"Put simply, Varnus is a monster talent, every bit as stimulating and individual as the late Glenn Gould."THE GLOBE AND MAIL - Canada's National Newspaper"Xaver Varnus is to Hungary roughly what Horowitz was to Russia: a famous exile, recognized in the streets, crowded by requests for autographs in restaurants, or even in the swimming pools. Bus drivers brake when they see him walking on the st
reets of Budapest and pick him up between stops.
But Varnus is neither a sports hero nor a rock star: he is a Canadian citizen who is also Hungary’s most acclaimed living classical musician, and an institution in his homeland. According to public opinion polls and newspapers, he is among the five most popular personalities in Hungary: it is nearly impossible to get tickets to his concerts. His autobiographical book, "God will forgive me: it is his profession" is one of the Hungarian number one bestsellers ever. Varnus’ own fame based entirely on his recitals and his improvisations, is hard to imagine in the western world. But it is altogether natural in a small country with a hyperactive cultural life.
Born in Budapest, the first child of a mathematician mother and a jazz pianist father, he knew by the age of six exactly what he would become. His first piano teacher was Emma Németh, a former pupil of Claude Debussy. He lit up the musical firmament of the world like a shooting star. At sixteen he undertook his first concert tour of Europe. In 1981 Varnus left Hungary to study with the formidable Pierre Cochereau, the late organist of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. For his part, Cochereau decided that ”Xaver Varnus is an unparalleled phenomenon in the annals of the contemporary organ.“
He was making his North American debut on the 5th of May, 1985 to a three-thousand-strong audience at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Basilica in Washington, D.C. He played on virtually every important organ in the world, including those in Bach’s Thomaskirche in Leipzig, Notre-Dame, Saint-Sulpice and Saint-Eustache in Paris, Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow, as well as the largest existing organ in the world in Philadelphia’s Wanamaker Grand Court. In October 2005, he played his concert to a sold-out house in the 4,000-seat Canterbury Cathedral in England. Since Dan Brown‘s 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code, an international bestseller that would make crowds of tourists flock to Saint-Sulpice Church in Paris, Xaver Varnus was the first international artist to perform a sold-out concert on the legendary Cavaillé-Coll organ, on October 23, 2006, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his concert debut.
In 2006, he played the inaugural concert of the Palace of Arts in Budapest, the largest concert hall of Europe. Perhaps the most daring concert Xaver Varnus ever played was at the Budapest Great Synagogue, in 2002. Four hours before the concert even standing places could hardly be found in the church, and 7,200 people were sitting and standing to listen to the legendary improvisor’s fiendish virtuosity. He expanded upon a practice he had begun years earlier of speaking to the audience from the stage, discussing the music and bringing a new dimension to his concerts. Xaver Varnus is credited with bringing the music of Bach to young people with an innovative and exciting style, although he often drew adverse criticism from some of his colleagues in the organ world and from those music critics who found his approach too flamboyant.
His televised concert and lecture series started in 1992 at the Hungarian State Television, followed by the extraordinary Young People’s Organ Concerts in 2002, that extended over six seasons. He is perhaps the most influential figure in Hungarian classical music in the first decade of the twenty first century. Organist, improvisor, author, lecturer and often controversial media personality, Xaver Varnus had a dramatic impact on the popular audience’s acceptance and appreciation of classical music.
Over the course of his short career, Xaver Varnus played to more than six million people worldwide, recorded 51 albums, sixty concert films, and wroted five books. His 2007 Sony BMG released Fourfold Platinum collection („From Ravel to Vangelis”) was the number one bestseller of organ recordings ever published.
Varnus received many honors, including the Great Merit Cross of the Republic of Hungary, the country’s highest honor for the arts and sciences."
©2010 Ian Ross, SONY MUSIC