Music For Different Summers

Bartók: The Wooden Prince (complete ballet with live sand animation)
Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (performed with live dance)

I have started my summer by leading the conducting master-class with the rep above at the International Bartok Seminar and Festival. It was an honor to be a professor at this esteemed festival. John Cage, Gyorgy Ligeti and other world class musicians and composers have visited the Bartok Festival in small town Szombathely, Hungary back in the days. It was truly the place to be in the summer when I was a student. I myself have started there as a conductor student some 20 years ago, also have studied chamber music with Gyorgy Kurtág as a clarinetist.
This year I’ve had the honor to teach 10 active and a few passive students from all over the world. The closing concert was beautifully presented and very well attended.
After a short stop in Huntsville (there is always something to do when I am in town, and I did use my time wisely for business luncheons, meetings and planning) I have spent the last 10+ days in Portland, OR. I have taken on the role of Incoming Music Director of the Portland Festival Symphony in the last couple of years.

http://www.portlandfestivalsymphony.org

This wonderful organization has been providing free classical music for the Portland audience for over 35 years now. Playing live classical music in very different neighborhoods of the city for kids and adults is a fascinating and very rewarding mission. This year I have programmed overtures by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert along with my own piece “Rough and Ready, an American Outdoor Overture” composed directly for PFS and its outdoor concerts. The concert series ends today with an all strings concert.

I am ready for a brief vacation with my two sons, Balazs and Vince after this week. Well be spending our time in and around Huntsville, AL, and will be visiting the great city of New Orleans, too. After our annual “father and sons” vacation I will be flying to the Island of Jersey to start a hopefully long tradition of “Opera Island”. Armel Opera Festival is branching out and I am really excited about being part of this exciting new experiment. I will definitely post more about “Opera Island” at the end of this month. In the meantime, please check out the Jersey Opera House website for the Armel Festival program here:

http://www.www.jerseyoperahouse.co.uk

It sure feels like the extreme hot weather has been chasing me around. Hot and hotter weather in Szombathely, Budapest, Huntsville, and even in Portland (it was 109 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday, that’s over 42 degrees Celsius). Yet the character of Summer is still different at these very different places, so is the music I have been working on. I find the summer of 2017 striking a nice balance between time off and good work. And yes, there is always composition time whenever I can get it. The new version of my first opera, “The Giant Baby” is in the making. Premiere at the end of June, 2018.

Fresh Coat of Copland

We are ready for our third Casual Classics concert this afternoon at University of Alabama Huntsville’s Roberts Hall.
Local artist, Pamela Willis is joining the musicians of the Huntsville Symphony to create a painting live, in front of the eyes of the audience in three stages “choreographed” to the music of Aaron Copland. The painting will be auctioned out to benefit the Huntsville Symphony.
On the all Copland program we’ll be presenting
Quiet City for English Horn, Trumpet and strings
Nonet for strings
Appalachian Spring (original version)

I am especially proud of us playing the rarely performed Nonet for strings, a late composition by Copland known mostly for his Americana music. Along with two late, and well-known orchestral pieces, Connotations and Inscape, the style of ‘Nonet’ is not at all like that of Appalachian Spring or Rodeo. This music is more ‘avant-garde’, more contemplative and at points more sinister than the all sunny Copland we all know and admire. Nonet for strings was commissioned by the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library (same as in ‘Dumbarton Oaks Concerto’ by Stravinsky) and is dedicated to Nadia Boulanger “after forty years of friendship.”

Come and join us in an hour at Roberts Hall, and come back to the VBC next weekend to hear our Classical 5 concert with music by Ligeti, Bartok and Beethoven!

https://www.hso.org

Healing with Bruckner and Conversations with Beethoven

Today at the Huntsville airport a young TSA agent, seeing my big musical scores, asked me about my profession. Upon finding out I was the conductor of the Friday Beethoven-Bruckner concert he said he was really sorry for missing the concert because he was so looking forward to it. I asked him why he did not come. “Because of what happened in Paris. I didn’t want to be in a public place with lots of people around.”, he said. Luckily most of HSO’s loyal audience was there to experience Kirill Gerstein’s amazing piano playing, and the true bonding of musicians and audience with the help of Bruckner’s powerful Symphony #4. Both the Bruckner and Bach’s Sinfonia in E-minor, the encore played by Kirill were dedicated to the dead and the wounded in the Paris attacks.
This afternoon Kirill Gerstein, three principal players of the HSO and myself (with my clarinet in hand) kicked off the Causal Classics series with a show called “Beethoven Conversations”. Kirill and I had a lively conversation about musicians’ every day challenge of interpretation and authenticity. We all got to listen to two Liszt Transcendent Etudes then, after a short demo of Mozart’s Quintet for Piano and Winds we performed Beethoven’s composition of the same title. Everybody who came to Roberts Hall at University of Alabama, Huntsville had a grand time, and I had fun playing some great chamber music as well. Once a great player like Kirill Gerstein comes to town we better take advantage of it and hear him play more than just, an otherwise glorious, piano concerto.
I am on my way to Budapest, Hungary to start rehearsals for the fully staged production of Verdi’s Don Carlo and also to perform new music with Ensemble UMZE at the Budapest Music Center.
Onward to make more beautiful and exciting music.

“ceux qui aiment. ceux qui aiment la vie. à la fin, c’est toujours eux qui gagnent.”
“Those who love. This who love life. In the end, they’re the ones who are rewarded.”
[Quote from a drawing of a Charlie Hebdo cartoonist after Friday’s Paris terror attacks.]

WOW Verdi

Sure I know, Verdi was a genius. I have always known that. Everybody knows that. When you are studying one of his operas however it all just hits you again. I have not done a fully staged Verdi for years (I was fortunate to do ‘Un ballo in maschera’ at the Montreal Opera) but now it is time again. I will be conducting four performances of ‘Don Carlo’ at the Budapest Opera (Erkel Theater) at the end of November and first week of December. Amazing ideas, inventive harmonies, unparalleled characters, genius orchestration. I am having an amazing time just studying it.
Five Acts in three parts, over three hours of great music by Giuseppe Verdi.
http://opera.hu

I titled my blog post ‘WOW Verdi’ because I felt the urge to write about the way learning truly amazing music makes me feel. Talking about that, before I get in the pit of the Erkel Theater in Budapest I will be conducting another great, however completely different kind of show in Huntsville and will be even playing the clarinet.

On Friday, just 8 days from today Kirill Gerstein
http://kirillgerstein.com
will be joining the HSO in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto #4 followed by Bruckner’s Symphony #4 ‘Romantic’.
Kirill, pianist extraordinaire and a good friend has agreed to open our Casual Classics series as well just two days after he plays with the orchestra. This is where I pick up my clarinet and along with principal wind players of the Huntsville Symphony will perform Beethoven’s Quintet for Piano and Winds. The first Casual Classics of the season is called “Beethoven Conversations” and will be held at Roberts Hall of University of Alabama, Huntsville. Join us Sunday at 3:30PM if you are interested in hearing Kirill and I talk about Ludwig and about other composers and classical music related, exciting stuff as well. And of course, there will be music played by Beethoven. He was a genius. But everybody knows that.

Last Friday I conducted the HSO’s first concert in the Pops Series. We presented live magic acts with live symphonic music including pieces by Liszt, Saint-Saens, Berlioz, John Williams and others. Michael Grandinetti illusionists did an amazing job with our Halloween audience and let our orchestra shine in making music as well as in doing a mind reading trick with the audience. Want to know more? You are just going to have to check out Michael’s shows!
http://www.michaelgrandinetti.com

#6-Misi-#6

Tomorrow is the day of two concerts opening the new chamber orchestra series of the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra at the Budapest Music Center.
The first number on the show is the delightful Symphony #6, “The Morning” by Joseph Haydn. The humor and elegance of Haydn’s music always amazes me. This symphony also has a hidden violin concerto in it. It is scary how much Mozart owes to Haydn for his own violin concertos! In the slow movement the solo violin and the solo cello play an amazing duet, a variation on a Minuet-like theme. Sounds just like a Mozart violin concerto, I am telling you! In the first and the last movement the solo flute gets a lot of great music to play. What fun!
Watch this YouTube video to meet my soloist, Misi Boros! He is 11 years old and has the soul of a seasoned musician. I am not keen on child prodigies but Misi is something else. He is not only talented but also a fun and funny, intelligent human being.
http://youtube.com
For the major piece on the program I picked Beethoven’s Symphony #6, “Pastorale”. We are playing this “war horse” with a relatively small orchestra to match the space of the BMC concert hall. This decision gives me an opportunity to work on details that mostly get lost in a big orchestral setting. The end result is: lots of fun chamber music details in a very Haydn-esque Pastorale Symphony. Beethoven had his sense of humor, too!

Milano-Budapest-Huntsville

Welcome back everyone!
I hope you all had a great summer and you are ready for the next season of great classical music.
My 2015-16 season starts on September 4 with a concert performance of Lady Sarashina by Peter Eötvös at festival Triennial di Milano as part of the Milano World Fair.
http://triennale.org
I will be conducting the cast of the October 2014 Budapest production and the Hungarian Radio Symphony at Teatro dell’Arte.
See the blog post about the Budapest production here:
http://gregoryvajda.com

I have the honor of conducting the first two shows of a brand new concert series with the Hungarian Radio Symphony at the Budapest Music Center.
On the program:
Haydn: Symphony No. 6 “Le Matin”
Haydn: Piano Concerto in D-major
Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 “Pastorale”

The solo piano part of the Haydn concerto will be played by Misi Boros, an amazing young talent, winner of the Hungarian classical music TV talent show “Virtuozok”
http://bmc.hu
There will be two shows, one at 4pm, one at 7:30pm on Saturday, September 12. The Hungarian Radio will do its usual live broadcast that you can listen to online.

After Milano and Budapest I am ready for Huntsville. I will lead the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra in a blockbuster program of music by Britten and Vaughan Williams. This will be my first time conducting ‘A Sea Symphony’ by RVW. You don’t want to miss the amazing voices of Tiffany Bostic-Brown, Terrance Brown and the Huntsville Community Chorus! If you are in or around Huntsville on September 18 you don’t want to miss this performance!
Happy New Season!

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. 🙂

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.

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!