Zsolt Bognár is an award-winning pianist, writer, and Ted Talk presenter. European critics characterize his playing as “overwhelmingly visceral” and “of crystalline precision,” and his diverse projects have earned him an Arthur Loesser Prize and a Harvard Musical Association award. After studying at the Cleveland Institute of Music with Sergei Babayan, Bognár made his German debut in 2012 at Konzerthaus Berlin, a sold-out performance. The following year marked his recording debut, Franz & Franz, and his receipt of an International Festival Society Grant, which funded projects in Lugano with Martha Argerich and Sergei Babayan and studies with the Wilhelm Kempff Foundation in Italy. Mr. Bognár appears regularly with members of the Cleveland Orchestra, and on National Public Radio both as a commentator and performer.
People ask me every day how Living the Classical Life started, and how I came to be the host. I really never envisioned this role in my life at all, as I studied piano with Sergei Babayan in Cleveland, and as an aspiring performer I constantly had questions about how to reach these dreams and what path to take. I started asking questions of those around me: “how did you do it?” Themes of confidence, work process, overcoming challenges, and stage psychology were always on my mind. I realized that in sharing the stories of the musicians and legends I admired growing up—who have so much to share on a musical and human level—our show has much to give to others seeking the same path, and much to illuminate to all who have an interest in the arts and a passionate life. It has been a privilege to hear from around the world that our viewers of all backgrounds have found solace and inspiration in the stories we share.
Jutta Ittner is an Associate Professor of German and Comparative Literature. She received her M.A. from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich, and her Ph.D. from Hamburg University. She lives in Oberlin, OH and has been teaching at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, since 1992. Her publications include exile studies ("Augenzeuge der Wahrheit" [Eye Witness of the Truth], a comprehensive intellectual biography of the Jewish writer/physician Martin Gumpert, 1998), contemporary literature, women’s literature, and comparative studies of the representation of animals in contemporary literature. Her translations from German into English of contemporary women writers focus in particular on the acclaimed Hamburg author Brigitte Kronauer and include two books ("Constructs of Desire," selections from Kronauer's short stories, novels, and critical essays with introductions, 2009; and "Women and Clothes," a collection of her short stories, 2011).
Growing up in fifties' Munich included the luxury of having three world class orchestras and two opera houses next door, subscriptions to 'Jugendkonzerte' already for middle schoolers, and a classical music radio station that took its mission--and its audience--very seriously. Sadly, learning an instrument was not an option. Six children were all the noise my parents' ears could handle. Later, as a member of the Philharmonic Choir, I encountered this world in a more personal, direct way. But not until I started to teach German to conservatory students did I begin to understand what it means to "live a classical life." Zsolt, whom I met during his freshman year at the Cleveland Institute of Music, was one of the young musicians whose passion and sacrifice moved me, and whose determination and courage I deeply admired. A very special friendship developed, which many years later led to the idea of producing an interview series that brings this understanding to a world-wide audience.
An award-winning cinematographer, director, and producer, Peter Hobbs studied film at Hampshire College, and for many years taught scriptwriting at the New York Film Academy. He has won awards for his feature film "Bridge of Names" and his short film "Anniversary." His New York-based company Elyria Pictures has done filming for the American Bar Association, UNICEF, the New York Times, Steinway & Sons, and Bloomberg among other companies. The originator of "Living the Classical Life," he has also filmed and edited the entire series. He recently started a companion series “Living the Jazz Life” (LTJL), and he is currently writing a novel called "Bar Band."
"Living the Classical Life" originated in work for a short documentary about Zsolt. Liz and I did a few different shoots, in different settings, with different friends of Zsolt. To our frustration, his modesty tended to get in the way of revealing more of himself on camera. One day, looking through the footage for the rare moments of Zsolt-candor, I realized that what he was doing was drawing his friends out in an intelligent, relaxed, and empathetic way--in short, interviewing--and eliciting interesting answers.
I cut together the first episodes and called the series "Zsolt Bognár & Friends" because, at the time, that's what it was. As the series evolved, we needed a more inclusive name for the show and decided on the subtitle that I had used to describe the show's essence. And here we are, surprised over and over by the number of people, all over the world, who like "Living the Classical Life" and keep asking for more.
Liz Foley is an experienced filmmaker and producer as well as a professional educator in the media arts. She graduated from Smith College in film, theater, comparative literature, and French, where she directed two full-length plays. Her first two short films--"Our Lady of Desire" and "Why I Live Here"--earned her an MFA in Filmmaking at Columbia University. Since then she has taught filmmaking and film studies classes at the New York Film Institute as well as at Queens College, The Five Towns College, and the Manhattan Community College. At Elyria Pictures she does everything from screenwriting to setting up shoots to overseeing post-production on documentaries, narrative features, music videos, EPK's, and promo films.
Before meeting our host Zsolt Bognár I had no connection to classical music. I grew up listening to jazz and rock 'n' roll. I thought that classical music was stuffy and not for me. What a surprise I got as I was initiated into this world.
"Living the Classical Life" is one of the most satisfying and rewarding things I have done. I look forward to each shoot because I know that I'll learn from our host, from our guests, and from the other technical craftspeople who work with me. It's lovely to realize that no matter what your age or background, there are reservoirs of knowledge to be found everywhere. I feel lucky to have found these wonderful collaborators. Here's to many happy shows to come.