Action Packed Three Weeks

And more to come.
Huntsville Symphony has had a successful opening classical week with Mussorgsky-Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition and Orff’s Carmina Burana. It was just the perfect way to start the season and to create lots of positive buzz. My first weekend of the 2017-18 season at Huntsville also included an extensive day of auditions for several positions, including Concert Master and Principal Cello. We have hired some talented players and will be inviting candidates to fill the principal spots starting January.
The week after I have traveled to New Brunswick, NJ and conducted the Rutgers Symphony Orchestra. The program was the following: Ravel: La Valse, Haydn: Cello Concerto in C, Stravinsky: Petrushka. It was a great week with the young players and with this fun program. Also the first time ever I have stayed at an actual university campus. It was good to reunite and to spend some time with my friend, Al Baer, principal tuba player of the New York Phil and the head of the brass department at Rutgers. Last Friday I have conducted the second classical show of the season in Huntsville. Both our soloist, Claire Huangci and the orchestra did a great job in an especially difficult program. Ravel: Rapsodie Espagnol,Piano Concerto in G, Respighi: Fountains of Rome, and Debussy: La Mer. Just two days later, on Sunday we presented our first Casual Classics performance with Schubert’s genius Octet for which I have picked up my clarinet again. It was our usual, annual dinner/concert setting with the musicians telling funny stories about themselves. Oh yes, and the performance took place at the Yellowhammer Brewery’s Speakeasy, a perfect venue for this serenade-like composition.
I am writing this post at the KLM Lounge at the Amsterdam Airport. When I am done, I am going to continue watching YouTube videos of 77 young conductors who have applied to the multi year mentor program of the International Eotvos Contemporary Music Foundation. This week Peter Eotvos and I will be selecting the ones who will travel to Budapest in December to participate in a live audition along with 30 some young composers.
On Tuesday I am starting the rehearsals with the Hungarian Radio Symphony for our November 14 concert. For the program click the link below!

http://www.mrze.hu

Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

Georgia Bottoms in Budapest, Interviews, Reviews, Videos

A pretty long, exhausting and fun period is over. Georgia Bottoms, A Comic Opera of the Modern South had a new, Hungarian production in the frame of CAFe (Contemporary Art Festival) Budapest at the Liszt Academy. The production was a success, the audience loved it and so far the critics had a positive opinion as well. I am glad, that this 85 minute long, one act chamber opera made quite a few people among Hungarian intellectuals to go online and buy Mark Childress’ original novel, Georgia Bottoms. The book deserves attention, and a great translation for the European and Hungarian market. Luckily, many of the intellectuals interested in my art can speak and read English. They all bought the book here, and you should, too!
http://www.amazon.com

Unfortunately however, – this is what happens when a country has a language that nobody else is speaking,- all the interviews and reviews below are in Hungarian. This time being a Hungarian has an advantage: you get way more info about the opera, the production and you can also read about many other topics that came up in the interviews in the original language. I translated a couple of things below for my English speaking friends, and I can promise you that no music-lover will be left behind. I am in the process of translating a selection of the interviews and posting them online as soon as I can. In the meantime, enjoy what you can by clicking on the links below!

Let’s start with a really well translated interview with Rebecca Nelsen, who has been doing Georgia Bottoms’ role for the second time in two years. I myself have learned a couple of interesting, new things about what it’s like to be a woman in the South.
“The Era of Just Standing And Singing Is Over”
http://www.fidelio.hu

By clicking on the link below you can read the very first (posted just a couple of hours after the Sunday premiere) instant feedback by a local theater/ music-theater blogger. She will be posting more about Georgia Bottoms, once the entire CAFe Budapest Festival is over.
http://www.mezeinezo.hu

Here are three interviews with me, mostly about Georgia Bottoms, but also about teaching, conducting and politics.
“When A Chord Sounds That Can Feel Really Good”
http://www.operavilag.net

“I Want to Write Music I’ve Never Heard Before”
http://www.theater.hu

“Constant Failures Mean The System Is Working”
http://www.papageno.hu

“You Cannot Put 9-11 Into Music” (interview) + “Bittersweet Georgia” (review)
These articles will be available for free soon via the website link below.
According to this review my music is from the Deep South 🙂 The critic loved the humor of the opera in text, in music and in staging as well/ “…a múlt vasárnapi bemutatón átütővé vált a mű humora: szövegben, játékban és – éppen nem mellesleg – zenében egyaránt.”
http://magyarnarancs.hu

“Under Lucky Stars”
This critic loved the production in every way possible, including the staging by Andras Alamai Toth, the singing of the entire cast, especially Rebecca Nelsen and Keith Browning, the quality of the musicians of Ensemble UMZE, and the music itself. The critic had a nice summary of my music as well, Let me copy it here, first just in Hungarian.

“A muzsika majd’ minden hangjából árad az amerikai Dél hangulatát megidéző couleur locale, de hiba lenne, ha csak ennyit jegyeznénk meg az igényes kompozícióról, mely (az utóbbi évek kortársopera-tendenciáival ellentétben) jóval több egyszer használatos alkalmazott zenénél: saját értékénél fogva is emlékezetünkbe vésődik, miközben híven festi a szöveg dramaturgiai fordulatait. A posztmodern jó szokásához híven bőven idéz különböző zenei stílusok eszköztárából, ám ezeket egységes keretbe foglalja – sosem támad az az érzésünk, hogy bármely hang is öncélúan került volna a partitúrába. Ez a határozott zeneszerzői egyéniség biztos ismertetőjegye.”

http://nepszava.hu

The FaceBook page of CAFe Budapest festival. There is an interview with me about Georgia Bottoms and about getting our of your comfort zone in general. Again, the interview is in Hungarian, but the “Day 3 of the Festival” video can be enjoyed without speaking this one of a kind language.
http://www.facebook.com/CAFeBudapestOfficial

Oh yes, and I did get to translate Mark Childress’ RAP lyrics for a newly added scene into Hungarian for the surtitles. I even made it rhyme. 🙂

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.

Toward The Sea Into the New Year

The season of the Huntsville Symphony is always busier between January and May than it is in the fall. The reason? College football. In the fall we are doing our classical concerts on Fridays so we do not have to compete with the games on Saturdays. Also it seems it takes a while for everybody (definitely our core audience) to settle into the usual rhythm after the summer months. After presenting a no-orchestra New Years Eve show with the amazing Bela and Abigail Fleck the Huntsville Symphony is back on the stage of the Von Braun Center and we sure have a lot of notes to play for the second half of the season. Between February 1-4 we are doing 4 Youth Concerts, a Free Family Concert and a Pops concert with all John Williams movie hits. We are presenting our ever popular “dinner-concert” Casual Classics on February 12, then another classical concert with the music of Wagner and Offenbach on February 18.
https://www.hso.org

Yesterday, with a smaller than usual orchestra on stage, I conducted the HSO in a show called “Flute and Harp Impressions”. Principal flutist Evelyn Loehrlein and harpist Katherine Newman joined guest flutist Gergely Ittzes in a selection of pieces by Vivaldi, Debussy, Takemitsu and Respighi.
Gergely Ittzes https://www.ittzesgergely.hu has also performed two of his own solo flute compositions presenting unusual virtuosity on his instrument along with many special effects never heard before by our audience. Ittzes is capable of playing clear double stops (intervals) on the flute and special effects that sound like walking bass or an Indian, or Japanese traditional instrument. Our audience was very enthusiastic and thrilled about all the music that was presented. I believe we did justice to Vivaldi as well, since his music —due to the big size of our concert venue— has been definitely underrepresented in the classical series.
My favorite part of the concert was when Gergely Ittzes played Debussy’s famous solo flute composition, Syrinx then we went right into playing Takemitsu’s mesmerizing “Toward the Sea II” for alto flute, harp and strings. Great job HSO string section!
I admire Takemitsu for his beautiful sound colors and soothing rhythmical complexities (yes it does sound like a contradiction, but Takemitsu is just doing, in his own language, what Debussy has invented more than a 100ys ago now). I was very pleased with the audience’s positive response.
Our New Year has just started, and we are sailing on toward new adventures. Come and join us in 2017, too!

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!

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

O farther, farther, farther sail!

Just 20 years after it was deemed “obscene literature” by Boston district attorney, Oliver Stevens on March 1, 1882, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman became the inspiration for Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No.1, A Sea Symphony.
Indeed, Leaves of Grass praises nature and the individual(!) human’s role in it and elevates the human form and mind to the level of topic of poetic praise. Suspicious at best! 🙂 I find it interesting how a young English composer picks a collection of poems by an American poet written in (mostly) free verse to put into music. Apparently Vaughan Williams carried a copy of Leaves of Grass with him at all times. I have to praise his openness and his imagination in selecting parts of Whitman’s work for the first, and longest of his 9 symphonies.
Tonight the Huntsville Community Chorus and the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra with the help of vocal soloists Tiffany Bostic-Brown and Terrance Brown will celebrate the human spirit and the power of live classical music with the Huntsville premiere performance of A Sea Symphony by Vaughan Williams.
http://hso.org
Other compositions on our 61st Season opening concerts are:
Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten. I hope you can join us on our MUSICAL JOURNEY of this season!

Sail forth—steer for the deep waters only,
Reckless O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me,
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go,
And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!
O farther farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!

[The closing lines of Passage to India from Leaves of Grass]

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!

Conduct Me!

Just got home from an hour long live radio interview at Klub Radio. I spoke about the past, about Hungary and the U.S., about conducting, playing the clarinet and composition.
I got to speak about Peter Eötvös
http://eotvospeter.com
the Huntsville Symphony
http://hso.org
the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
http://mrze.hu
and first and foremost about the Armel Opera Festival.
http://armelfestival.org
If you happen to speak or at least understand Hungarian, you are welcome to listen to the show online here 🙂
http://klubradio.hu
The show is called ‘Örömzene’ which translates as “jam session for fun”.
The last segment of the interview was all about the two hour daily program of the Armel Opera Festival in the frame of the the Sziget Festival
http://szigetfestival.com
the biggest rock-pop music summer festival in Central Europe.
Starting tomorrow the Armel Opera Festival presents a two hour long fun and interactive musical program including a series of “Opera Sitcom” performed by the students of the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, directed by Andras Almasi Toth. I’ll be leading the audience in an interesting improvisation exercise based on a composition by Peter Eötvös called “Triangel”. Audience members will be distributed triangles of all shapes and sizes and I will play along with me, also hitting three different size triangles wherever I can. The program ends with ‘Conduct Me!’ where brave audience members can get a crash course in conducting from me and get in front of the orchestra and singers and conduct live. On the rep: Aria of The Queen of the Night, Brindisi by Verdi, Prelude and Habanera from Carmen.
I am looking forward to the challenge of engaging audiences that are not necessarily familiar with classical music and opera and make them realize how much fun it actually is to discover Mozart and even contemporary classical music for yourself. I am also happy to share the same island (on river Danube) with several thousand of music lovers and artists like Robbie Williams, the Gogol Bordello or Mariza.