Musical Metabolism

Metabolism: the sum of the physical and chemical processes in an organism by which its material substance is produced, maintained, and destroyed, and by which energy is made available.
There is sure a lot of energy made available during the performance of Métaboles by Henri Dutilleux. What a great showpiece for orchestra! It comes second on our program this weekend with the Omaha Symphony. The concert opens with Debussy’s Danse (Tarantelle Styrienne) orchestrated by Maurice Ravel himself. Concluding the first half is the virtuoso Violin Concerto #3 by Saint-Saens. My soloist for this piece is the amazing David Kim, concert master of the Philadelphia Orchestra
After a varied and fairly long first half we are playing only one composition for the second half of the concert. Shostakovich Symphony #1 is a long time favorite of mine. Written by a 19yo composer this symphony has everything we love Shostakovich for without the long shadow of Comrade Stalin over it.
About 9 years ago I was invited to conduct the Omaha Symphony for its last concert in their old concert hall. I was also asked to do a rehearsal in the then not yet finished new hall to help the acoustic adjustments the venue needed. This time I am really fortunate to conduct two shows of a truly exciting program in the Holland Center’s beautiful concert hall.

The Science of Music

I saw the fastest human DNA sequencer machine today. Dr. Richard M. Myers showed me around at Hudson Alpha and spoke about the research being done there.

Dr. Myers is going to be one of my conversation partners at Huntsville Symphony’s third Casual Classics concert this Sunday afternoon. The concert is called “The Science of Music”- catchy title but somewhat misleading. We will not be talking about music theory or anything related to musicology. We will not be going into details about the physical properties of sound waves or what material should be used to cover the walls of concert halls. I for sure won’t be talking about the Human Genome project either. We are going to talk however about everything else that comes to mind. Dr. Robert A. Altenkirch President of University of Alabama Huntsville, a real life rocket scientist (hey, we are in Rocket City after all)
and Dr. William Wilkerson, Chair of the Philosophy Department at UAH are on the conversation panel as well.

Since I grew up with music all around me, it is second nature to me. So, I like to hear non-musicians talk about music. First and foremost, I want to hear what music means to my guests in their words. I want them to tell us in how music has helped them in their own life. We will also touch on the connections between music and different fields of science. We will be having a conversation, illustrated with live music played by the HSO, about topics like entropy (Haydn: Farewell Symphony), infinity (Bach: Never Ending Canon from The Musical Offering), construction and deconstruction (Bach-Webern: Ricercar).

Of course, I have my own strong opinion on how music is related to philosophy, genealogy and physics. Do you want to know what I think? Well then you are just going to have to come to Robert’s Hall at UAH at 3:30 p.m. this Sunday to find out. Who knows, I might even change my very strong opinion in the process… :)

Armel Auditions

Tomorrow I am off to Paris for a couple of days to listen to 70+ singers auditioning for the International Armel Opera Festival’s 2016 program.
On April 2 there will be another round of auditions in Budapest at the French Institute. After these rounds I have to pick the young singers who get to compete in these exciting productions among others:
Maria de Buenos Aires by Astor Piazzolla
Senza sangue by Peter Eotvos
Elegy for Young Lovers by Hans Werner Henze

After the Easter Holidays I am going to do pre-rehearsals for Dr. Faust by Ferruccio Busoni, a semi-staged production that I will be conducting at the Budapest Opera in May.

All About Horns

No, not about the fantasy-horror with Daniel Radcliffe in the main role. Huntsville Symphony’s 5th Classical concert this season was about different horns like the post horn, a tuba and French horns. Our soloist on Saturday, playing the Tuba Concerto by Williams was my good friend and amazing musician- Alan Baer, Principal Tuba, New York Philharmonic.
I conducted this beautiful piece a long time ago, but with a bass trombone soloist. In all honesty, the piece works much better with tuba. I am surprised that it is not on the repertoire of all the orchestras around the world. I guess it takes some courage to invite a tuba player as a soloist instead of a violinist or a piano player :). The audience loved the piece and rewarded the performance with a long standing ovation.

The second half of the concert started with one of my all time favorite compositions, the Sextet from the opera ‘Capriccio’ by Richard Strauss (I rearranged it for a small string orchestra) and ended with Till Eulenspiegel’s Marry Pranks. HSO rocked the piece!

In the first half, as an homage to Richard Strauss’s admiration for Mozart’s music we performed the Posthorn Serenade. I had the flutes, oboes and bassoons seated in the front of the orchestra. This emphasized the fact, that the two middle movements of the Serenade are really a hidden Sinfonia Concertante for woodwind instruments.
Chris Coletti
played the famous Post horn solo beautifully. Other than the famous 2nd Trio of the 2nd Menuet with the post horn in it, the trumpet section played on natural trumpets for the entire piece.

One more casual classic about The Science of Music and a classical concert with Liszt, Bartok and Brahms on the program are in store for this season with the HSO. Visit our website for details!

After Opera High

What do you do after the successful premiere of your own opera? You start working immediately on changes based on audience reaction and other factors. Mark Childress and I have been on the phone, Skype, and email several times a day talking about additions and changes to Georgia Bottoms, A Comic Opera Of The Modern South. Mark has written a few awesome and extremely funny short scenes already. In short, there are new words now for me to put into music. However I do need a few weeks of time to detach from the highs of the premiere week before I can start writing music again for Georgia Bottoms.

In the meantime I am composing music for a Norwegian full length stop animation feature. The production teaser is due next week. I am receiving the final version of the teaser for a last look before it gets sent out to the distributor hopefuls. I won’t tell you anything else about this project now, not even the title of the film. I promise to give you an update when it is appropriate.

Another project I picked up again (started working on bits of it a few months back) is the English language adaptation of Peter Eotvos’ latest opera, The Golden Dragon.
It is a lot of fun to be able to get creative with someone else’s music and also to brush up on my German a little bit.

Stay tuned for more posts about upcoming concerts and projects! I’ll be back next week!

Georgia Bottoms: A Success

I’ve been holding off with my blog post about the Georgia Bottoms World Premiere simply because I’ve been working 12 hours last week. It’s been a crazy ride. I don’t think that anybody here has ever done a practically fully staged opera production in just 6 days. We had our first musical rehearsal last Sunday. David Gately finished staging the opera on Thursday, we had one piano run on Friday, orchestra-dressrehearsal and performance on Saturday.
See David’s FaceBook post here:

I’ve been holding off with my blog post also because I’ve been living in an imaginary place for the last week. With the help of Mark Childress, David Gately, Vivienne Atkins and the wonderful creative and stage crew Six Points, AL came to life and from now on it is an actual town not only in Mark’s book but also on opera stage.
Read Mark Childress’ FaceBook post here:

I would like to thank Everybody: singers, musicians, staff, crew, sponsors and the audience! Having one’s opera performed live is an amazing thing. I am proud of the HSO and thankful for their support and for all their hard work. We sure created something amazing together to celebrate the 60th season of this amazing organization.

At last, enjoy the FaceBook post of Our Georgia: the amazing Rebecca Nelsen.

The Bad, The Good and The Great

The GOOD news: tomorrow (Friday) Amadinda Percussion Ensemble and the Hungarian Radio Symphony is going to play an awesome concert under my direction.
The concert will be broadcast live on the radio and can be listened to here
The broadcast starts at 1:35PM EST.
The BAD news: we won’t be premiering my piece, ‘Drums Drums Drums’.
The GOOD news: I will have a chance to do the World Premiere of ‘Drums Drums Drums’ in Huntsville one year to the date of tomorrow’s concert. I will keep you posted on Saturday, February 13, 2016!
The GREAT news: USA Today picked up on Georgia Bottoms and made it the News of the Day from Alabama (2 days ago)
Here is a FaceBook post about the USA Today preview
And here is the complete story on AL.COM
Stay tuned for more Georgia Bottoms news!

Pulcinella and The Super Bowl

Apparently more than half of the population of the United States will be watching The Super Bowl today. I won’t. Well I guess this makes me the member of the biggest minority in this country. :) I could actually watch it, since our afternoon show ends just on time for everyone to get home and get comfortable on the couch (I do care about our audience!). Doing a concert on Super Bowl Sunday might sound like a social and financial suicide at first. The good news is that our Casual Classics 2 called “Musical Chairs” is practically sold out.

Yes, there are people who are not into football. And yes, our core audience would come out to see and hear HSO players perform Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite
on the day of the biggest televised event in the country.

In case you don’t know what Super Bowl is click here ;)

During our performance “Musical Chairs” members of the audience will get to sit in and around the players while Stravinsky’s masterwork is being played and rehearsed live. There is no better way to learn about how an orchestra works and what classical musicians are capable of doing. Playing an instrument alone is complex in itself, now imagine doing it in a group and watching the conductor while listening to your fellow musicians.
I just remembered that a year ago we were doing a Casual Classics show called “Brass Attack” exactly on the day of the Super Bowl. I guess the NFL does not really care about our concert schedule. :)

More Pulcinella will be played and danced next week for our Young People’s Concert and for our annual free Family Concert. Works by Leopold and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Copland and Shostakovich will be performed as well.


Balazs Fulei
pianist and the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under my direction will be performing a somber and touching program all about drama, death and transfiguration. The venue is the beautiful Main Hall of the Liszt Academy in Budapest.

Brahms: Tragic Overture
Bartok: Piano Concerto #2
Jozsef Sari: Jacob is Wrestling with The Darkness (World Premiere)
Richard Strauss: Death and Transfiguration

Ultimately all musical pieces are about Transfiguration.
The very nature of playing and listening is that you become a different person after experiencing live music. Music itself of course is nothing else than transfiguration of notes. With the World Premiere of Jozsef Sari’s composition we are celebrating the 80th Birthday of the composer who will be present at the concert hall.

Tomorrow at 7:35PM Hungarian time (1:35PM EST) you can listen to our concert live by clicking here
The concert will be available for streaming for another two weeks. Just search by date and time!

On Saturday afternoon Bartok’s 2nd Piano Concerto moves to Studio VI. at the Hungarian Radio. We’ll be recording another show for the Musically Speaking series. Musicologist Zoltan Farkas is doing the talking in front of a live audience. The show will be aired in a couple of months.

Bang On A Can Verdi

I am writing this entry during a short, self-imposed break from watching the movie Men, Women & Children while flying somewhere over the Atlantic in the course of my travel- an 18 hour journey on planes and at airports in between. I am going from a program with handful of musicians and the intimacy of a 300 seat hall to a 200+ chorus with full orchestra at a 2K+ seat auditorium. This is a must see movie. I won’t spoil it for you…all I am saying now is that people are different, fascinating, boring, engaging, well rounded, screwed up in different ways, and it is all “out there” in cyber space since the invention of the internet. This movie is comforting in a way because it tells us there is nothing new under the sun as far as human behavior goes. It is very honest about how people live more and more in the virtual world of Facebook and war games and dating sites. I guess this is what I am doing with this blog no different from billions of other people (Note to self: google the number of personal blogs in the world!). Creating a virtual copy of yourself and talking to a practically unknown audience (yes, I know I should track data on how many people and from where, are actually reading this) is an intellectually exciting thing to do. Realizing how many other people are doing the same thing all around the world is humbling.

Traveling often creates time that needs to be used in ways that don’t come into play with a regular day job. Reading, watching movies, writing a blog post off line and posting it later, thinking about stuff, making plans are all part of “being on the road”.
Trying to make sense of “lost time” while getting from A to B has become a lifestyle for me. It is a necessity and as always I am trying to make the best of it.
I just remembered a quote from American composer David Lang (Note to self: nice job connecting the dots and making this post more than just babbling!) “And time eventually will pass” [check quote!] The quote is from the notes to ‘Little Eye’ a movement from the 40+ minute chamber music cycle by Lang entitled ‘Child’. ‘Child’ is a very honest, naive, simple yet labyrinth like musical piece. UMZE Ensemble just played it under my direction as the second half of a concert with flutist Claire Chase at Budapest Music Center. I think programming this minimalist piece was a pretty good idea after listening 45 minutes of complex, difficult music by composers like Jozsef Sari, Peter Eotvos, Dai Fujikura or Gregory Vajda.
Letting your thoughts wander while listening to repetitive music is a liberating and also -to me at least- somewhat disturbing experience.

By now most of you are probably thinking, “Where is he going with all this?” or “Hello, we were promised some Verdi here!” All right, since this type of stream of consciousness blogpost cannot be finished, only stopped, I am stopping it right here.
Going from David Lang to Giuseppe Verdi with thousands of miles traveled in between is my reality. Very different programs with very different bands at very different places-yet similar and connected. There is a powerful pop music quality to the Verdi Requiem. There is a lot of pop music in David Lang’s art. Simple lines, repetition, basic musical ideas painted with plain colors. Raw power.
This physical reality however feels a lot like our virtual reality: seemingly random things interconnected with the help of search engines and our personal preferences. Bringing us back to the movie Men, Women and Children ☺.
Bang on a can Verdi.

Going from Lang to Verdi is natural after all. It is real life.