yet known, it’s not always the best strategy to come out with your own pieces.


You come from a small rural town, Hajdúböszörmény. Do you think that it is harder to become famous from such a place?


The place where you were born is obviously important, and the community in which you grow up has a definite impact on your personality, but these play a lesser role than many would think. It’s a fact that several things depend on relationships, and relationship building in a small town is not only harder but practically impossible. This is exactly why you go to university or to another country (like the United States) where everything works differently. You need courage, perseverance, and determinacy to do this, but it’s not unattainable – and if you know what you want, you’ll find the right way to achieve it.


Written by Dóra Zolnai.

Translated by Mária Kenesei.

Published: Wed, 19/08/2015 - 12:10

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