‘I identified very closely with him as a teenager’: Michael Kieran Harvey’s homage to Franz Liszt

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‘I identified very closely with him as a teenager’: Michael Kieran Harvey’s homage to Franz Liszt

Words by Jacob McCormack

From a boyhood mesmerisation, to studying at the Liszt academy in Budapest, Michael Kieran Harvey has been influenced by the famous Hungarian composer Franz Liszt since he started exploring notated music.

“In my teenage years I used to just immerse myself in his stuff,” says Harvey. “As a lot of teenage piano players do who are exploring the notated area anyway. And I was finding him very inspiring, so I followed the trail over to Hungary. I did my student study at the Liszt Academy in Budapest.”

In a new two-part concert series entitled Liszt’s Lance into the Future, facilitated by ANAM, Harvey is set to bring the works of Liszt to an eager audience in Naarm/Melbourne. The series will take place on Friday August 18 and Saturday August 19 at the Rosina Auditorium, Abbotsford Convent.

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The series will feature six compositions created by the luminary Liszt, alongside original compositions written by Harvey, Kurtág, Bartók, Messiaen, Berio, Berg and Johanna Selleck, all of whom have been directly inspired by the techniques and methods of Liszt.

Harvey himself will be performing, as well as Timothy Young (ANAM Head of Piano), Paavali Jumppanen (ANAM Artistic Director) and a selection of ANAM Pianists.

The allure of studying Liszt resided in the dedication to music that Liszt embodied within his career, practice and everyday life.

“He’s a musician, like Beethoven if you want to go that far, who has really lived their life as a musician, through all the pitfalls and everything that a musician faces in a society,” says Harvey.

“What Liszt was facing is incredibly relevant to the types of problems that the musician of today faces. That is the area of reinterpreting notated music, and I was finding that very inspiring for that reason. He was also a very good role model. He came from a very humble background.”

But the intrigue of Liszt’s life far transcended his devotion to music. Liszt seemed to relate to music and existence in a cyclical manner throughout the entirety of his life.

“Liszt encountered Paganini who was this incredible wizard on the violin and that totally demoralised Liszt,” he says. “Liszt basically disappeared for three years and was declared dead by one of the newspapers in Paris. But it was at that time he then started to really work on his technique and become just like Paganini, but on the piano. And then his life, went in these sorts of cycles, which is why I found him very interesting. He was reaching a certain peak level as a performer, but then just retired. He retired at about 38 and stopped touring and concertizing and settled down.”

It was not only the transcendental life that Liszt lived that inspired this concert series, but from a musical standpoint, it was the mastered understanding of the piano as an instrument and how it could be manipulated that echoes the general theme of Liszt’s Lance into the Future.

“It’s really to do with this idea that you can transcend technical things,” he says. “You gather this huge technical armoury and then you can transcend that technique and really communicate musical ideas much more effectively. That is something that informs all of the modern works that are being presented in the concert series.”

It was this very approach that directly affected the creation of the two of Harvey’s compositions that are set to be performed at the concert series.

“They’re being performed because Timothy showed a bit of interest in playing that piece. It’s very nice of them to do that, but they [my compositions] do relate to Liszt in a very pianistic way. They’re very virtuosic pieces. They are trying to use virtuosity to transcend the limitations of the notation. That is the idea acquired from Liszt that best represents this idea of program music, which is that music can actually represent something, and if not represent something then it can give a very definite impression of something.”

Liszt has played a vital role in the formation of music over time, alongside influencing musicians and their approaches to music throughout history. The concert series curated by Michael Kieran Harvey is no exception and is sure to be a spectacle.

Bear witness to the transcendental music of Liszt by purchasing tickets to Liszt’s Lance into the Future here.

This article was made in partnership with ANAM.