Andy Warhol's "Interview" Magazine
July 1982 Vol. XII No. 7
Music: the debut of a "Twentieth Century Mozart"
MSTISLAV ROSTROPOVICH, MRS. ALLEGRIA DE BERACASA, PRESIDENT OF THE BERACASA FOUNDATION, CREDITED WITH DIMITRIS' DISCOVERY, AND DIMITRIS SGOUROS PHOTOGRAPHED BY ARKADY LVOV.
MSTISLAV ROSTROPOVICH: I am extremely happy to be presenting the debut here, in the United States, and with our own National Orchestra, of a young pianist of exceptional talent, a grandiose talent. This very young Greek pianist, Dimitris Sgouros, who is only twelve years old. He will perform, at his American debut, the Third Piano Concerto by Rachmaninoff, which is the summit for any pianist, for the most accomplished of pianists.
This was the most unusual interview I was ever asked to do. The time was Thursday afternoon, April 15th. The place—backstage at Carnegie Hall, New York. I located the maestro sitting on the floor, legs tucked under, engrossed in some intricate game with another young man of about the same age.
"I'm all done and waiting for you," he announced cheerfully. "And this is my cousin. He's here from Canada. We're going to do a concert together." The cousin nodded politely and introduced himself with much dignity and without rising from the floor. We all proceeded upstairs, to the dressing rooms of Mstislav Rostropovich, where the young maestro tucked himself into the corner of the couch and, chin in hand, prepared to answer questions. While puttering around, trying to set up my equipment, I observed him out of the corner of my eye. He seemed to me to be a typical boy, just like any other. A "boy from a nice home." Clean-cut, well-groomed, dimpled cheeks, neatly cut and combed chestnut-colored hair. Could this be the same miracle-working genius, who, just minutes ago, astounded everyone downstairs with his wondrous performance of Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto? Are these child's fingers the same ones which subdued the keyboard and drew from it such titanic sounds? It didn't seem possible that he is only twelve and a half and that, while his peers labored studiously over standard exercises and Bach fugues and Czerny etudes and Haydn sonatinas to lay the basic groundwork for future musical careers, he is the boy who, in justtwo days' time, was prepared to perform with the National Orchestra one of the most demanding pieces in all of the professional piano repertoire.
I was unable to quite get my thoughts together, but the young maestro looked at me expectantly and, finally, I asked the first question that popped into my head, "What's your name?" "My name is Dimitris Sgouros," he replied. "Could you repeat that a little louder, please?" "D-I-M-I-T-R-I-S S-G-O-U-R-O-S," he spelled slowly and patiently and I thought to myself with some amusement that, some day very soon, when this name is on everyone's lips and becomes a household word to the entire music world, I will remember this awkward moment with fondness and, perhaps, just a twinge of embarrassment.
BELLA EZERSKY: Is Mstislav Rostropovich the first conductor with whom you have performed?
DIMITRIS SGOUROS: No, I've played with Sir Alexander Gibson in London, a very fine conductor. Then I played with the Cannes Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Philippe Vender, also one of the finest in the world. And with the Caracas Philharmonic. And then I've played many solo concerts. I don't even remember how many.
BE: When did you begin doing concerts?
DS: Solo concerts at ten. With orchestras at eleven. I won the first prize in a competition in Italy. It was a tough competition, top class.
BE: For youngsters?
DS: No, for grown-ups. Then I was invited on a musical tour. Then, on another tour. Then, in August of 1981, I played at the music festival in Menton, and then with Sir Gibson in England, and then in Switzerland and in Caracas, and after that, I am going to Czechoslovakia and from there, back to Greece and then, in the fall, I am playing at a festival with Vladimir Ashkenazi and Daniel Barenboim. And on June 25-27, I have another concert with the National Symphony in Washington, D.C.
He recited all this without a pause, like a little nursery rhyme. Good heavens, I thought to myself. Here I was thinking that I am going to interview a debutante, albeit a brilliant one, and it turns out that I am speaking with a pianist whose talent had already conquered two continents, a celebrity sought after by reporters and a colleague of the finest conductors!
BE: When did you begin to play?
DS: At seven.
BE: No, I mean when did you begin studying music?
DS: At seven, as I said. Before that I had never even touched a piano. But I always liked music. Not classical music, of course, but jazz. And dance music. And songs. Folk music, that is.
BE: You have a loaded schedule.
DS: No, not at all! I have plenty of time for everything. It's true that I have a lot of concerts, but I like that and I don't get tired at all. I really do have enough time. I go to the pool; I love swimming. And I love to ride my bicycle. And I love basketball. I never get too tired. It's because I don't really study all that much. (He yawns.)
BE: But I can see you are tired now.
DS: No, I'm not! I am not tired at all. It's just that this is my nap time. I always have a short nap before a concert.
BE: Do you attend a public school in Greece?
DS: Yes, and a conservatory, too. I am graduating from there on June 19th.
BE: But how can you do your schoolwork if you're away on tour all the time?
DS: I don't have to attend the conservatory every day. Not any more. I must play a concert there twice a week, just like here or any place else. And then I have to pass a two-hour exam at the end of the year. That's all. Not that tough.
BE: I understand the course of study at the conservatory is four years?
DS: Yes, I entered it when I was nine.
BE: And about how old are your classmates?
DS: Twenty. And older.
MRS. SGOUROS (Dimitris' mother): Dimitris goes to the conservatory after school. And in the evening he takes private lessons. He tours only on weekends and during school vacations. Now, for example, is Easter vacation. Then we have two months of summer vacation. And also there are some long weekends. Dimitris loves to travel. I think the moving around and meeting all those new people is good for him. In June, when he graduates from the Athens Conservatory, he will receive his degree not only as a pianist, but also as a music teacher. He's already had two years of experience teaching music at the same conservatory. It's part of the curriculum.
BE: How does Dimitris make out in public school? How does he get along with other children?
MRS. SGOUROS: Dimitris has no problems getting along with other children. Rather, sometimes they have a problem with him. He is used to being with grown-ups and to speaking with them at their own level. His development, intellectually and emotionally, is closer to that of an adult. Most of his friends are twice as old as he is, some older. He talks to them about literature and philosophy. He is also very strong in mathematics and can solve problems meant for students three grades above him. Actually, we never expected that he would be a musician. He's always been interested in things mechanical and electrical. But you know what we noticed about him even when he was very little? He was more interested in how a mechanism sounds than in how it actually works. He was always fascinated with sound. He has absolute pitch and very sensitive fingers, something he must have inherited from his father.
BE: Is his father also a musician?
MRS. SGOUROS: No, he's a doctor, and a very fine diagnostician. He needs only to touch the patient and to listen to his body very carefully and, for the most part, he can establish an accurate diagnosis without X-rays or a lot of further tests.
BE: And do you play?
MRS. SGOUROS: I studied music for six years. I play, but not professionally. I have a good sense of music, but I can feel it better than I can perform it.
BE: How did you come to discover Dimitris' gift?
MRS. SGOUROS: He always loved to listen to music. When he started first grade I asked him if he would like to have music lessons. He said that he would, so I took him to see my own music teacher, Madame Georgeopoulos. She started lessons with him and his achievements were remarkable from the very beginning. He studied with her for a year and a half and then he entered the Athens Conservatory. His professor for the past four years has been Maria Herogiorgiou-Sigara.
BE: How do you envision his future?
MRS. SGOUROS: He likes to compose music. He has a good, solid background in music history and music theory, harmony, composition. He is now enrolled at the Royal Academy of Music in London. And his general education will be at Westminster College. It's possible he will eventually become a composer. But for now, he likes to play best of all.
BE: Tell me, Dimitris, how did you discover your calling?
DS (laughing): I didn't discover it at all. It sort of came all by itself.
BE: Which composers do you like the best?
DS: I like the Romantic composers: Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky. I like the Classicists also, but I like the Romantic music more.
BE: How do you grasp the inner meaning of a composition? The composer's intent? His ideas? Who explains them to you?
DS: No one. Not anymore. Two, no, even one year ago, it was my teacher. But not now. Not any more.
BE: You were just rehearsing Rachmaninoff. It's not a simple piece and even Rachmaninoff himself had made quite a few revisions in it—
DS: But I am not going to play Rachmaninoff as he would play it himself. I cannot always get inside the composer. Can you understand that? You can only learn the notes precisely and then put them together into a musical piece, but it will be a new piece, another piece. We are individuals and we are living in the Twentieth century. There are, on the other hand, some things in which I make a particular effort to preserve the composers own style. When I play Scarlatti, for example, or Mozart, or Beethoven, I try to play them as they were played during their own time.
BE: And which composer, would you say, definitely demands a modern interpretation?
DS: Oh, I don't know. That's a matter of individual approach and different people would give you a different answer. Everyone has his own opinion when it comes to this composer or that.
BE: Well, what would you say about Scriabin, just as an example? How do you relate to him?
DS: Oh, yes, I have much feeling for Scriabin, although he is definitely a more modern composer. But, you know, sometimes he is a Romanticist.
BE: Do you find him terribly difficult?
DS: No, not at all, although I do need just a tiny bit of help sometimes.
BE: How did you meet Maestro Rostropovich?
DS: We met in Amsterdam. We both appeared in the same concert.
BE: And did he invite you to appear with his orchestra right away?
DS: No, that was two days later.
BE: Had he ever heard you play before that?
DS: No, but he had heard about me.
BE: Dimitris, how did it happen that at a Tchaikovsky festival you played Rachmaninoff? And you weren't listed in the program?
DS: Maestro Rostropovich wanted my appearance to be a surprise to the audience. He had also planned to call a press conference to introduce me to the American audiences.
As it turned out, there was no need to court the press. The very next day after the concert, the New York music critics were literally raving with delight about young Dimitris, conferring upon him praises ranging from "a modem Liszt," "a Twentieth century Mozart" to simply "a genius."
BE: But, still, what about your choice of Rachmaninoff?
DS: Maestro Rostropovich invited me to play Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto when we were still in Holland. So I learned it.
BE: Just for the Tchaikovsky Festival?
DS: Yes, sure. I had never played it before.
BE: And how long did it take you to learn it?
DS: A week.
BE: That's incredible!
DS: It's about normal. But here, in New York, it turned out that someone else was already scheduled to perform that same concerto. Rostropovich asked me if I could play some other concerto and I told him that I would be very glad to play Rachmaninoff's Third. He agreed.
BE: And don't tell me you learned that in just three days?!
DS (laughing): No, of course not. I knew it before. I only had to rehearse it with the orchestra.
BE: But why did you specifically choose the Rachmaninoff?
DS: That's a tough question. Listen, I played Tchaikovsky in Holland, and Tchaikovsky after that and then, again, Tchaikovsky, Tchaikovsky, Tchaikovsky.... At that point, I simply preferred the Rachmaninoff.
BE: Mrs. Sgouros, how does Dimitris handle all the attention? He is, after all, quite a celebrity now.
MRS. SGOUROS: He doesn't much care about that. He simply pays no attention to his "fame."
BE: But he, no doubt, does enjoy the fuss and the publicity?
MRS. SGOUROS: Not especially. He never reads what the papers write about him, nor does he like to watch television programs featuring him. He likes only the music. There were eight "encores" at a concert in Switzerland. And he returned and played again and again, all eight times. The audience wouldn't leave even after the lights were turned out in the concert hall. He loves music for the sake of music. He is ready to play all night.
New York Post
April 24, 1982
Alegría Beracasa on Dimitris Sgouros
|Stephen M. Silverman|
Behind every great man, it is said, there's a woman. But behind every great child prodigy ... ?
In the case of 12-year-old Dimitris Sgouros - who last week astounded Carnegie Hall with his performance of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto in D Minor, No. 3 - the woman is Allegria Beracasa, head of the Beracasa Foundation.
"I'm not surprised by the reception to little Dimitris," said Mrs Beracasa, sounding like a proud parent. "When you hear him, you fall in love with him." Post critic Harriett Johnson referred to Sgouros as "our little fellow with the giant mind, old soul, and monumental talent."
In its 15 years of existence Mrs Beracasa's foundation, headquartered in Paris and Caracas, has presented 250 musical artists.
"We're like a flea market of music," she said, referring to herself and her artistic director Andre Borocz. "We find the gifted musicians of the world and try to offer them the right connections."
The discoveries, she said, are come upon in one of two ways. The first is through the recommendations of such "good friends" as Isaac Stern, Yehudi Menuhin, Rudolf Serkin, Wilhelm Kempff, Daniel Barenboim, Maurice Andre, Jean-Pierre Rampal, James Galway, and Mstislav Rostropovich.
"They send us their best pupils," she said, acknowledging that the world of music, at best, "is a very closed circle."
The second method is through sheer circumstance. Mrs Beracasa happened across an item in a Greek newspaper about young Sgouros and decided to seek him out. In due course Mrs B. was introducing him and his mother to Rostropovich in Monaco. The boy then played concerts in Europe and is today back home in Greece, "becoming," said Mrs Beracasa, "an even greater musician."
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