Saggini: How does the theremin fit into your shows? How does the audience react?
Illenyi: Several years ago, the theremin became a part of my concerts. Because it is so popular with audiences, concert organizers often ask me to include theremin pieces in my violin performances. Watching someone play the theremin on stage is like witnessing a miracle.
Saggini: I saw that you played The Swan with an original RCA Theremin. How did you find it in terms of playability and timbre? Was it easy to switch from the Etherwave to the RCA?
Illenyi: Switching from the Etherwave to the RCA is like changing from the violin to a contrabass. The distance between the notes was so much longer than on my Moog theremin, making it necessary for me to practice a bit more on the RCA, which was not at all easy. I only had about an hour to practice before the concert. Once on stage, I had to concentrate very hard to hit the right notes in the air and to stay in tune. The loop antenna worked fabulously. The volume range was very sensitive, and it worked fantastically! For the first time in my life, I could make real music thanks to the dynamics on that 90-year-old theremin! That was a joy that I have never experienced on any other theremins.
Saggini: So would a replica of the RCA Theremin approach the concert theremin you have in mind?
Illenyi: I think an RCA theremin would not be suitable or appropriate for today’s musical expectations.
Saggini: How do you choose the pieces to be included in your repertoire for theremin?
Illenyi: When I perform on the theremin, I like to choose classical pieces, popular tunes, or songs from famous movie soundtracks because, in my opinion, people enjoy hearing well-known melodies. I also like to play opera arias. The theremin can imitate the human voice, and I can play such long phrases that no singer would ever be able to sing. That is very inspiring for me.
Saggini: And if you had to commission a composer for a new piece for theremin, what indications would you give her/him?
Illenyi: Recently, I get made a theremin concerto with a very talented young Hungarian composer. Since the technical issue is complicated by the fact that theremin is a monophonic instrument, which makes it significantly different from other instruments that are polyphonic, I had to explain to the composer what we could play on this particular instrument and point out its limitations. These elements impact the kind of melodies, phrases, and rhythms that are playable, as well as what is impossible to play. Before he began to compose, I discussed a lot of technical things with him, too.
In the end, he composed a very melodic theremin concerto consisting of 3 movements. I can’t wait to perform it one day. His style is similar to John Willams’ music, and I love his compositions. At my request, the 2nd movement includes a resounding, beautiful Hungarian folk song.
Saggini: This is very exciting. Can you tell us more about it? Besides the theremin, what are the other instruments for which the score has been written? How long does the piece last? Who is the composer? And when can we listen to it?
Illenyi: The composer is a good friend of mine, a very talented young Hungarian musician called Rezső Ott, who plays many instruments professionally. The Concerto for Theremin and Orchestra consists of 3 movements and was written for theremin & symphony orchestra. 2 flutes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 bass trombone, harp, timpani, and strings. The piece is about 20-25 minutes long.
You asked me when the audience can listen to it? To be honest, I really don’t know. World it totally upside down nowadays. Nobody can tell what the future brings. Concert organizers can not plan recently. The only thing that I can do is to master my theremin part as well as I can and wait. Yes, I am waiting for that memorable day. The day of the Theremin Concerto’s premiere that was written for me. Hope to see you all there!