If you haven’t seen it, it’s hard to describe exactly what happens at a Havasi show. There’s a light, image and overall sensory experience happening onstage. There might be a full orchestra, or a choir, or a rock band, or all of that. In one song that’s also a popular video on YouTube, a drummer rocks out while strapped into a chair with drum kit bolted to a platform that spins him upside down while he plays. And in the middle of this, at a grand piano, sits Havasi.
A classically trained pianist, Havasi has in the last decade built an international reputation as a crossover piano star with a bombastic live show. A live show that he’s now bringing to Hard Rock Live.
“I’m very happy to play in Hard Rock – I think I’m the first classical musician to play there,” he says. “I think the guitar hotel is the coolest place on earth.”
Crowds here tend to whoop and cheer, he says, and he thinks that’s great.
“I love the Florida crowd. I had some experiences because I played one or two solo concerts here. The vibe is great here. They react to my music different to everywhere in Europe. I feel like I’m having a rock concert more than a modern classical concert.”
These are not exactly the sorts of concerts he played as a younger man. Balázs Havasi is Hungarian and spent his early years studying in that country’s rigorous classical music system. He was on track to becoming a respected classical musician – but he had other ideas. “There is a saying that every little boy has two kinds of dreams,” he says. “One is to become an astronaut; the other is to be a rock star.”
“I firmly believe we should never give up on our dreams.”
In the early 2000s, he began experimenting with different sounds, work that would eventually lead him to several bands and collaborations. His unique sound and style began to come together. As the years went on, he also met the people who could make his epic live shows a reality.
“When I compose music, I have visions in my mind,” he says. “I believe that if you have something for the eyes and the ears, it will be much bigger than if you just listen to the music.
“I’ve been working with the same team for six or seven years. I believe in the power of the teamwork – you see the result on the stage. I need their emotions, their ideas as well. I like when everyone has room to be creative around me.”
His own creativity leads him across the musical map. “Even if I’m a classical musician, I always like to emphasize that I’m open to all musical genres,” he says.
That said, his genre-melding musical style is firmly rooted in his classical training.
“Only those who spent enough time with the masters can create something new,” he says. “First you need to learn the profession; you need to be a classical pianist. That was the first half of my life. These years are the basis of my knowledge and technique.”
But once he’d acquired that knowledge and technique, he began to ask bigger questions.
“The question comes, who are you inside? Now you feel like you can transfer other composers’ feelings, ideas and thoughts, but what are your feelings?” It was when he decided to create his own music that his journey really began. “From that moment,” he says, “my career and my success story started.”
He loves classical music, but he wants to inject life and vitality into the world of the piano and the orchestra. There was, he notes, a time when the people we now think of as classical musicians were treated like rock stars. He notes that Franz Liszt, the 19th-century composer who was Hungary’s great musical genius, was in his day a bold performer and frankly, a bit of a sex symbol.
“(In) his age, he was not a classical musician, he was a real rock star,” Havasi says. “He had fans, he had screaming women when he played the piano. And he was the first artist who dared to play a whole concert with a solo piano.”
Havasi’s not claiming to be another Liszt, but like the national hero he does want to do things his way. “I live in 2020,” he says. “I really am a modern guy. If you would like to communicate with the masses, you need to live and breathe with them, together.” He’ll definitely be living and breathing with them at the Hard Rock.
“I can be a rock star for a couple minutes if I want to,” he says, “and I think the U.S. concert halls are the best places to do that.
“I feel there are no limits. As long as an artist is honest, as long as an artist plays from the heart, there are no limits.”