Peter Bence: Hitting All the Right Notes

Last update: 05/11/2018

By Sakina Mohamed

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- He has been described as the Usain Bolt of piano playing.

Peter Bence's claim to fame was that he held the Guinness World Record as "the world's fastest piano player" in 2012 with his ability to hit 765 piano keystrokes a minute.

But it was not until 2015 - when he uploaded his piano covers of Michael Jackson'sBad and Smooth Criminal on YouTube - that the 27-year-old Hungarian pianist started gaining internet stardom.

The videos amassed 10 million hits in the first week alone.

"For me, the concept was to recreate Michael Jackson and his energy without singing - everything has to be done only on the piano," he told Bernama in an exclusive in Malaysia last month.

 

A ONE-MAN ORCHESTRA

 

Bence's piano covers are extraordinary. He uses the piano as if it were multiple different musical instruments, making it produce sounds one would not typically expect from it. There is knocking, plucking, thumping, banging and hitting. His style has been described as "edgy, percussive and expressive" – and rightly so.

"I love that I can explore making all these different sounds, grooves and noises with the piano.  That is why my upcoming album will be called "The Awesome Piano".

"You can do so much more with piano than playing the keys. I want to restrict myself to only using the piano to prove that it can sound like the whole orchestra," he said.

And people love it.

His piano covers of popular songs by Michael Jackson, Queen, and Sia, among others, has collected over 500 million video hits on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram over the past few years. His social media accounts boast a following of millions.

His fame has also allowed him to perform in numerous sold-out concerts around the world over the past few years, in front of crowds numbering 30-40,000 people.

 

A CHILD PRODIGY

 

His first attempt at playing the piano was at the age of two. It was not very long before everyone realised that he was a wunderkind  - especially after he wrote his first composition at the tender age of seven.

"I have always had too many ideas and not enough time to translate all these ideas into music. I find inspirations easily and composing is the one of the things that I like the most," he says.

Although classically trained and an admirer of Bach, Bence did not find classical music to be his cup of tea. His style had always been a bit more "out of the box" than others.

"I was always playing everything faster than it’s supposed to be from a young age. People would tell me to slow down, but I just can't. There is like an inner voice that tells me I should play faster, and learning the techniques to play fast came naturally to me," he revealed.

The piano is a percussion instrument. His playing style, however, did make this writer wonder if his interest had at one time lain in another percussion instrument.

"I had actually wanted to become a drummer," Bence admitted. "One of my relatives was a percussion and drums teacher but by the time I realised my interest in the drums, I was already in the midst of studying the piano. I just didn’t have the time to focus on another instrument. But having always been rhythm-oriented, I play the piano in a way that fulfils my childhood desire of wanting to become a drummer."

This writer had to wonder if playing the piano the way he does would have an impact on his fingers and joints.

Bence laughed.

"Interestingly, at this age, (the aches are) not in my hands anymore but I find that I have to take care of my back and neck because that’s where everything is rooted in. So I do a lot of exercises, massage and manual therapy," he said.

 

A VIDEO STAR

 

Bence gets a lot of requests to cover hit songs, but he says not all songs sound good as a piano instrumental.

"Well firstly, I have to really, really like the song. If I like the song so much that it keeps playing in my head, I’ll think about how it can be translated into a piano piece.

"It has to be a really good arrangement because there are some songs that sound good but are not melodic enough to make into a piano cover. So I really take into consideration how well I can arrange a piece on the piano," he says.

The music aside, his videos themselves are great conversation pieces. In his spectacular piano rendition of Toto's Africa, Bence can be seen banging away on the side of an Imperial Bösendorfer, a handcrafted piano that can cost anywhere between US$256,000 and US$560,000. Was it his?

"No, that's not mine," he laughed. "We usually rent pianos for the shoot. The pianos we pick are based on the song I would play and if it suits the music and the ambience we are going for in the video."

He revealed that most of his videos were created within one shot. As such, if a mistake is made, he would have to start the process all over again.

"It's a lot of work. Sometimes we have to shoot 20-30 times before we get everything right," he said.

Bence, who started making YouTube videos while studying piano and film scoring at Boston's prestigious Berklee College of Music, found that the popularity of his videos had also availed him the opportunity to meet his favourite film score composers: John Williams and Hans Zimmer.

 

FOR MALAYSIAN FANS

 

During his first concert in Malaysia on Oct 5, Bence treated Malaysian fans to his popular covers as well as some of his original compositions.

"These songs are from my upcoming album and have never been played or released anywhere before," he said.

He will be shooting the videos for his new songs soon and is anticipating the "true reaction" from internet viewers.

On whether he would attempt the Guinness record for fastest piano player again, Bence laughed.

"I only did it for fun. Like any other Guinness world records, it’s about extending the human limit as well as the mechanics of the instruments. I’m not really planning to do it again," he said.

The current record is held by Domingos-Antonio Gomes from Portugal, who hit 824 keys a minute in 2017.  However, in an interview with a Hong Kong-media in 2016, Bence had revealed that his personal best since his 2012 feat was 951 hits per minute.

-- BERNAMA