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.

2 Fifths on the 5th (Huntsville Season Finale)

I guess we should have scheduled this program for May. Beethoven 5th and Prokofiev 5th on May 5th (well OK, not quite a Cinco de Mayo program). In any case, Life is writing the best script. I wanted to finish the season with this special “Symphony #5″ pairing and we happened to have a date on hold at the concert hall for April 5th. Two Fifths on the Fifth is definitely a catchy title.
Despite the busy weekend in downtown Huntsville we only have under 300 tickets to sell for this show and we still have 24 hours to go. Great job, PR Marketing Department! I guess the programming is not too bad, either…:)
We had a great season in Huntsville with many new and exciting ideas and great hits. The success of the Casual Classics series has exceeded all my expectations. Taking the Free Family Concert on the road was also a viable idea (and great fun as well). We had more than one sold out classical concerts, great attendance for the POPS series. We hosted inspiring guest artists like Alexander Corsantia and the amazing Bela Fleck.
Two days ago at the Major Donor Reception our CEO and President Dan Halcomb and myself announced the 14-15 season which is going to be our 60th. More and detailed information is coming here soon. I encourage you to visit Huntsville Symphony Orchestra website in the next couple of weeks and watch our page on FaceBook and on Twitter!

mysterious; cat-like

The title of the post is from the score of Michael Torke’s Tahiti. This instruction can be found in the first clarinet part of the 7th movement. Needless to say that my cat-lover musicians immediately started loving the piece, not that it is any difficult to love it without the cat reference.
Here are the program notes for the piece from the composers website and a link to the site itself.

“Each of the movements reminisces a feeling of the individual islands that make up the Society Islands in the South Pacific, which we generally refer to as Tahiti.
A certain humidity, along with the lush landscape, water-life, white sand, and palm trees brings relief, a kind of peace to a hurried soul.
Herman Melville, in Moby Dick, sees it this way: “For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!”
The movements grow from a melodic idea (rather than a rhythmic or harmonic idea, like much of my other music) and undergoes a development; the first and third movements have the most extended treatment.
A bias of orchestration is to limit the string writing to four parts, with a pair of woodwinds doubling the top part, much in the way Bach does in his Orchestral Suites.”

http://www.michaeltorke.com

The last sentence of the program notes above gave me the idea of the program for our third and final Casual Classics this season. I picked movements 1, 4, 6 and 7 from Torke’s composition and inserted them into Bach’s Orchestral Suite #1 in C. My goal with this year’s Casual Classics was to rediscover alternative concert formats and discover unusual concert venues around town. After a dinner-concert setting at the Early Works Museum and an acoustical action piece at the Depot Roundhouse (see earlier post “Pre-Super-bowl Brass Attack”) we are doing an “uninterrupted stream of music” at the Flying Monkey Theater at Lowe Mill.
http://www.lowemill.net

Billions of people now around the world listen to music on their iPods, smart phones, tablets and MP3 or MP4 devices. We all know the SHUFFLE button. Well, this concert is going to be exactly like when you push SHUFFLE and let your device stream you your favorite music. All right, I am cheating, since I did create a carefully thought out order for how the Bach and the Torke movements alternate… But still, I got the idea from my own iPod and also from search engines on net-radios where the “free-association” of human programmed algorithms provide endless entertainment.

“All music –smiles the minister –is incidental”

Tomorrow (Sunday) at 7:30PM (Budapest time) singers Alinka Kozari, Katalin Karolyi, Gyorgy Philipp, Ensemble UMZE and myself will perform an extremely versatile and exciting program. All three pieces are Hungarian Premiere. The concert is part of the program of Budapest Spring Festival 2014. The venue for the concert is the amazingly beautiful concert hall of the Budapest Music Center.
http://www.bmc.hu

Balazs Horvath ‘Assemblage’ is a composition for ensemble with instrumental soloists who also act. The violinist is the musician who wants to take over the lead from the conductor; the horn player is the actual, real “soloist” (with very difficult material to play). The bugle player is dressed as a clown and behaves as such. The bassoonist acts like “your typical orchestral musician” (not my opinion, so direct your criticism directly towards the composer! ☺) The ensemble enters by playing on pots and pans while the conductor leads the procession in a drum major function (I do have a real drum major baton!) There are Four Scenes and for the 4th one the musicians move to the back of the hall mirroring their downstage seating. We even take a bow at the end with our back to the audience.
This is a very well written, very well thought through “instrumental theater” piece. It is a lot of fun and all of us are having a ball.
Visit the composer’s website here:
http://www.balazshorvath.com

‘Eight Songs for a Mad King’ by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, CH, CBE, composer and conductor, Master of the Queen’s Music was written in 1969 and is still a fully valid, musically and dramatically engaging, powerful piece of music theater. (How does one become the Master of the Queen’s Music after being an experimental, avant-garde composer is a different story and should be the topic of a separate blog entry.) A strong and captivating performance is in the making with Gyorgy Philipp as “King George III” with some serious contemporary overtones in the direction of Andras Almasi-Toth. Let me just say, that while homeless people are banned from public spaces in the City of Budapest “our King George” is dressed as a bum and acts totally crazy and inappropriate. He won’t let security to remove him from the theater hall and ends up leaving on his own terms, exhausted, figuratively and literally naked with the accompaniment of the conductor and the drummer.
Here is some reading material about ‘8 Songs’:
http://www.classicalsource.com

The well-known story of the Pied Piper comes to life in the 40 minute long masterpiece by George Benjamin. Two singers (soprano and alto) are playing and acting all the characters. The Minister would do anything to get reelected. The Crowd wants only one thing, to get rid of the rats in the city. (Rats? Just watch out for the projected images in Andras Almasi-Toth’s interpretation! You’ll find even more contemporary political allusions… Let me state at this point, that this concert was supposed to happen over a year ago. The fact, that we are playing it just two weeks before the Hungarian general election is merely a coincidence! ☺) And the story of the Pied Piper continues…
George Benjamin’s music is almost unknown to the Hungarian audience. I am really happy to be able to present this major work of his with really great singers in both roles. Here is another great work about the power of music.
Read more about this chamber opera –about the power of music –, in a NY Times review from 2007:
http://www.nytimes.com

Tomorrow’s concert is a journey from Instrumental Theater through Monodrama to Chamber Opera; and music, of course is much more than just incidental.

What’s Up With Sussmayr?

“He was born in Schwanenstadt, Upper Austria, the son of a sacristan and teacher (who spelled the name Seissmayr, reflecting the Austrian pronunciation). His mother died when he was 6, and he left home at 13. He was a student and cantor in a Benedictine monastery (from 1779 to 1787) in Kremsmünster. When his voice changed, he became a member of the orchestra as a violinist.
The abbey performed operas and Singspiele, so he had the opportunity to study the operas of Christoph Willibald Gluck and Antonio Salieri. He composed a number of stage works and a good deal of church music for the abbey.
He became (after 1787) a student of Salieri in Vienna. In 1791 he assisted Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as a copyist with La clemenza di Tito and Die Zauberflöte and is presumed to have written the secco recitatives in the first. Their relationship was close and playful, to judge by surviving letters to Constanze, whom Süssmayr accompanied to Baden.
For many years he was also thought to have been a student of Mozart, but there is reason to think that the notion of such a relationship was concocted by Mozart’s wife Constanze in order to legitimize his completion of Mozart’s Requiem. During Mozart’s last days, it is possible that they discussed his Requiem, and Süssmayr took on the task of completing the piece upon his death and did so, turning it over to Constanze within 100 days of Mozart’s death. Süssmayr’s version of the score is still the most often played, although several alternative versions have been written.”
[from Wikipedia]

Yeah, what’s up with this whole Sussmayr thing? According to Harnoncourt in no circumstances could he complete Mozart’s work. (Who did it then?) As far as I am concerned there are more “Mozart Requiems” and the one under the name of Sussmayr has its own life and has been proven to engage musicians and audiences despite its flaws. This is the version I have played many times as a young clarinet player (Oh, those cold churches in Hungary around Christmas time!) and this is the version we performed yesterday with the Huntsville Symphony in front of a full house at the Von Braun Center. The concert started with Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music (another gorgeous piece using Basset horns) and we performed Haydn Symphony #93 before intermission. Our trumpet and horn players –as adventurous as they are– decided to use natural horns for the entire show. It sounded great and added an extra layer of artistry to the show.
Fun fact: I am traveling to Hungary today where I am doing a new music show next week. One of the pieces is going to be “Into The Little Hill”, a mesmerizing chamber opera by British composer George Benjamin. Guess what, he uses not one but two Basset horns (and Contrabass Clarinet among other “unusual” instruments) just like Mozart in his Masonic Funeral Music and Requiem. I love the sound of the Basset horns!