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Ramona Horvath, pianist: „A musician is a universal citizen. It doesn’t matter where you’re from.”

Photo: Bogdan Iordache, Cultura la dubă

In the heart of Paris, close to Notre-Dame Cathedral, in the Senne bank, we meet Ramona Hovarth, the most appreciated Romanian jazz pianist of the moment, living in the French capital for almost 15 years.

Her artistic journey begins in her family in Bucharest, with a cellist father and an art-restaurer mother, in a house with a piano. At only 3 years old, Ramona made friends with the keys and knew that she wanted to play that instrument, in spite of her family’s desire that she studied the violin.

Today she plays in the most important jazz clubs in Paris and biggest festivals in Europe, along with some of the most appreciated French musicians.

“My family (mother and grandparents) tried to push me toward violin, arguing that I had more chances, that in an orchestra there are more violins, but only one piano. But I wanted the piano. I started playing by ear at three and at six I started studying at school.”

She was a high school student when Irina Margareta Nistor, an English teacher, put her in contact with the director of the Cinematheque, to take part at a special event.

“A silent film had been restored , the first Romanian-French co-production – The Independence War, by Grigore Brezeanu, 1912, and there was a special screening at the Cinematheque. The director back then (Savel Stiopul) was looking for a piano player to musically illustrate the screening. Being a war movie, with a lot of battles, music was difficult to create.”

Ramona Horvath/ photo: Bogdan Iordache, Cultura la dubă

Being noticed since school for her musical spontaneity, Ramona was chosen for this cine-concert, which would be a turning point in her career. There was a famous French film producer in the audience that night, Pierre-Henri Deleau, co-founder of Quinzaine des Réalisateurs at the Cannes Film Festival.

“He thought it was a wonderful idea, that such a young girl would play music for this historical film, and decided to include the film in the Strasbourg Film Festival. That is how I got to France for the first time.”

“I had a royal welcome. Pierre-Henri Deleau became my friend and kept inviting me to other film festivals.”

At the time, the young pianist continued studying classical piano at the Bucharest Conservatory, and her leaving to France, which wasn’t on her mind yet, would only happen in a few years. Still, the connections that she made in France helped her meet a great jazz player, the Romanian piano player Jancy Korossy, who was an immigrant in the USA in the ‘60s, after being noticed by Ella Fitzgerald’s agent.

“He had just returned to Europe when I had finished school, he had settled in Germany. And I went there to take jazz lessons. I got to him thanks to the father of the composer Vladimir Cosma, Theodor Cosma, former conductor for the Electrcord Orchestra in Romania, who had Jancy Korossy as a pianist and arranger. 

Jancy Korossy was the severe teacher who would become her mentor and her best friend. Ramona and her mother welcomed him into their home and took care of him until his final days. Thanks to him, Ramona has decided to dedicate herself to jazz music, even though she had studied classical piano. 

“I am a mixture of many things and genres, I think that we all are made of many things.

Ramona Horvath playing the piano/ photo: Bogdan Iordache, Cultura la dubă

My mixture is of all kinds of music that I love, that I played in my life. I have listened to a lot of traditional Romanian music, gypsy music, pop music, r&b, latin-american, jazz, classical, I am made out of all those things.

“I believe that it is important to have periods of searching, not to have only certainties that we are something and we only do that something. If you have that mentality, you might miss out on interesting things in life.”

Ramona Horvath playing the piano/ photo: Bogdan Iordache, Cultura la dubă

Jazz suits me mainly because of the spontaneity. It’s created on the spot. No matter how much you practise at home, you only see the result on the stage. That is what attracted me most. I love life’s challenges and spontaneity.

And Jazz is harder as you not only do not know what you will do, you also do not know what the other musicians will do. That is where art, talent, and preparation come in, knowing how to match your spontaneity to the other one’s spontaneity.”

Alexandra Tănăsescu and Ramona Horvath/ photo: Bogdan Iordache, Cultura la dubă

Having travelled to France only as a visit, as a young high school piano player, Ramona returned to Paris as a student of Jancy Korossy, for an artistic residence.

“I came here, not knowing anybody, I could barely speak any French. The residence should have lasted 4 months and was extended for 2 years. During those 4 months I tried to be active, to play some shows that seem to have made a mark. At the end of the residence, they proposed that I remain until the end of the year, to play a bigger concert then.”

That 4 month trip sums up today 15 years. 

“I made money only by playing. I don’t really know how to do anything else, other than music. Then, I came to a point where I already had some experience. It’s hard coming as an adult in France. France is a good country to raise your children.

You need to settle in as a child, when you’re in school. France is a country of connections. You can’t do anything if you don’t have connections.

When you come as an adult, the time it takes to do something is multiplied by 100. ”

Ramona Horvath/ photo: Bogdan Iordache, Cultura la dubă

In Paris she met some of the biggest jazz musicians in France, with whom she later shared the stage.

“I think that it is a sum of many things that make an artist be liked, to maintain, to win over an audience. It’s a unique recipe each time, depending on the artist, but there are some ingredients, such as charisma, luck, being in the right place at the right time.

There are many talented people, but who are not charismatic. There are many charismatic people, who aren’t really extraordinary at what they do. I think there has to be a balance of these ingredients.

I don’t think that it’s very hard to play on an important stage once. I think that for an artist, the hardest thing is to maintain. THere are new artists catching up daily. ”

Even though life in Paris has not been easy, Ramona Horvath has stood out as an artist and is in a constant evolution. Aside from concerts, many albums, the pianist has become a teacher at a Conservatory near Paris.

Ramona Horvath/ photo: Bogdan Iordache, Cultura la dubă

In her free time, she enjoys going to her friends’ concerts and takes every opportunity to meet musicians who she admires.

“If I were not here, I don’t think that I could ever play what I am playing now. When I first got here, I had the chance to see in the jazz clubs some great artists that I listened to on records. To hear them, speak to them, to me it was extraordinary and I knew that I couldn’t have that anywhere else.

Paris is a key destination for all world renown jazz musicians.

In Romania I would never have that. Surely, many things are changing in Romania, for the better, maybe in a few years it will be like this. But, geographically speaking, we are not in the same area of interest for American jazz musicians. They make a few hours by train between places of interest like Belgium, France, Germany, etc. It’s a lot easier for someone organising a tour when the roads connect logistically.”

Ramona Horvath/ photo: Bogdan Iordache, Cultura la dubă

To the French she has become known as an excellent player of Duke Ellington’s music, but she doesn’t like labels and remains open to the variety of musical genres that she loves.

“Duke Ellington means a lot to me, because he represents two worlds that I am fond of, a crossroad between jazz and classical music. These things speak to me, I hear and understand them.”

When we speak about Romania, Ramona shows a big smile and speaks with warmth. She says that she will forever remain connected to her roots.

Ramona Horvath/ photo: Bogdan Iordache, Cultura la dubă

“I am tied to Romania mainly through my mother. I miss my mother a lot, she doesn’t come so much to visit me, last year she came for the first time. I visit her as often as I can.

My mother gave me my love for France, she is a francophile, she had never been to France, but she loved French culture – films, music, literature. I wasn’t a francophile as a child, I liked America.

On the other hand, I Have always believed that when you are a musician, you are a universal citizen, it doesn’t matter where you are from. But I think I am the only one who believes that, haha. When you are born and raised in a country, that will never disappear, you are bound to it whatever happens.

Ramona Horvath/ photo: Bogdan Iordache, Cultura la dubă

Then, it depends on each individual how they position themselves regarding this, if they want to cultivate some of the things that they liked, or if they want to forever shut down things that they didn’t like. What I love most about Romanians is the human warmth. Romanians are friendly, open, and warm from the first. You don’t have to wait 2 or 5 years to befriend a Romanian. ”

After a few hours spent together, Ramona fits the description above perfectly. She shows us a recently opened jazz club, on a luxury boat on the Senne, where she will play a concert on the 13th of july, French National Day.

Ramona Horvath/ photo: Bogdan Iordache, Cultura la dubă

For her it will be a summer full of events, such as The Barcelona Jazz Festival, The Serbian Jazz Festival, and in autumn she will put out a new album. 

“- What would you say to Ramona from 20 years ago?

– I’d tell her to come to Paris faster.

One one hand, my musical education from Romania was very helpful. I think that is what sets me apart from the musical landscape here, that I have such a diverse musical background.

On the other hand, I would have loved to study here, but if that had happened, I would have never met Jancy Korossy, and that would have been the greatest loss of my life. Everything I learned from him was like a school at home. He handed me everything about jazz, playing daily, me standing next to him, stealing his craft.

That was the most important education that I ever received.”

***This story is part of the “France Week” series, a Cultura la Dubă project supported by BNP Paribas.

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