A Great List of Composers

Bartók, Eötvös, Halévy, Henze, Mahler, Offenbach, Saint-Säens, Schubert, Schumann, Verdi.

Schubert: Rosamunde Overture, Schumann: Cello Concerto and Mahler: Symphony #1 was the program of my concert with the Szeged Symphony on May 17. Miklós Perényi, one of the greatest cellists of the world played the solo part. The concert took place in the beautiful National Theater of Szeged. It was a great treat for me to conduct this program and a nice experience working with Szeged Symphony for the first time in a very long time.
Two days ago I participated in the press conference of the Armel Opera Festival 2016. Check out the website!
The upcoming program is very exciting.
http://armelfestival.org
I will be conducting Henze’s Elegy for Young Lovers with the Pannon Philharmonic and the young singers of the Academy of Music Budapest. I will also be doing a pre-rehearsal for Peter Eötvös’ newest opera called Senza sangue. This is the same work I will be conducting at the Hamburg State Opera this fall along with Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

Yesterday I attended the opening concert and ceremony of the Jewish Art Days, a new festival in Budapest Hungary. I am conducting an evening of opera music with Hungarian and Italian singers at the Italian Institute at the helm of the MAV Symphony Orchestra on Tuesday (May 31). On the program: music by Offenbach, Verdi, Saint-Säens and Halévy.
Check out the details here:
http://zsidomuveszetinapok.hu

I agreed to conduct the diploma concert of Bálint Kruppa. This amazingly talented young Hungarian is playing Bartók’s 2nd Violin Concerto with the Danubia Orchestra on June 7 at the Academy of Music.
http://zeneakademia.hu

Both the orchestra and Bálint will participate in the conducting masterclass organized by the Eötvös Music Foundation. The program is called Focus of Bartók, Kurtág, Lachenmann.
I will be teaching alongside with Peter Eötvös and Olivier Cuendet.
Read about the details here:
http://eotvosmusicfoundation.org

Many great composers and amazing pieces, lots of music, lots of work make me happy.

Slavic Feast at Silicon Valley

Tonight and tomorrow afternoon Symphony Silicon Valley presents its second to last weekend of their 15-16 classical concert season. As a returning guest conductor I get to lead the orchestra in the following program:

Martinu: Overture
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto #3 – with Natasha Paremski as soloist
Prokofiev: Love for Three Oranges Suite
Janáček: Sinfonietta

This is my first time doing the Martinu piece, a lovely neoclassical, “all C-major” type of opening and also the reduced version of Sinfonietta (I think I am sticking with the original version in the future).

Check out the program here:
https://www.symphonysiliconvalley.org

This is my third time in Silicon Valley around Cinco de Mayo. Since Wednesday evening was kind of quiet I anticipate to run into more parties downtown tonight. I will look around after the concert for sure.

Brahms and The Chairs

Three Brahms compositions in two concerts mark the Finale of the Huntsville Symphony’s 15-16 season. Yesterday evening, celebrated by a large audience at the Von Braun Performing Arts Center HSO was playing Brahms Symphony #3 and Violin Concerto in D. After a long standing ovation the mesmerizing sounds of the first movement of Bach’s Violin Sonata No.2 in A-minor ended the last classical concert, played beautifully by Nikki Chooi. What an amazing way to end the season!

Now wait a second! There is more. It is a little “encore” to our 61st season if you wish. This afternoon, members of the audience are invited to sit on the stage of the VBC next to and around the principal players of the HSO as we perform Serenade #1 by Brahms. This time it is the wind-quintet+string-quintet version on the program and I will be talking about the music, about the composer, and about the process we musicians rehearse and perform. To start the show I am planning to make our audience just stand in the lime light on stage and stare out into the empty auditorium to get a sense of what it feels like being up there in the presence of hundreds of people. In between movements of Serenade #1 I will ask the audience to switch to a different chair (hence the concert title we used for a similar show last year: Musical Chairs) to experience the acoustics of the stage of the VBC and to be able to watch and listen to different musicians playing different instruments. If you like unusual concert formats, join us at 3:30pm today or sign up for our Casual Classics series next season. The program will be out soon!

http://www.hso.org

Thanks Everybody for making 15-16 a successful season in every regard! We are looking forward to welcome you back in September. Have a great summer and keep up listening to good music!

Hold Us Up Against Our Sins

‘Father in Heaven!
Hold not our sins up against us
But hold us up against our sins,
So that the thought of Thee should not remind us
Of what we have committed,
But of what Thou didst forgive;
Not how we went astray,
But how Thou didst save us!’

These are the final words of the cantata, “Prayers of Kierkegaard” by Samuel Barber. This piece was started by the composer in 1942, and was finished in 1945 (one of many pieces of art whose birth was delayed by World War II). To my knowledge it has never been performed in Hungary before. If you know otherwise, please send me an email via my website! I paired Barber’s work with one of Zoltán Kodály’s greatest compositions, “Psalmus Hungaricus” (Hungarian Psalm) for tenor solo, children’s choir, chorus and orchestra. There are some amazing musical similarities between these two cantatas. I am wondering if Barber knew or knew of Kodály’s composition, since Psalmus Hungaricus was premiered in 1923 and by the 40s Kodály was a famous and well respected composer all over the world. In any case, ‘Prayers of Kierkegaard’ does sound a bit like an homage to ‘Psalmus’, and Kierkegaard’s intimate and very personal prayers do bring the words of poet-preacher Mihály Kecskeméti Vég to mind. The latter words are from the 1600s. They are a typical example of the practice of interspersing a translation of a psalm (Psalm 55) and touching lamentations that express personal grief and sorrow.
Luther’s original hymn, “Ein feste Burg” (A Mighty Fortress is Our God) completes our Protestant musical journey in an original orchestral setting by Mendelssohn as part of his Symphony #5. The “Reformation Symphony” occupies the entire first half of the concert this Wednesday evening at the Liszt Academy of music with the Children’s Choir, Chorus and Symphony Orchestra of the Hungarian Radio Symphony. Ildikó Szakács and Gyula Rab will sing the solo parts in the second half.

http://www.zeneakademia.hu

My Father’s Son

It’s not so much that “the show must go on”, rather, that I am my father’s son.
My Dad, József Vajda, former principal bassoonist of the Hungarian Radio Symphony and retired professor of the Liszt Academy in Budapest passed away 10 days ago. Since then I have done a Casual Classic show with the Huntsville Symphony and I am getting ready to start rehearsals for our Classical 5 program with the Canadian Brass. My Dad worked all his life and was a master of his craft, and a great teacher. I am finding that work helps me cope with my loss and staying active means staying true to my father’s spirit.

Here are the two programs for Huntsville:
Casual Classics 2 at the Historic Train Depot Roundhouse
Telemann: Tafelmusik Suite #3 “Il delirio fantastico”
Telemann: Alster Echo Suite

Classical 5 “The Americas” at the Von Braun Center
Marquez: Danzon #2
All American music played by Canadian Brass
Bramwell Tovey: Manhattan Music for brass quintet and orchestra
Bernstein: Divertimento

http://www.hso.org

Next week I am going to start a project with the Pannon Philharmonic in southern Hungary. We’ll be playing a show at the Kodaly Center in Pecs and will repeat it at the Liszt Academy as well.

“Dance on the Moon”
Griffes: Poem
Schönberg: Pierrot lunaire (with special projections and lights)
Stravinsky: Song of the Nightingale
Ibert: Flute Concerto

http://www.pannonfilharmonikusok.hu

I will be spending a lot of time with my family members while in Hungary, attending the funeral and doing a Celebration of Life in memory of my Father.

In Between Enescu and Dvořak

Two World Premieres by Gregory Vajda were presented in between pieces by Enescu and Dvořak in about a two week time period.

Enescu: Romanian Rhapsody #1
Gregory Vajda: Clarinet Symphony
Dvořak: Symphony #8 in G

Enescu: Romanian Rhapsody #1
Gregory Vajda: Drums Drums Drums
Dvořak: Symphony #8 in G

As for the Enescu and the Dvořak I can’t remember “double dipping” a concert program like this for a long time, if ever. To tell you the truth it was not even planned this way at first. Mostly guest artists scheduling led to this situation, but in hindsight I don’t mind it at all. Having two new compositions of mine played for the first time in a short timeframe (and BTW almost exactly a year after the World Premiere of Georgia Bottoms, A Comic Opera of the Modern South) gave me a rare opportunity to get into my own music as a listener. Being the conductor of your own work does take away from being able to truly listen “from outside”. Performing music – your own or someone else’s – always comes with a lot of “on the ground” work and with having to fix small details as you go. To get the big picture, to listen and to judge a composition as a whole requires distance, both physical and mental. For some reason premiering two pieces (about 50 minutes of music all together) shed more light on musical problems (orchestration, tempi, form, etc.) and helped with finding solutions as well. This was definitely much better than having just one piece premiered and waiting for its next performance to occur.

There was also a third World Premiere just three days ago, a short duo for two violins entitled “Schnitte”. I wrote the duo at the request of the string players of the Hungarian Radio Symphony who wanted to play a new two-violin composition to precede Alfred Schnittke’s ‘Moz’Art á la Haydn’. They performed the piece “in stereo”, in front and in the back of the audience, and all in dark. Then during the last chord of “Schnitte” the first few contrabass notes of Schnittke’s music started. I think I managed to inject some “70s avant-garde sound” into my work that nicely prepared the audience for Schnittke. I hope to get a recording of the concert soon.

Here is a nice review of the Budapest (MUPA, Palace of the Arts) concert with many details about my Clarinet Symphony on the classical site backtrack.com
http://www.bachtrack.com

As for Drums Drums Drums, a concerto for timpani, drum-set, concert bass drum and orchestra I am looking forward to its next performance (including corrections based on the World Premiere performance with Scott Christian, Gergo Borlai, Sean Rittenauer and the Huntsville Symphony at the Van Braun Center) with the Frankfurt Radio Orchestra (Hessischer Rundfunk) in June 2017.

For now I am back to composing. This time it’s some fairy-tale music for an animated movie. Something completely different and a lot of fun.

‘Clarinet Symphony’ World Premiere

In my new piece composed for principal clarinetists János Szepesi, Gábor Varga and the Hungarian Radio Symphony I combined two things I know the most about. After more than 20 years in music as a professional I regard both the clarinet and the symphony (as a genre and as an ensemble) as my own. The combination of two solo clarinets (the parts are totally equal, even notes played are the same exact number) and the countless sound color— and character— variations of the orchestra helped create a symphonic work based on the characteristics of the clarinet as an instrument. Clarinet Symphony is a piece between a four movement symphony and a sinfonia concertante and it consists of 6 movements:
1) Prelude 2) Ballade 3) Scherzo 4) Adagio 5) Finale 6) Postlude [total duration: approx. 32 minutes]

The Adagio movement is based on a Hungarian-Jewish folksong called “The Rooster Crows” and Postlude quotes my “opus 1” solo-clarinet composition entitled “Lightshadow-trembling” (1993). This and the fact that even the orchestra parts were composed with individual players of the Hungarian Radio Symphony in mind make Clarinet Symphony my most personal composition yet.

Concert and radio broadcast at MUPA (Palace of the Arts, Budapest) on Wednesday, February 3.
On the program:
Enescu: Romanian Rhapsody #1
Vajda: Clarinet Symphony [World Premiere]
Dvorak: Symphony #8 in G
http://www.mupa.hu

No. 16 – Quartet

CONSTANZA:
Ah, Belmonte, my beloved!

BELMONTE:
Ah, Constanza, my beloved!

CONSTANZA:
Can it be? What rapture!
To hold you close to my heart
After so many days of unhappiness!

BELMONTE:
What bliss to find you!
Now all grief must vanish!
Oh how my heart rejoices!

CONSTANZA:
See how my tears of joy flow freely.

BELMONTE:
Angel! Let me kiss them from your cheek.

CONSTANZA:
Let them be the last ones.

BELMONTE:
Indeed, you shall be free this very day.

PEDRILLO:
Now, Blonda, have you understood?
Everything is prepared for flight.
We will be here on the stroke of midnight.

BLONDA:
Don’t worry, all will be ready,
I shall count the minutes;
If only the moment were here already!

ALL FOUR TOGETHER:
At last the sun of hope
Illuminates the gloomy skies.
Full of rapture, joy and bliss
We can see the end of our suffering.

BELMONTE:
Yet, in spite of my happiness
My heart within my breast
Is full of secret care.

CONSTANZA:
What is it, dearest? Tell me,
Quickly, explain yourself.
Conceal nothing from me!

BELMONTE:
They say ? they say ? that you …

CONSTANZA:
Go on!

PEDRILLO:
(indicating that he risks being hanged)
But Blonda, oh that ladder!
Are you really worth it?

BLONDA:
You fool, have you gone mad?
It might be better
If you had turned the question round!

PEDRILLO:
But Master Osmin??

BLONDA:
Let’s hear it!

CONSTANZA:
Will you not explain yourself?

BELMONTE:
They say??

PEDRILLO:
But Master Osmin??

BELMONTE:
That you??

PEDRILLO:
But Master Osmin??

BLONDA:
Let’s hear it!

CONSTANZA:
Go on??
Will you not explain yourself?

BELMONTE:
I will. But do not be angry
If, having heard a rumor,
I should dare to ask you
In fear and trembling
Whether you love the Pasha?

PEDRILLO:
(to Blonda)
Has Master Osmin never,
As one might well believe,
Exercised his lordly rights
Upon you as your owner?
That would a poor bargain!

CONSTANZA:
(to Belmonte)
Oh, how you grieve me!

BLONDA:
(to Pedrillo)
Here’s my reply to you!
(slaps Pedrillo’s face)

PEDRILLO:
Now I am in the picture.

BELMONTE:
(on his knees)
Constanza, oh forgive me!

BLONDA:
(angrily walking away from Pedrillo)
You don’t deserve me at all!

CONSTANZA:
(sighing as she turns away from Belmonte)
Have I remained faithful to you?

BLONDA:
(to Constanza)
The rogue has dared to ask
Whether I have remained true to him!

CONSTANZA:
(to Blonda)
And Belmont has been told
That I love the Pasha!

PEDRILLO:
(rubbing his cheek)
I’d take my dying oath
On Blonda’s fidelity!

BELMONTE:
(to Pedrillo)
Constanza is true to me,
There can be no doubt about it.

CONSTANZA – BLONDA:
When men become suspicious
And have no faith in our honour,
And look upon us with mistrust,
It is not to be borne.

BELMONTE – PEDRILLO:
When women are aggrieved
Because we think them fickle,
Then they are really true
And free from all reproaches.

PEDRILLO:
Dearest Blonda do forgive me!
Look, I put more faith in your fidelity
Than upon my own head!

BLONDA:
No, you can’t get away with it.
Suspecting me of doing that
With that foolish old buffer!

BELMONTE:
Oh, Constanza, my beloved!
Can you ever forgive me
For having asked such a question?

CONSTANZA:
Belmonte! How could you believe
That anyone could steal this heart
Which beats for you alone?

BELMONTE – PEDRILLO:
Oh, forgive me!

PEDRILLO – BELMONTE:
I am repentant!

CONSTANZA – BLONDA:
I forgive
Your remorse.

ALL FOUR:
Well, let this be the end of the matter!
Long live love
Let us value nothing else!
Let nothing kindle
The fire of jealousy.

That’s all. Problems solved, everybody lives happily ever after. Love prevails. In about 10 minutes real time, Mozart manages to bring two couples back together and clear all misunderstandings. Opera at its best. Whatever happens before and after is just another “pirate story” (full of amazing and genius musical numbers of course).

I am awestruck by No. -16 Quartet.

Conducting ‘The Abduction from the Seraglio’ energized me beyond belief. I am ready for the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. We’ll be playing Enescu Romanian Rhapsody #1, Dvorak Symphony #8 and the World Premiere of my newest composition: Clarinet Symphony at MUPA (Palace of the Arts), Budapest on February 3.

http://www.mupa.hu

I love my job!

Notes From The New Year

When so many things happen in a short period of time one can either write about everything, risking that his readers start skimming the post, or just write about something current and personal while ignoring everything else. I don’t feel like doing either in this New Year of 2016. I am going to just write things down as they come to my mind, limiting comments as much as I can.

The death of Boulez and the passing of David Bowie (yes, I do feel like it is all right to mention them in the same sentence) reminded me of the phenomenon how one person’s death can signal an already ongoing change. It is now officially post-Boulez and post-Bowie era. As so many people posted “when I met Boulez” pictures on FaceBook and elsewhere I didn’t want to do the same. Mostly because the few times we met we were not posing for pictures. I cherish my memories and yes, I do have my own “Boulez story” as well. I prefer to share them when we are sitting around a table sipping wine and having a conversation.

Tonight is the second to last performance of the annual revival of ‘Die Fledermaus’ at the Budapest Opera.
http://www.opera.hu
I am having a blast with this operetta (I’d rather call it an opera) and tons of fun working with many great Hungarian singers.

All day today I stayed home and studied “The Abduction from the Seraglio” by Mozart. As I mentioned it several times before, it is great fun to re-discover a piece of music or a complete opera for yourself by studying it again in depth. All I am going to say is: go and listen to the quartet from the end of Act 2 (#16)! It is amazing how Mozart can put interpersonal drama into music. In just one long(er) musical number one can experience trouble and resolution, and see two couples get back together.
By studying Mozart again I understand more of “Die Fledermaus”, too. Johann Strauss II learned a whole lot from Wolfgang Amadeus in how to write an ensemble and how to create drama on stage by words and music. Both operas are comic operas but they are definitely not “light”!
I am looking forward to the concert version of “Abduction” with the Huntsville Symphony in just 10 days.
http://www.hso.org

I finished editing the parts for my Clarinet Symphony. Tomorrow I am meeting with the two clarinet soloists for the first time. I am looking forward to the World Premiere on February 3 with the Radio Symphony.

Good news is in the making for Georgia Bottoms, A Comic Opera of the Modern South, and also there is a prospect for a new stage work of which I will be posting as soon as things become serious. I will be getting back to composing music for an animated movie, so my days are busy as ever.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned in 2016!
Happy New Year!

Escape from LAX (Notes From Before Christmas)

My preparation for the Holidays included a couple of piano-stage rehearsals for “Die Fledermaus” by Johann Strauss. I am conducting 9 performances of this production, two of them on December 31, at the Budapest Opera. The New Year’s Eve performance, traditionally is going to be a big party with surprise musical guests appearing in the ball scene in Act 2. (Sorry, but I am not allowed to reveal who they actually are.)
Read about the Budapest “Die Fledermaus” performances here:
http://www.opera.hu

I have had my own Nightmare Before Christmas. I believe it is enough to say that the route of my European flight looked like this: LAX-CDG-BUD. The layout of the Los Angeles Airport reminds me of the 1996 sci-fi action movie “Escape from L.A.” You need serious survival skills to get from one terminal to the other, and you need all the help of the internet to figure out which lounge to use at the the international terminal if you are a Sky Team frequent flier. LAX is still stuck in the last century. They are yet to figure out how useful automatic light rails are let alone simple but clear signs to point you to the direction you are going. At Charles de Gaulle International Airport there is now at least a new automated light rail running between terminals. Make no mistake, there is still plenty of room left there to make for a nice jogging exercise if one wants to catch a connection while one’s suitcase is not being transferred despite a nice, bright yellow “Priority” tag.

Since concluding my Resident Conductor tenure with the Oregon Symphony (2012) I have not had the opportunity to conduct Christmas music or any other Holiday favorites. To be completely honest I get just enough of this type of music by spending a few hours shopping at department stores. I remember a French department store staff going on strike a few years back saying that nobody should be exposed to the same 7 songs for 8-12 hours a day. What can I say, I am totally with those guys! At the same time however, having the Oregon Symphony play some of the Christmas music arrangements I made for them definitely puts me in the right Holiday spirit. Thanks for my friends and former colleagues for sharing this info with me every December! :)

I wish You All a successful, low stress few days leading up to Christmas and a Blessed, Wonderful Holiday Season!