4000 Kids, 2200 Adults

Huntsville Symphony has just completed a very busy and extremely successful week with 6 concerts and 2 programs. We performed 4 Young People’s Concert and a Free Family Concert for about 4K children (most of the 4th Graders) and a few hundred adults. The latter one I like to call “Bring Your Grandma” concert, and indeed there were many families: grandkids, parents, grandparents alike. Mozart: Figaro Overture, Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto No.1, 1st Movement (played by the brilliant Sarah Han, the winner of the Guild’s Concerto Competition 2017) and James Stephenson’s genius “Compose Yourself” were on the program. Jim’s composition introduces the orchestra, its sections and its instruments to the audience in a set of variations. Before the Finale audience members get to pick and mix 3 different melodies, harmonies and rhythms to create their very own piece of music. I highly recommend “Compose Yourself” to any orchestra interested in a stylish, clever and fun piece of music that can do what Britten’s Young Persons’ Guide can and more! At the Free Family Show I also did a crash course in conducting for kids who were not shy coming on stage. They got to conduct the Mozart Overture with the Huntsville Symphony.
On Saturday evening the HSO had a sold out pops show comprised entirely of John Williams soundtracks. It was a demanding and highly satisfying concert for the orchestra and drew several standing ovations from the audience. Once (tops twice) a year I agree to play the clarinet in Huntsville to benefit the Symphony. I have performed quite a few great chamber music pieces in the past couple of seasons, and also the obligate clarinet solo in a Mozart aria when my Mom was here to sing an opera gala under my baton. This time I played the clarinet solo of Viktor’s Theme from the movie The Terminal. Viktor’s character —played by Tom Hanks in the movie— is especially close to me. We are talking about a man from an imaginary Eastern-European country who gets stuck in an airport terminal in the US and has to manage living there for a few weeks. Considering my crazy busy traveling schedule I do feel like I live in an airport sometimes.
More great music is on the way with the Huntsville Symphony in the next couple of weeks: Mendelssohn, Richard Strauss, Offenbach and Wagner.
Check out our website here:
https://www.hso.org

Down The Rabbit Hole 2016

“Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next.”
[Lewis Carroll: Alice in Wonderland]

Down The Rabbit Hole goes 2016. It has been a strange year. We are all falling very slowly and wondering what happens next. Many losses, sad farewells, strange and unexpected twists and turns, and lots of great achievements, adventures, fun and happiness, too. Somehow everyone seems to think that Fate goes by calendar year, and things are going to change for the better on January 1. I am afraid it is not the that simple. Without trying to be too melodramatic I’d say: 2017 is going to be a year of “whatever we make of it”. Remember, we all signed up for a wild ride anyway! 🙂

Why the Alice quote? Well first of all I —like so many of you— admire Carroll’s Alice books. Ever since I first read them characters and quotes keep popping up in my head. Somehow they are always relevant. Lewis Carrol managed to write a truly entertaining encyclopedia of Nonsense, otherwise known as Life. After composing, premiering and recording my Clarinet Symphony in 2015-16 I was ready to create another major work for clarinet, this time a quintet with string quartet. I teamed up with the amazing Farallon Quintet in San Francisco to bring “Alice Etudes” to life. Read about the piece, the World Premiere performance and the GoFundMe campaign here:
https://www.gofundme.com/AliceEtudes
Yes, you got that right: no Year End without a fundraising pitch! 🙂 The Farallon Quintet and I are trying this for the first time. I hope You can all pitch in and help us make this happen in the New Year!

My last concert of 2016 was on December 14 with the Hungarian Radio Symphony at the Liszt Academy in Budapest. It was an all Saint-Saëns program (lots to discover there!). Andrea Vigh played the harp, and Istvan Vardai played the cello. The latter instrument is the famous Du Préz-Harrel Stradivarius cello which Istvan played for the first time in a live concert after receiving it for permanent lease. It was truly a once in a life time performance: amazing instrument, great musicianship, and first and foremost lots of fun playing real chamber music on an orchestral level. It made me happy to be the part of this performance!

As I am wrapping up the year by celebrating my younger son, Vince’s Birthday on the 29th, and New Year’s Eve with both of my sons Balázs (16) and Vince (14) in the meantime there is a lot of planning and preparing to do. If it is up to me 2017 is going to be one great year!

Whatever is ahead just remember: “It is a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.” Also, at the end: “it really IS a kitten, after all.”

Happy New Year!

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.

‘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!

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.]

Summer Fun with Bartok, Sibelius and Opera

After taking a short summer break and using most of it to compose Clarinet Symphony (premiere next February with the Hungarian Radio Symphony at Palace of the Arts in Budapest) I am ready to pick up the baton again this weekend. Lajos Balogh, Music Director of the Portland Festival Symphony invited me to guest conduct at two of the PFS summer park-concerts. I get to conduct two of my long time favorites, Romanian Folk Dances by Bartok and Finlandia by Sibelius. It is great to make music again with some of the retired musicians of the Oregon Symphony and other players from the area I have worked with before.
I will be sharing the stage with Lajos Balogh
http://portlandfestivalsymphony.org
and with
Michael Allen Harrison
http://www.tengrands.com

Yes, it is hot out there, but these parks are so beautiful and you will be able to find a spot with some shade for sure. Come out and enjoy great music and some outdoor picnic fun!
http://portlandfestivalsymphony.org/venues.html#cathedralpark

Soon I will be taking off to Hungary where I will be leading some fun, interactive musical programs at Sziget Festival
http://szigetfestival.com

Every day between 6 and 8PM The Armel Opera Festival presents a program of ‘Opera Sitcom Series’ and some contemporary music improvisation as well as letting audience members conduct the Armel Festival Orchestra in famous opera numbers like the aria of The Queen of the Night. “Sziget” is not only the biggest rock/pop-music festival of Central Europe but also a great place to promote classical music and opera.

Please check out the website of the Huntsville Symphony as well! Single tickets are on sale for our 2015-16 season!
http://www.hso.org

Hope you are all enjoying your summer and getting just the right amount of daily classical music! 🙂

Percussion, Piano, Clarinet, Food And Drinks

This is going to be a long but fun weekend! HSO’s special guest for Classical 2 is the Amadinda Percussion Group.
http://www.en.wikipedia.org
This world famous ensemble has agreed to stop by on their way to the Percussive Arts Society Annual meeting in Indianapolis
http://www.pas.org/
and play a concert at the VBC. This is a one in a lifetime opportunity to hear the group that is now, after 30 years in the business, is part of music history. They play with amazing musicianship and their repertoire stretches from Haiti folk music through jazz to contemporary classical pieces. They are great entertainers and masters of their countless instruments. Huntsville Symphony and myself will be joining Amadinda for the second half of the program for J.S. Bach’s Concerto for two keyboards (played on 2 vibraphones and 2 marimbas) and for a piece written for four percussionists and orchestra. The latter composition is by Levente Gyongyosi
http://www.kontrapunktmusic.com/
Levente is pretty well known in choral circles in the US. His vocal pieces are popular all around the world. I am happy to be part of the US Premiere of this 35 minute long Sinfonia Concertante written just last year, hopefully contributing to the future success of the composition.
Since we do not have the full orchestra on stage for the beginning of the concert Zoltan Racz and I will be playing the National Anthem on the piano, four hands, for our usual opening sing along. I can’t remember when was the last time I played the piano in front of a life audience. Zoltan and I are practicing every day.

I will be spending my Saturday rehearsing for our first Casual Classics concert this season. It is time for Dinner DIvertimento again (we only have 5[!] tickets left). This year we are matching different courses with different pieces. On the program: Richard Strauss: Serenade op.7, Dvorak: Serenade for Winds in D-minor, Jean Francaix: Ten Character Pieces. I’ll be playing the clarinet for the first two numbers and will be conducting the third one.
Again; practice time for Gregory!
The musical dinner will be served on Sunday at the Early Works Museum.
For more information visit our website
http://www.hso.org/

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!

Schubertkugel

Mozart, Schubert and once again Mozart.
The Flute and Harp Concerto and Schubert Symphony #9 “The Great” with Grand Rapids Symphony (last week) and today (Sunday) the amazing Gran Partita (Serenade #10) by Mozart.
I am playing the clarinet and conducting tomorrow. This one of a kind serenade (also sound track to Amadeus) is the only piece on the program for Huntsville Symphony’s Casual Classics #1 at the Early Works Museum. We are serving dinner with the music, or music with dinner; just like it used to be done in the days of Mozart.
As for the concerts with Grand Rapids Symphony last week: I rearranged the seating for the Schubert Symphony. I put the woodwinds in the front of the orchestra since they are playing a major and solo role throughout the entire piece. (Also you play and listen differently if put in an unusual set up.) This way I could focus the attention to the chamber music qualities of this indeed lengthy and great symphony. In the first half of the concert we performed another composition in C Major (by Wolfie himself, and another piece from the Amadeus sound-track). Beth Colpean and Chris Kantner played beautifully. Assistant Principal oboe, Alexander Miller composed the candenzas. It was a real home-grown project, also my second (fun-)time with the GR Symphony.
See review and pictures here

http://www.mlive.com

I had fun by doing the preconcert talks, called “UpBeat” as well. I showed a picture of Mozart, of Schubert, then a photo of one of my favorite sweets, Mozartkugel. Then I showed the picture of Schubertkugel, which was practically just the blank screen. No Schubertkugel exists. With all his problems and battles to fight, Mozart has always been a bigger commercial success than Franz Schubert. However, I am pretty sure, there is something named after Schubert in the great city of Vienna. Most likely a piece of cake or some melange (coffee+cocoa) with whipped-cream.

One more thing: Salieri was not the villain showed in the movie Amadeus (based on a play). Among other things he was the mentor and teacher of young Schubert himself.