Orchestra Tour in Poland

…then there are days when you really don’t have the time to write.

I have just finished my concert with the Hungarian Radio Symphony at the Liszt Academy on November 22 when received a call from the tour manager of the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra. They were on the road in Poland and the conductor, János Kovács was hospitalized. I agreed to step in after my Eötvös-Bartók performance in Hamburg (November 23) and joined the orchestra in Wroclaw, Poland the next day. We had a one hour acoustical rehearsal at the amazing new concert hall built for the program of “Cultural Capital of Europe, Wroclaw 2016″, and we hit the ground running with the following program:

Kodály: Dances of Galánta
Liszt: Piano Concerto No.1 (Dávid Báll -piano)
Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra
(Encores: Brahms Hungarian Dance No.1 and Berlioz Rakóczi March)

Thee more concerts followed with great success (and a whole lot of bus riding in between). The Hungarian National Phil musicians and myself were having a ball.

Poland is a lucky country to have so many great, new concert halls. Three out of the four we have performed at were built in the last two years. Among these, the venue for our tour-closing performance was probably the best I have ever performed at (including Disney Hall!). The concert hall of the National Polish Radio Orchestra in Katowice is not only a great work of architecture but also the perfect mix of beauty and functionality with amazing acoustics for symphonic music.

Take a look!
http://nospr.org

This orchestra tour was part of the Hungarian Season in Poland commemorating the 1956 Revolution. Originally Zoltán Kocsis, world famous pianist and music director of the Hungarian National Philharmonic, who just recently passed away, was supposed to conduct all the concerts. We have been performing in his memory as well.

I am back in Hamburg, Germany today. The very last performance of the Eötvös: Senza sangue, Bartók: Bluebeard’s Castle production is tomorrow evening at the Staatsoper. The revival is schedueled for February 2018.

Hotel Room With Seven Doors

“Which hotel room has seven doors and enough place for a torture chamber, an armory and a treasure chamber?” – asks critic Peter Jungblut of http://br-klassik.de in his review about the Eötvös/ Bartók double bill of Staatsoper Hamburg. Stage director Dimitri Tcherniakov merged “Senza sangue” and “Bluebeard’s Castle” into a 2 hour long evening with no intermission, and made the two operas into one “Dramatic Soul-Exploration”. After participating in the long rehearsal process of the production (we had our very first rehearsal on September 26) and attending the premiere with composer Peter Eötvös himself in the pit, I am now looking forward to conducting my first of this impressive show. Great singers, powerful music, touching video shorts, captivating images with mesmerizing lighting: this is all Senza sangue-Bluebeard’s Castle, and more. Come and experience it live if you can this month in Hamburg!
I will be the conductor of two more performances after today’s show: one on November 23 and the last one of this run on November 30. In between two shows, on November 22, I will be conducting a concert with the Hungarian Radio Symphony at the Liszt Academy in Budapest. The program is comprised of a World Premiere orchestral song for soprano I composed in memory of my Father and compositions by Haydn and Richard Strauss.
More about this concert soon!

In Nature’s Realm

I am back in Huntsville. The weather is beautiful as always in September. As my friends in Europe are starting to wear their rain coats and sweaters, I still get to dip in the swimming pool in the morning. I love how summer is stretched out here in the South.

Our 2016-17 Season at the HSO is starting with a kind of musical meditation on Nature and on Human Life.

Dvořák: In Nature’s Realm, op. 91
Smetana: The Moldau, from My Homeland
Fauré: Requiem, op. 48

Guest Artists:
Tiffany Boltic-Brown, Terrance Brown and the Huntsville Community Chorus

Visit our website for more information on our opening gala and on the rest of the season.
http://hso.org

Talking about “meditation”, very soon musicians of the Huntsville Symphony and myself will be presenting a Yoga Session with Live Music at one of my favorite venues ever: Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment
http://lowemill.net
More about this concert soon!

Last week was busy (indeed, the Season does not start with the first fall performance but with all the preparation the precedes this part of the year). After finishing the editing of the studio recording of my composition “Clarinet Symphony” (it sounds great and I am hoping to report soon about what happens to the recording itself) I traveled to Szeged (Southern-Hungary) where I did a few pre-rehearsals for Armel Festival’s presentation of The Magic Flute at the Hackney Empire Theater in London, England. I am also preparing for the long rehearsal period at the Hamburg Opera starting at the end of September. I will be adding another opera to my repertoire: Peter Eötvös’ Senza sangue (Without Blood)
http://eotvospeter.com
This new work will be staged alongside with Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle (an amazing piece of music soon to be a 100 years old!).

Nature, music, lot of travel: Season 16-17 here I come!

Two World Première Opera Recordings

Just five days to September.

Are you ready for another season of great music?

Here are two World Première opera recordings for your listening pleasure to start with!

Péter Eötvös: Paradise Reloaded (Lilith)
http://bmc.hu

In this new composition, Péter Eötvös explores the hypothetical question: what would have happened if our culture which is explicitly based on the Bible had chosen Lilith (Adam’s first wife) to be the ancestress of mankind, instead of Eve? Adam and Eve (his second wife) and the listeners alike are guided by Lucifer through past, present and future. In Paradise Reloaded, Lilith’s intentions define the course of events; she eventually attains her goal but at the end of the story Adam still does not choose her as his partner. Adam has to choose between two women who have different outlooks on life. His choice determines the fate of the generations to come. The conclusion promises a new beginning for all characters – hence the Reloaded in the title – in a new Paradise, but this will no longer be the same as the one they left.
The opera was premièred in October 2013 in Vienna, followed by its February 2014 Hungarian première in Budapest. The cast of soloist on the CD is the same as of the première in Vienna. I conducted both the recording session (Studio 22 at the Hungarian Radio) and the Hungarian live performance (Palace of the Arts Budapest) both with the Hungarian Radio Symphony. The sound quality of this recording is just amazing. The sound level is like that of a pop music recording with clear details and amazing energy. The recording is available via the website of the Budapest Music Center (see link above) and through record distributors all over the world (see list on BMC website).

Ernst von Dohnányi: The Tenor

What happens when a singing circle (well, really a good old, German style Barber Shop Quartet) operating according to classical middle-class values is forced to accept a talented but depraved and penniless musician? Primeval, genuine emotions break through bars of false convention. Or do they? This is the theme of The Tenor, the most celebrated Hungarian comic opera of the 1930s. This delightful, cleverly written opera is full of humor and great musical ideas. Mendelssohn and Webern quotes are incorporated into the chamber orchestra-like texture of the composition. The vocal parts are beautiful and inventive and all roles are great fun to play. I was the conductor of the Hungarian premiere of “The Tenor” (the first one since the late 1920s!) and of the studio recording of the work with the cast of the stage production and the musicians of the Hungarian State Opera Orchestra.

Read about the Opera Trezor recording series of the Hungarian State Opera here
http://opera.hu

If you are interested in this two CD-publication you can purchase it at the Budapest Opera House’s Gift Shop (Opera Shop), or you may contact me directly. I will make sure you get a copy!

When Things All Come Together

The title of this post “When Things Come Together” could also be “When Many Things Happen at the Same Time”. Professional achievements in arts do not follow a straight timeline. After finishing a highly successful conducting masterclass for the Eötvös Contemporary Music Foundation (In focus: Bartók, Kurtág and Lachenmann) I dove into the preparation of the Academy of Music production of Hans Werner Henze’s opera, Elegy for Young Lovers. This is the year end stage performance exam of the students and also the closing production of Armel Opera Festival 2016. There will be a live broadcast on the website ARTE TV. Please follow the link next to the production details here:
http://armelfestival.org
Side note: today is Henze’s 90th Birthday and the percussion players of the Pannon Philharmonic presented mini-Milka chocolate bars placed in an upside down cymbal (see picture on FaceBook). I just love these “artsy” coincidences. And chocolate is always good. 🙂
In the meantime ARMEL Opera Festival performances are on every evening (and also can be watched online thanks to ARTE) therefore I spend a lot of time giving interviews to papers, TV and radio stations, cultural websites during the day.
Two days ago László Gőz, director of the Budapest Music Center called a meeting for everybody who participated and helped the making of the first ever studio recording of Peter Eötvös’ opera entitled “Paradise Reloaded (Lilith)”. BMC staff members and leadership (practically the producers of the recording) and colleagues from the Hungarian Radio and from Palace of the Arts (they were co-producers of the 2014 recording and live performance) were there along with the composer himself and his wife (also librettist of the opera). We opened champagne and talked about the long process of how this wonderful recording finally came to life. It took more than two years but things definitely did come together for this project.
I am planning to write in detail about this and another World-premiere recording (Dohnányi: The Tenor) I conducted in 2014-15 once both CDs are available to the general public.

Things all came together in the last few weeks: a busy and successful conducting masterclass, a very promising Henze production rehearsal period, an exciting opera festival, and an intimate celebration of a new product: a contemporary opera’s World Premiere CD recorded in 2014, with a September 2016 release date.

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

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!