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
http://www.musicsalesclassical.com
and “D’un matin de printemps” by Lili Boulanger
http://www.wikipedia.org
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
http://www.hsoguild.org
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”.
http://www.wikipedia.org
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. It was even nominated for a Grammy award.
http://www.allmusic.com

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. http://www.eotvospeter.com
Tonight Lady Sarashina returns. She is being reborn for two nights with the help of CAFe Budapest Festival and the Liszt Academy.
http://www.cafebudapest.hu
Stage director: Andras Almasi Toth. Conductor: Gregory Vajda. Same team and a composition reincarnated.

Virtual Beethoven

CAFe Budapest http://cafebudapest.hu
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.
http://eotvosmusicfoundation.org
On this program ‘Second Self’, an intriguing composition by Michel van der Aa for orchestra and lap top see details here:
http://www.vanderaa.net
and ‘The Nine Symphonies of Beethoven’ by Louis Andriessen
http://www.boosey.com/composer/louis+andriessen
represent contemporary music along with ‘Monochrome, Concerto beFORe Piano’ by young Hungarian composer Peter Tornyai.
http://petertornyai.com/
The first half of the concert ends with Beethoven’s 10th Symphony. Yes, you read it right.
Barry Cooper
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barry_Cooper_(musicologist)
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.

http://www.pickstaiger.org/event/peter-kiss-piano-oct8

http://arts.uchicago.edu/event/piano-recital-peter-kiss

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.

http://www.amadinda.com

http://www.drumguru.com/artists/gergo-borlai/

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
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erkel_Theatre
The Tenor, a comic opera by Ernst von Dohnanyi
http://www.zti.hu/mza-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
http://www.christopherpfund.com/
Dr. Ted Horn/ Officer Lester: Daniel Weeks
http://www.tenorweeks.com
Sheriff Bill: Ron Roberts
http://www.thesingerlink.com/profile/RonRoberts

Talking (again) about Georgia… Author of the book and fellow librettist
Mark Childress
http://www.crazyinalabama.com
and soprano extraordinaire Rebecca Nelsen
http://rebeccanelsen.eu
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.
http://www.hso.org
https://www.facebook.com/GeorgiaBottomsTheOpera
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.
https://www.amazon.com/Georgia-Bottoms
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
https://www.facebook.com/GeorgiaBottomsTheOpera
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
http://www.amadinda.com
and the amazing drum-set player Gergo Borlai
http://www.drummerworld.com/drummers/
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.

8+1+1/2 Operas

The next year (this time I mean 365 days and not “next season”) is about to bring 8+1+1/2 operas. Let’s start with the +1. After the successful recording session and Hungarian premiere performance of Peter Eotvos’
Paradise Reloaded (Lilith)
http://eotvospeter.com
the composer, myself and the amazing sound engineers of the Hungarian Radio have just concluded the final editing of the studio recording of this work. This hopefully means that a commercial recording of the work will be out soon, most likely with the BMC (Budapest Music Center) label. A professional TV recording of the live performance at the Palace of the Arts will also be aired on TV sometimes in 2014. I will keep you posted.
The “half opera” is in fact an adaptation of the newest music theater work by Peter Eotvos. The world premiere is just happening at the end of June in Frankfurt, Germany. The opera is called ‘The Golden Dragon’
http://eotvospeter.com/commissions
and it is based on a play by famous writer, playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig. I’ll be doing the English language adaptation of this work originally written in German. This involves adapting the text to the music (I’ll be working from the official English language translation + a raw translation of the libretto) and also doing some compositional work in case it is needed.

In the next two weeks I’ll be working with one of the professional orchestras of the city of Budapest called Concerto Budapest.
http://en.concertobudapest.hu
They reside at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music where we will be performing 5 chamber operas under the title “Operatic Sketches”. One of the works is entitled Roman Fever and was written by the head of the Composition Department, Gyula Fekete.
http://www.bmc.hu
The other four works are world premieres composed by students, sung by students of the Academy of Music. The stage director is my good friend (and writer of the libretto of my one act opera, Barbie Blue) Andras Almasi Toth.
More info here:
Operatic Sketches
http://zeneakademia.hu/en

In September 2014 I’ll be the conductor of the new fully staged production of ‘The Tenor’ by Ernest von Dohnanyi. This will be the first staging of this work since the 1930s and the season opening production of Erkel Theater. Another production I am doing at the Academy of Music is, guess what, yet another Eotvos opera. :) A combined group of professional and student musicians and singers and myself are presenting ‘Lady Sarashina’
http://www.eotvospeter.com
as the closing performance of Cafe Budapest (Budapest Contemporary Arts Festival) in October, 2014. This will be the fifth Eotvos stage work I conduct.
In May 2015 I am conducting a shortened version of Ferrucio Busoni’s opera, Doctor Faust
http://en.wikipedia.org
as part of the “Faust Festival” at the Hungarian State Opera.

And finally “opera #8″ and obviously the most exciting challenge for me in Season 14-15 is the World Premier of my own work
Georgia Bottoms, A Comic Opera of the Modern South
Naturally I will be posting a lot about this project. For now here is a link to the book ‘Georgia Bottoms’
Mark Childress
http://www.crazyinalabama.com

You may also look up and LIKE the page ‘Georgia Bottoms, A Comic Opera of the Modern South’ on FaceBook.

Three Heroes (Radio Symphony Season Finale)

The 70th Season of the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (MR Symphony) is coming to an end. On Wednesday, May 14 I am conducting the season finale of the orchestra’s classical series with the following program.
Bela Bartok: Two Portraits
Gregory Vajda: Csardas Obstine (Hungarian Premiere)
Franz Liszt: Piano Concerto #2
Richard Strauss: Ein Heldenleben (The Hero’s Life)

Starting my very own “Strauss Year Celebration” (I will be doing two more tone poems in the coming year) I programmed ‘Ein Heldenleben’ as the main piece of the concert. I love the wit and the audacity of Strauss writing a piece about himself as The Hero. Since the tone poem was conceived as a modern version of Beethoven Symphony #3 “Eroica” (and a more effective and artistic version of “Wellington’s Victory”) it is clear that Strauss knew exactly who he was and what he could do and where he belonged. He belonged with all the great artists whose life itself was enough for a story to be put to music. Strauss had the ‘Chutzpah’ to write about nothing else but his own personal life (love-life included). Guess what, it worked!
As my much shorter in length and much more humble personal ‘Ein Heldenleben’ is titled “Csardas Obstine”. This composition was written in 2011 for the Liszt Anniversary and was premiered at two summer festivals in the US. Based on the experiences of these performances I created a new orchestration for the Hungarian Premiere. In this new version, instead of the full Liszt size orchestra, the solo piano is accompanied by 2 flutes (2. also piccolo), 1 english horn, 2 clarinets (2. also Eb clarinet), 1 bassoon, 2 trumpets, 1 tuba, 1 harp, 3 (or more) percussion players -#1 and #2 positioned down stage next to the solo piano-, 3 violins, 3 violas, 3 cellos, 3 basses. This reduction makes it easier for the chamber orchestra to keep up with the virtuoso material of the soloist. I have composed Csardas Obstine as a short (15 minutes) piece to go with Liszt Piano Concerto #2 which is the way we perform it this time as well. The title is borrowed from Liszt himself, who has also written two Csardas Obstines for solo piano. Other than an homage and a tribute to Franz Liszt (or Liszt Ferenc as Hungarians call him) my composition is telling the story of The Hungarians, just like the original two Obstinate Csardas’. There is a lot of energy in the piece, a lot of imagination, many ideas that start but then quickly end and do not develop into anything more substantial. Much like the A-major concerto by Liszt my composition has a form like Peer Gynt’s onion.
http://www.monologuearchive.com/i/ibsen_002.html

I hope we’ll all have fun peeling the musical layers together!

Talking about Peer Gynt, last time I’ve worked with pianist Gabor Farkas was two years ago and it was Grieg’s Piano concerto on the program. :)
http://biromusic.com/eng/muveszek/gabor-farkas/

To open the concert I picked one of Bartok’s most directly personal piece called Two Portraits. The two movements are “The Ideal” (practically the first movement of Violin Concerto #1) and “The Grotesque”. Both movements are based on the theme “D-F#-A-C#” which is the musical signature of violinist Stefi Geyer. Read more about the story of the First Violin Concerto and Two Portraits here:

http://www.cso.org

Three Heroes of mine: Bartok, Liszt and Richard Strauss. Three compositions with a personal story: Bartok, Vajda, Strauss. Two piano concertos and a wonderful pianist. This is all the Season Finale of the Hungarian Radio Symphony, and much more. Palace of the Arts is filming the performance. I hope I get to see it soon on TV!

PS: A day before stepping on the stage of Palace of the Arts again I am giving a presentation at the only English language Rotary Club in Hungary. The topic: “The Symphony Machine” -Programming, funding and fundraising in the world of Symphony Orchestras in the US and in Hungary.
Rotary Club Budapest-City
http://www.rc-budapest-city.hu/en/home.html

Dumb Art On Oaks

First of all, let me apologize for the title of this post.
1) The more I post the more I recognize the difficulty of finding a title that draws attention and will make people read my blog entry. The more I post the more I understand the pressure on online journalists and the direction online media is going. Do I like it? Not really, but I do understand the inevitability of things going the “tabloid way”. You really don’t want to end up like “white noise”.
2) I could not resist. :)
3) Please, do google ‘Dumb Art’ and look at the pictures. There are awesome, great pictures there. You are going to be surprised how many amazing works of great artists you will find this way, let alone all the really great street art.

OK, now that this is out of the way, I just have to say there is nothing ‘dumb art like’ about the program I am doing with pianist Lilya Zilberstein http://lilyazilberstein.webs.com/
and the Columbus Symphony this weekend. CSO website calls this Masterworks program a “Concerto Festival” http://columbussymphony.com/
and indeed three out of the four pieces are concertos (and very different ones)

Beethoven: Leonore Overture #3
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonore_Overture_No._3
Bach: Concerto for Piano and Strings in D major
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harpsichord_concertos_(J._S._Bach)
Stravinsky: Concerto in Eb “Dumbarton Oaks”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concerto_in_E-flat_%22Dumbarton_Oaks%22
Shostakovich: Piano Concerto #1
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piano_Concerto_No._1_(Shostakovich)

There are two other elements that make this program exciting for me.

1) “Time Travel”
OK, so you can say that every classical concert is like taking a trip back in time, and you’d be right about that. However having one of the most famous neo-classical pieces on the program (Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks) is a true artistic time travel. This piece is like a 20th Century Brandenburg Concerto. Also I dare to say, that Shostakovich Piano Concerto #1 has many neo-classical moments in it as well. This makes the second half of the program a kind of ‘homage’ to the two composers in the first half. Then there is the fact, that we are playing a Harpsichord concerto with a modern piano as the solo instrument. J.S. Bach would have loved a Steinway if he could have possibly known one. I am afraid that the sound you’ll be hearing, as wonderful as it may be, is historically inappropriate. So there is another type of time travel for you, this time to an “alternate universe”. Bach’s music on the modern piano.
2) “The Trumpet Player’s Progress” (sorry, another Stravinsky reference)
In Beethoven’s Overture our principal trumpet player will leave the stage at a certain point then he’ll play two fanfares from back stage (he shall return to finish the first orchestral trumpet part). At the end of the concert the trumpet takes center stage as the secondary solo instrument of the Shostakovich Piano Concerto. Tom Battenberg, principal trumpet is doing an amazing job as he travels with ease between styles, genres and centuries.

Tax Day Concert

Who does a concert on a Tuesday? Well actually I do with the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (MR Symphony) and chorus and four wonderful soloists.
On the program:
Brahms: Song of Destiny
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schicksalslied
Dvorak: Stabat Mater
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stabat_Mater_(Dvořák)

Two touching and deeply spiritual works, one is only 18 minutes long, the other one is about an hour and a half. Two works written by friends (one also being the mentor of the other). Both compositions are very personal and masterfully written. This year’s Easter falls late in the calendar year. This is why the day known as Tax Day in the US happens to be the Tuesday before Good Friday.
The concert program I designed is about preparation, soul searching and meditation with the help of vocal-orchestral music. I would like to invite our audience to a spiritual journey.
Faith Prayer. Doubt. Consolation.

I would like to invite You All to join us and listen to our concert LIVE at
http://www.mediaklikk.hu/bartok
You can also stream the concert later for another two weeks.