Hungarian pianist Peter Bence is only 24 years old, but before he studied film scoring at Berklee College of Music, he already had two albums under his belt. Four years ago, he broke the Guinness World Record for the most piano key hits in one minute, with 765 strokes. Bence is currently touring and working on a new album, and he stopped by Hong Kong last month to perform at the Moko Film Awards.
Young Post caught up with him on his first visit to Hong Kong:
What inspired you to break the Guinness World Record?
It started very early, I was about two or three years old, when my parents discovered that I had talent for piano, and later I was playing everything so fast and my piano teacher was always telling me, you should play slower! And I just wanted to play fast. So when I was in high school my teachers told me about this Guinness World Record and they suggested that I should try to break it. I laughed at first, but so many people told me to do it, so I did.
How did you prepare yourself to break the record?
I started probably weeks before my Guinness World Record attempt. I would train every day, just practising my speed, recording myself and counting. I did rehearsals and I slowed down the audio recording and I counted if I matched the current record holder. And I was pretty sure I could break the record because every time it was more than the previous record.
Is 765 hits your personal best record?
I have done more. I actually have done 951 times.
Is there a particular part of the piano where it’s easier to play fast?
Actually it depends a lot on the mechanics of the piano. Usually it’s easier probably on the higher pitch ranges. I don’t know why, it’s probably some mechanical reason, I think it’s lighter and easier. Down the other end I think it’s harder.
How did you get into film scoring?
When I was about nine or 10 years old after listening and growing up with classical music, I was so inspired by John Williams and especially the score for Star Wars, which is one of my favourite movies, I decided that I wanted to learn film scoring and I wanted to compose music. John Williams was the one to open up my musical taste, and the reason that I decided to go to Berklee (College of Music) to study film scoring.
Is there a reason you prefer John Williams to other composers like Hans Zimmer?
I love Hans Zimmer too. The new soundtrack for Interstellar, oh my God, I loved the use of the organ and the piano in it. But John Williams is special to me because that was what got me into really writing my own songs.
Practising is tough. What’s your advice to becoming more motivated?
Of course I had my challenges. Lots of times when I was at school learning all these classical pieces sometimes I was lazy and not practising. I think to learn an instrument with passion, find your favourite music, and learn by playing that, whether it be Disney or Beyonce songs. That’s where the passion comes from. It’s different from playing pieces you don’t care about. It’s worth waking up for.
What do you do when you have writer’s block?
It happens all the time. When the inspiration comes, I’m finished with 90 per cent of the song in 10 minutes. The last 10 per cent of the song just takes forever; weeks to finalise and to shape it into something more perfect. Sometimes I just can’t seem to finish it. I guess what I would suggest to everybody is to go out and do something totally different. When I have writer’s block, I don’t listen to music for a few days. Most often I get new ideas during moments of silence.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Cooking. It’s one of my favourite hobbies. I love watching TV shows with chefs, like Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver, and a lot of times I make connections between making music and making food. It’s so similar, actually. When you cook a sauce, you have to put some cream or cheese to blend the flavours together. And when I’m mixing music it’s the same, sometimes it’s quite crispy, the bass is there, but there’s nothing in the middle to connect it all. You need to engineer it somehow differently to get this full feeling. Genres of music and styles of cooking and the fusions of it is also very similar.
What’s the most expensive piano you’ve played on?
The Bösendorfer Grand Imperial. I don’t know if it’s the most expensive piano in the world, but it costs about US$150,000. It’s a matter of taste, though. There are many good pianos, but it depends what sound you like. Some classical composers sound good on a Bösendorfer, but for my style I like a harsher, steely sound, and Yamaha and Steinway pianos are very good for that.
You travel a lot on tour. Tell us about your favourite memory.
One time when I was in Boston, I went to this John Williams concert. He conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra to play the most famous of his movie themes. And my piano teacher at the time was in the orchestra playing the piano for John Williams. That was kind of unexpected because he didn’t tell me that he was playing in the orchestra. I was in the first row and after the concert I texted him, “Oh my God, I saw you on the stage!” And he’s like, “Come on over, you can come backstage and meet John Williams!” and I was like, “Oh my God.” And I got to meet John Williams. I didn’t play live for him but he saw one of my YouTube videos! I told him he’s basically the reason why I’m at Berklee and studying film scoring. It was a touching moment. He was very humble. It was an amazing experience.
What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?
My advice is always stay true to yourself, and understand that the world will ask and expect a lot from you, but if you can stay aligned with yourself and continue searching for originality and creativity, I think you’ll have a great chance. And I think the most important thing is to have that passion and stay humble.