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Katica Illényi: Building Bridges with the Theremin

Hungarian thereminist Katica Illényi explaining to a child how to play theremin.
Katica Illényi explains to a child how to play the theremin.

Saggini: I see you are using a Moog Etherwave. Are you happy with it?

Illenyi: In all candor, my Moog Etherwave’s timbre and functionality are not as reliable as I would like. When performing on stage with the Moog theremin, I am always concerned whether it will work or not, which is very stressful for me before my concerts, and I do have a lot of performances. I tried other theremins, but unfortunately, all of them have the same problem. The volume range is much limited, and I am not able to express myself musically how I wish. The fact is that there are no concert-quality theremins available on the market today, which opens up an opportunity for an inventor. For now, though, all of us who play the theremin in concert, the problem remains unresolved. Somebody ought to invent a really, good reliable concert theremin. It’s time for it!

Saggini: Maybe the inventor is listening. Please, give him/her your detailed specifications.

Illenyi: For me, first of all, the timbre would be very important, and also a very high volume range is needed. These are the fundamentals if once a new theremin would be invented. There is another essential thing that should be solved: a good concert theremin must be reliable. Moog Etherwaves theremins are not reliable at all. I had plenty of strugglings, even on stage. You can never know whether your theremin will work or not.

Saggini: Is your Etherwave modified or factory? And do you use a pitch preview?

Illenyi: I have the module of Thierry Frenkel in my theremin, and it is fantastic. It has improved the sound as well as the range of pitch. Because I have perfect pitch, I do not need to use a pitch preview.

Saggini: As a professional musician and violin virtuoso, how did you find the theremin in terms of expressiveness: articulations, dynamics, extension, timbre?

Illenyi: The volume range of the theremin is much limited, and this affects everything. Musically, I have ideas, mental conceptions, and images in my mind of what I would like to convey to my audience, but due to the limitations of the instrument, expressing myself is a challenge. As a result, my repertoire is also quite limited, which really makes me sad.

Saggini: Do you think the theremin has added anything to the palette of instruments available to musicians and composers?

Illenyi: The theremin is very special and very unique. It is an extraordinary instrument that should inspire composers around the world to create music for it. People are always amazed by the theremin’s mysterious, ethereal sound. Today, outstanding thereminists Thorwald Jorgensen and Carolina Eyck work together with talented composers and inspire them to write music for the theremin and increase its repertoire.

Saggini: I read that you played Bohuslav Martinů’s Fantasia. What do you think of this piece in general and in terms of execution difficulties?

Illenyi: Martinů’s Fantasia was a challenge for me. First of all, technically, it is complex. There are parts in the music that took me a long time to learn because I had to figure out the best way for me to practice it so that it would be perfect. It is a piece that, no matter how many times I will listen to it, there is always something new to discover in the music.

Saggini: Is there a recording, audio or video, of your Fantasia performance that we can hope to see published one day?

Illenyi: Yes, we made a video recording of Martinu Fantaisie, and soon I will share it on Youtube. The concert was this year in February at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest/Hungary.

13 thoughts on “Katica Illényi: Building Bridges with the Theremin

  1. Ruth Zaballero says:

    Great interview with Katica Illenyi who plays the Theremin Instrument and about her music , also the Violin and how she went about playing these two instruments….Great photos and write up on Katica, thank you sir, so much for this I enjoyed this very much!

  2. Rick Saphire says:

    I was very pleased to read this educational and entertaining story about Katica Illenyi and her love for the Theremin. I am fortunate to be Personal Representative for Katica and we are working hard to someday, in the not too distant future, to be scheduling a theatrical tour for this talented lady here in the USA. Please visit http://www.Katica.us to enjoy her wonderful talents on the violin, her dancing, her singing, and of course her amazing skill with the Theremin. Rick Saphire.

  3. Christophe Becker says:

    Two years ago I sent two completely original in design theremin boards to St. Petersburg Russia. I am about to complete my last build with improvements. Yes better use of the volume control where the outside field is more aggressive than the inside or quieting near the loop. This final build is placed in an EtherWave Standard box, it also will end up somewhere in Russia. – To be decided http://www.oldtemecula.com/theremin/tw/phoenix-first-time2.wav

  4. Serje Zaslavsky says:

    Hi Christophe! The sound is so lovely! Great job! I live in Saint Peterburg and have been playing theremin since 2010. Do u still make this addition to Etherwave? I would love to have one. Please let me know!) All the best!

    • Christophe Becker says:

      I sent you a fb friend request for more info of what is in development. I have a private group where you know everyone. It was Valery Shamarin that gave me encouragement to keep advancing over the last 20 years.

  5. Bevan says:

    Great article! Really enjoyed that Valerio.
    Question: I have a Big Briar Series 91A that my mother used to play. I am, however looking to sell it. Could you give me any recommendations for listing this Theremin? Also, what would this unit approximately go for in today’s market? I can’t find any for sale anywhere for reference. Thank you sir!

  6. Valerio Saggini
    Valerio Saggini says:

    Hey Bevan! Thank you.

    As for the Big Briar Series 91A it is pretty rare . I can’t tell you exactly what is its market value although I suppose it could be around 3-4 K. But I could be wrong. It depends also on the conditions, of course. Do you have also the original diamond speaker? If you send me photos I will gladly publish them in the News section along with your description. By the way, I’m curious, what kind of music did your mother play with it?

  7. Bevan says:

    Thank you so much for the response Valerio! If by Diamond speaker, you are referring to an external speaker, then no. She always played it with just the internal speakers, or if in a large room, would connect to our PA system. We traveled as a family in a Christian ministry which conducted musical programs at various churches and venues. Mom would always play a sacred hymn on the theremin. Mom & Dad acquired their first theremin directly from Robert Moog in the late 60’s. (Wish I still had that one!) I took a few pics of the Big Briar 91A that we have. Where could I send them brother? Thanks my friend!

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