ProMusica presents a piano recital by Marouan Benabdallah, a tribute concert to Goan-origin pianist-pedagogue Prof. Noel do Carmo Flores (1935-2012) at Maquinez Palace on 7 April 2013 at 6.30 pm. (Donation passes are available at Furtados Music stores in Panjim and Margão).

Benabdallah spoke to the Navhind Times in an exclusive interview.

Would you like to tell us a little about your concert programme? It seems to reflect well your Franco-Hungarian roots.

It is a coincidence! I just love these composers! I am Moroccan and Hungarian, but love French culture and always had an affinity to its music. We can consider that the core of the recital program is Debussy and everything else is built around.

Liszt influenced Debussy; for example, there is an obvious relation between the main motive of Sposalizio by Liszt and the main motive of Debussy’s first Arabesque!

Bartok was in turn very influenced by Debussy, especially by his way of handling harmonies.

Scriabin also was influenced by Debussy, and as many Russian people of his time, he was very fluent in French, and many of his works have titles in French!

Apparently when Sposalizio was published (as part of Années de Pèlerinage, Deuxième  Année, Italie 1858), Liszt instructed that a copy of Raphael’s painting (Sposalizio or Marriage of the Virgin, which inspired the composition) be included. Is this visual imagery something you keep in mind when you perform this piece, and that we in the audience should as well when we listen to it?

Perhaps as an audience yes, but as a performer, my inspiration comes from the score itself. The composers have given us enough indications…

It is always interesting and important to have knowledge of a composer’s life and his sources of inspiration, but it is not essential in order to understand the composer’s works.

Having had a music teacher as your mother, perhaps taking to music must have been almost inevitable for you. You showed an interest in the piano at age 3, and began lessons at 4! Do you recollect how your passion began?

My mother used to give piano lessons at home, so it was natural that at some point I would show some interest to this sound-producing “machine”! This interest has never stopped since then and I feel my relationship with the piano is very balanced.

In your biography it states that “understanding how music functions is a vital need” for you, that you feel that you are a musician before you perceive yourself as a pianist; which is why you first studied the theory of music, analysis and counterpoint. Do you feel that this knowledge helps you to delve deeper, to really “get under the skin” of a composition? 

In general, I am always interested by “how” things work, whether it is music, economics or any other subject.

But, to stay in my field, it is important not only to be able to perform the music, but to understand what is behind the notes, what is the relation between them, what is the role of each note. This gives meaning to music; otherwise it is just a succession of empty notes. Very boring…

From this perspective, the music of Alexander Scriabin 1872-1915 (which features in the second half of your programme) must be fascinating to study up close. Do you subscribe to his belief in synaesthesia (association of colours with harmonic tones and tonalities)? It is thought that his unrealised magnum opus Mysterium was to have been a week-long performance including music, scent, dance and light in the foothills of the Himalayas, perhaps somewhere in India or Nepal! A real pity it never happened!

Indeed, a real pity!! However, there are still a few works, for example Prometheus: The Poem of Fire, op.60, where he has put indications regarding which colours should be projected in the concert hall!

In fact, I am doing something similar, but limited to olfaction and hearing, in Morocco right after my tour in India. A perfume designer is creating perfumes inspired by the progamme I will be presenting, and these scents will be diffused in the concert hall while I am performing! I’ve never done this before.

Tell us a little about your recollection of Prof. Noel Flores, to whose memory you will be dedicating your Goa concert.

I had the pleasure to meet Prof. Flores and his wife, Regina, many times, in Austria, Italy and Hungary. The last time we met was in Budapest during a master-class he gave at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in 2007.We worked on a Haydn sonata. But I also attended a lesson when he was teaching a Chopin nocturne. He was a very kind man and a true musician. I was deeply marked by his profound musicianship. I always felt his only concern was music, although technique is important, but has always to be in the service of music, and not the opposite. So sad to lose him!


(An edited version of this article appeared in the Navhind Times Goa India on 31 March 2013)