Two World Premiere Opera Recordings

Teaching a conducting master class last week for the Eotvos Foundation at the beautiful and highly functional Budapest Music Center was demanding and a lot of fun. This week had been busier than I expected. On Monday composer Peter Eotvos and producer Laszlo Goz (owner of BMC) and myself had a chance to officially listen to the recording we made this January. I am happy to report, that “Paradise Reloaded (Lilith)” now has a rich in details, beautifully mastered reference recording. Mr. Eotvos will put a few finishing touches on the final version before the end of this year. This World Premiere opera recording will be available as part of the Budapest Music Center Eotvos series sometimes soon in 2015.

I had two days to rehearse the comic opera of Ernst von Dohnanyi
again (the one I premiered at the Erkel Theater this fall). We are taking this opera into the studio. Starting tomorrow (Sunday) I will be driving almost every day to
where the wonderful singers and the musicians of the Hungarian State Opera will be my partners in crime to record the first ever uncut version of this delightful 20th Century comic opera. The recording will be part of the discovery CD series of Hungarian operas by the Hungarian State Opera
I am hoping to see the final product on the shelves as soon as February 2015.

Just to take a small break from the recording process (OK we do have a planned day off) I am driving to Vienna, Austria on Tuesday.
I’ll be meeting opera singers Rebecca Nelsen
and Tamara Gallo
to do two pre-rehearsals for the February World Premiere of my Comic Opera of the Modern South, Georgia Bottoms. Sometimes in the second half of December I will be meeting stage director David Gately
in the US to discuss details about the February World Premiere in Huntsville, AL.

I wish You All a Happy Holiday Season! Come back here after Christmas time to read about my New Year’s Eve concert with the Huntsville Symphony! See you Soon!

Paris, Weimar, Budapest

The international conducting workshop organized by
has begun. 14 students from Paris, Weimar and Budapest are working with three professors:
Ulrich Poehl
Jean-Philippe Wurtz
and myself.
Tomorrow afternoon the members of
will be joining us.
On the program:
Philippe Manoury: Passacaille pour Tokyo
Pierre Boulez: Derive 2
Matthias Pintscher: Occultation
Hindemith: Kammermusik no.1

We are all lucky to enjoy the luxurious facilities of the Budapest Music Center.

The conducting workshop is supported by
Institute Francais Budapest
Goethe Institut Ungarn
Liszt Music Academy

Percussion, Piano, Clarinet, Food And Drinks

This is going to be a long but fun weekend! HSO’s special guest for Classical 2 is the Amadinda Percussion Group.
This world famous ensemble has agreed to stop by on their way to the Percussive Arts Society Annual meeting in Indianapolis
and play a concert at the VBC. This is a one in a lifetime opportunity to hear the group that is now, after 30 years in the business, is part of music history. They play with amazing musicianship and their repertoire stretches from Haiti folk music through jazz to contemporary classical pieces. They are great entertainers and masters of their countless instruments. Huntsville Symphony and myself will be joining Amadinda for the second half of the program for J.S. Bach’s Concerto for two keyboards (played on 2 vibraphones and 2 marimbas) and for a piece written for four percussionists and orchestra. The latter composition is by Levente Gyongyosi
Levente is pretty well known in choral circles in the US. His vocal pieces are popular all around the world. I am happy to be part of the US Premiere of this 35 minute long Sinfonia Concertante written just last year, hopefully contributing to the future success of the composition.
Since we do not have the full orchestra on stage for the beginning of the concert Zoltan Racz and I will be playing the National Anthem on the piano, four hands, for our usual opening sing along. I can’t remember when was the last time I played the piano in front of a life audience. Zoltan and I are practicing every day.

I will be spending my Saturday rehearsing for our first Casual Classics concert this season. It is time for Dinner DIvertimento again (we only have 5[!] tickets left). This year we are matching different courses with different pieces. On the program: Richard Strauss: Serenade op.7, Dvorak: Serenade for Winds in D-minor, Jean Francaix: Ten Character Pieces. I’ll be playing the clarinet for the first two numbers and will be conducting the third one.
Again; practice time for Gregory!
The musical dinner will be served on Sunday at the Early Works Museum.
For more information visit our website

Remembrance Day Concert in Hamilton, ON

I am sure you have all heard about the tragic events that took place in Ottawa, the capital of Canada.
Tonight’s concert of the HPO is not just one of the many events observing Remembrance Day

Cpl. Nathan Cirillo’s unit, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders is from Hamilton and their musicians will be performing with us to remember their fallen brother.
We are remembering Nathan Cirillo and all the soldiers who have died in the line of duty in service of their country.
After a few busy days spent with rehearsals, the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra and I are ready to perform pieces by Elgar, Copland, Barber. Yegor Dyachkov from Montreal is joining us to perform Cello Concerto #1 by Shostakovich.
Let us all remember, and let us all heal with the help of music.

Berlioz And The Ladies

So what’s the big deal? This Friday, for the first classical concert of the season HSO and I are performing “Escaramuza” by Gabriela Lena Frank
and “D’un matin de printemps” by Lili Boulanger
Oh yes, the big deal is apparently that both are woman composers. It still is a big deal in this Symphony World of ours despite the work of accomplished female composers like Jennifer Higdon or the recent Pulitzer Winner Caroline Shaw. I guess pop music is much more gender-blind in this regard. The Universe of Classical Composition still seems to be dominated by male composers and their work.
Since our upcoming concert is honoring the Symphony Guild, HSO’s all-women volunteer fundraising organization
I wanted to find compositions by female composers that are fit for this occasion and make a great concert program with Berlioz’ “Symphonie Fantastique” in the second half. The Symphony Guild commissioned “Escaramuza” by Lena Frank in 2010. I am happy that we get to play it again hopefully securing a future for the piece in the repertoire of other orchestras as well. The first half of the concert ends with an only 5 minute long symphonic movement by the younger sister of the famous Nadia Boulanger, Lili (see Wikipedia link above). This piece is a masterful work of a young composer, full of colors and ideas, not performed on a regular basis. To create a frame to the concert program I decided on opening with a delightful overture also by Berlioz called “Beatrice et Benedict”.
At least once a year I like to do a concert featuring HSO alone with no guest soloist. Our 2014-15 classical season opens with a program just like that. Our “Berlioz and the Ladies” program kicks off the 60th Season of the longest continuously operating symphony orchestra in the state of Alabama. Happy Anniversary, Huntsville Symphony!

Lady Sarashina Returns

In 2004 I crossed the bridge of dreams.
Andras Almasi Toth, stage director and myself put on stage the beautiful and captivating dream-piece by Peter Eotvos based on the diary of Lady Sarashina from a thousand years ago. Hungarian actors and international musicians joined forces and produced the Hungarian premiere of this so called “sound theater” ‘As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams’. The piece is rich in poetry and amazing musical ideas like trombones with double bells and a white sousaphone playing the role of the Moon. I’ve had the pleasure of conducting this composition with the famous Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris (this was my debut with them in 2001) then with Klangforum Wien in Vienna, Austria in a completely new production. Then in 2009 Budapest Music Center has produced a very successful recording.

In 2007 Peter Eotvos turned this work into a full blown opera with the title ‘Lady Sarashina’. It was premiered in Lyon, France, and ever since it has been performed all over the world.
Tonight Lady Sarashina returns. She is being reborn for two nights with the help of CAFe Budapest Festival and the Liszt Academy.
Stage director: Andras Almasi Toth. Conductor: Gregory Vajda. Same team and a composition reincarnated.

Virtual Beethoven

CAFe Budapest
has started this week. This Contemporary Art Festival was known before as Budapest Autumn Festival. I have had the opportunity to do many interesting projects for them as a composer, conductor, even as a clarinetist. My very first opera, The Giant Baby was premiered as the closing production of the 2001 festival. This year I am conducting Lady Sarashina, an opera by Peter Eotvos. Two performances will take place at the Solti Hall of the Liszt Academy on October 17 and 19. I will write about this production later here.
Before conducting Lady Sarashina, I am doing a concert with the Hungarian Radio Symphony (MR Symphony) on Tuesday, October 14 at MUPA (Palace of the Arts). I put together a program that connects with the ‘must-MEET’ program series of of the International Eotvos Institute for Contemporary Music.
On this program ‘Second Self’, an intriguing composition by Michel van der Aa for orchestra and lap top see details here:
and ‘The Nine Symphonies of Beethoven’ by Louis Andriessen
represent contemporary music along with ‘Monochrome, Concerto beFORe Piano’ by young Hungarian composer Peter Tornyai.
The first half of the concert ends with Beethoven’s 10th Symphony. Yes, you read it right.
Barry Cooper
has created a virtual symphony movement based on sketches by Beethoven, who apparently was planning to write a 10th symphony. What do I think of it? I think it is interesting. I always wondered what makes people “complete” or “re-create” unfinished compositions or works left in sketches by their creators. I know of and have done the “completion” of schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. What do I think of this idea? I find it interesting. I think Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ is perfectly complete with its two movements. Doing a program like that however gives you the perfect opportunity to talk about things that are difficult to talk about: music, composers’ intentions and the way a composition comes to existence and ultimately stands for itself.
My program for next Tuesday has many themes going on.
1) the general Beethoven obsession of musicians, musicologist and audiences
2) the influence of commercialized music business on programing and the expectations of audiences
3) Beethoven in pop culture
4) the orchestra as a phenomenon and its abuse in different ways (musicians miming instead of playing as technology takes over in ‘Second Self’)
5) humor and sarcasm in music

Here is one more fun fact you can call a happy coincidence. Michel van der Aa’s ‘Second Self’ was first performed at the Donaeschingen Musiktage in Germany exactly ten years ago to the date, on October 14, 2004. :)

The Luxury of Composing

After a successful run of The Tenor by Ernst von Dohnanyi and before a crazy busy October (more later!) I managed to do something unheard of. I squeezed in a week (or so) time for composition only. Since completing ‘Georgia Bottoms, A Comic Opera of the Modern South’ I have finished a 3 minute long piece for piano solo entitled ‘sol-Etude’. The piece is dedicated to Peter Kiss who will be playing it twice in the US along with piano compositions by Kurtag, Ligeti and Eotvos.

After completing ‘sol-Etude’ I started working for Edition Schott for a very special project. Peter Eotvos has asked me to do the English language adaptation of his newest opera called ‘The Golden Dragon’. The work was premiered in German in Frankfurt. The next production of it takes place in Cardiff and they want to do it in English. I have done something like this before with another Eotvos work. I’ve got to tell you, that it is a lot of fun and a great challenge to try to understand the composer’s thinking and to try to stay true to the work and the musical needs of the English language alike. Since Edition Schott wanted to publish one particular aria during this calendar year as a stand alone piece, I started my work by doing the English version of a soprano aria called “Ballade”.

After completing “Ballade” I immediately started working on my newest composition (world premiere in February, 2015 in Budapest) called ‘Drums Drums Drums’. This work is a special kind of triple concerto for three percussion players and orchestra. I am going to have three top notch soloists for the premiere: Zoltan Racz and Aurel Hollo from the famous percussion group, Amadinda on Timpani and Bass Drum, Gergo Borlai on drum-set.

Btw I did download the iPad app ‘Drum Guru’ and it is an amazing tool not only for drummers but for composers like myself who are writing for drumset and want to learn about the intricate details about playing drums in different styles. I promised to put the solo parts of Drums Drums Drums under the Christmas tree for my amazing soloists. No time to waste. Another intense few months of composition are ahead of me. I am loving it!

The Tenor Is Dead

Starting rehearsals tomorrow for the season opening production of the Erkel Theater. This theater -named after the famous and pretty much the only Hungarian romantic opera composer, Ferenc Erkel
- was built in the 1910s and just recently reopened after a quick refurbishing after being closed to the public for a couple of years. What is Erkel Theater? This venue was built to serve the “Volksoper” idea: opera and ballet for the masses for affordable prices. Although the idea of having this theater under separate management has come up multiple times in the past decades, since the 50s it has always been and now for sure remains under the management of the Hungarian State Opera. Just imagine City Opera under the management of the Metropolitan Opera with a different repertoire and cheap tickets. It is not such a far fetched idea any more now, is it?
The Tenor, a comic opera by Ernst von Dohnanyi
is the only musical theater piece I know to start with the death of the tenor. No, I mean it actually starts with the funeral of Tenor 1 of a barbershop quartet (or rather the German equivalent of this type of ensemble). The quartet now has only three singers and they are in trouble. They need to get ready for the annual singing contest. They are in dire need of a replacement singer and there is only one guy in town with a great tenor voice. He is called Schippel (funny names are all around in this opera) and he is the flutist of the local orchestra. The problem is, that Schippel is a poor fellow. He has no money, no manners. He is drinking a lot and has a potty mouth. This is of course totally fiction… Our actual singers all are well educated and well behaved. :) In any case the initial conflict here is that the well off middle class members of the ensemble -just like the daughter and the wife of the bass singer- do not want to socialize with the flute player/tenor. He is wanted for his voice but is not welcome in their social circles. Since there is no opera without a love triangle soon another conflict arises. The Prince who has fallen off his horse nearby arrives to the house. He falls for Thekla, daughter of Mr. Hicketier (his name means “Hickupman”) and so does Schippel…, and so does Krey who sings Tenor 2 in the quartet. So this is actually a “ménage a quatre”. I think you get it now how much sitcom there is here.
I will post more about the story and the production.
Stay tuned!
Opening performance on September 14, 2014.

Just how much tenors are well and alive here is a snippet of information about my new composition, Georgia Bottoms, A Comic Opera of the Modern South. I managed to write not one, not two but three tenor roles.
Rev. Eugene Hendrix: Christopher Pfund
Dr. Ted Horn/ Officer Lester: Daniel Weeks
Sheriff Bill: Ron Roberts

Talking (again) about Georgia… Author of the book and fellow librettist
Mark Childress
and soprano extraordinaire Rebecca Nelsen
visited Huntsville, AL on August 9&10 and helped the Huntsville Symphony and myself to start the fundraising process. The events (two house parties) were a huge hit and a great start to secure funding for Georgia Bottoms, The Opera. There is now a button on the Huntsville Symphony website where you can directly contribute to help us with our goal. Mark Childress has set up a fun FaceBook page as well. If you LIKE the page you will get updated information about the production and more and more fun facts, videos and interesting details of the production as we approach the premiere.
There is no contribution too little and every LIKE counts! Join us and stay tuned! Keep the tenors alive!

Georgia’s beating the drums

I often get the question from people following my ever busy conducting schedule: “When do you have time to compose?” In my usual sarcastic Eastern-European way I usually respond with: “Never.” But seriously it is always Gustav Mahler that comes to mind. (Strictly in the sense of comparing busy schedules and not putting myself on the same pedestal.) He could only compose during summer breaks because his opera music director duties were extremely busy during the season. (Then there is the famous story of loud cow bells disturbing him so much then he put their sound into his symphonies. This is how distraction becomes inspiration.)
In any case, summers have always been the time for composing. After ending my 13-14 season a few weeks ago [now take a quick look to the right and read the outline of season 14-15!] I am now busy with finishing Georgia Bottoms, A Comic Opera of the Modern South. It is going to be a three act opera, 80-90 minutes total, for 11 singers and 19 musicians. The story is based on the 2011 novel of well-known American writer, Mark Childress.
Just like with movies, I suggest you first read the book (also available on Kindle and on iTunes as an audio book) then come and see/ listen to Georgia Bottoms The Opera.
Also don’t forget to visit and LIKE our production page on FaceBook
Right after finishing Georgia I will be diving into composing a triple concerto for three percussion players and orchestra. The piece, called ‘Drums Drums Drums’ is dedicated to and will be performed by Zoltan Racz and Aurel Hollo
and the amazing drum-set player Gergo Borlai
The World Premiere of ‘Drums Drums Drums’ will happen as part of the “Amadinda 30″ concert series at Palace of the Arts, Budapest, in February 2015, just a week or so after the Huntsville permiere of Georgia Bottoms.
I will keep you posted on the developments. Now back to composing.