Hungarian Orchestras and Eötvös Foundation/ Magyar zenekarok és az Eötvös Alapítvány

Liszt: From the Cradle to the Grave
Gregory Vajda: Gloomy Sunday Variations
Liszt: Piano Concerto No.2 in A (Peter Kiss, piano)
Mendelssohn: Symphony No.5 “Reformation”

the program above is on tomorrow for my debut performance with the Kodály Philharmony (Debrecen, Hungary). This concert marks another milestone in the series of concerts in the last couple of years in which I finally had the chance to work with all the major local orchestras in Hungary. I am privileged to work with the Pannon Philharmonic Orchestra a couple of times a year for multiple seasons now (they are based in Pécs, Hungary), but as of 2019 I have had the pleasure to work with the Györ Philharmonic orchestra (last summer for the European Clarinet Conference), the Miskolc Symphony (just last month with two concerts and a beautifully challenging program of music by Brahms and Stravinsky), and the Szeged Symphony (Schumann and Mahler, but I also conducted them in Mozart’s The Magic Flute as my London debut). I have worked with the Savaria Symphony as well, a group I have known for a while from the Bartok Festival and Seminar, and to which I will be returning next season for a subscription concert.

The month of April was busy with the last Casual Classics of the season in Huntsville (Alabama Storytellers II), a conducting an composition masterclass at the Budapest Music Center, where I was teaching alongside with the world famous composer Kaija Saariaho, Peter Eötvös and the former General Music Director of the Budapest Opera, Peter Halász. The Peter Eötvös Foundation has also made my role with them official and named me Program Director. In a week I am looking forward to returning to Huntsville to conduct the 6th Classical Concert of the 18-19 season with the wonderful Susanna Phillips as soloist.

A fenti linken olvasható az idei szezon utolsó nagy klasszikus programja, amelyet a a Huntsville Symphony élén vezényelek. A Metropolitan Opera sztárja, Susanna Phillips énekel majd Strauss Négy utolsó énekében, és a W.B. Yeats versére írott zenekari dalomban.
Áprilisban Kaija Saariaho, Eötvös Péter és Halázs Péter professzortársaként taníthattam a Budapest Music Centerben, és a mesterkurzus zárókoncertjének apropóján az alábbi interjút adtam a Papagenónak, amelyben a Programigazgatóvá való kinevezésemről, és az Alapítvány terveiről is szó esik.

Holnap (április 23) a debreceni Kölcsey Központban debütálok a Kodály Filharmónia élén az alábbi műsorral.

Liszt: A bölcsőtől a sírig
Vajda Gergely: Szomorú vasárnap variációk
Liszt: Piano II. zongoraverseny (Kiss Péter -zongora)
Mendelssohn: V. szimfónia, “Reformáció”

A koncert egy újabb fontos állomása annak a szerencsésen alakult sorozatnak, amelynek részeként az elmúlt pár évben karmesterként bemutatkozhattam az összes nagyobb magyar zenekar élén, bizonyítandó, hogy Budapesten kívül is van komolyzenei élet, de még milyen! Időben visszafelé haladva: Kodály Filharmónia (Debrecen), Miskolci Szimfonikusok, Győri Filharmonikus Zenekar, Szegedi Szimfonikusok. A szombathelyi Savaria Szimfonikusokat és a pécsi Pannon Filharmonikusokat már többször dirigálhattam, és idén is, valamint a 2019-20-as szezonban is visszatérek hozzájuk vendégkarmesterként.

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!

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.

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.

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
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!

On A High Note And More

The 2014-15 Season of the Huntsville Symphony is ending on a high note, well actually on many high notes. The amazing Elina Vahala
is back to play the powerful and extremely difficult Violin Concerto #2 by Bela Bartok. Our last classical concert opens with Les preludes by Franz Liszt and closes with Brahms’ Symphony No.1.
Just this week HSO has announced its 2015-16 season. Please click on this link to find out about all the details
My busy 15-16 season continues. Next week I am off to San Jose, CA to conduct a choral program with Symphony Silicon Valley. Right after that I jump into the production of Doctor Faust by Italian composer Ferruccio Busoni at the Budapest Opera, then back to the US to conduct the Rochester Philharmonic. Stay tuned! Also do not forget to Tune In on WLRH tomorrow morning 9AM EST to listen to Ginny Kennedy and myself talking about the Saturday concert and about the next season of HSO.
In the meantime here is the review of my concert with the Omaha Symphony from last week for your reading pleasure.

All About Horns

No, not about the fantasy-horror with Daniel Radcliffe in the main role. Huntsville Symphony’s 5th Classical concert this season was about different horns like the post horn, a tuba and French horns. Our soloist on Saturday, playing the Tuba Concerto by Williams was my good friend and amazing musician- Alan Baer, Principal Tuba, New York Philharmonic.
I conducted this beautiful piece a long time ago, but with a bass trombone soloist. In all honesty, the piece works much better with tuba. I am surprised that it is not on the repertoire of all the orchestras around the world. I guess it takes some courage to invite a tuba player as a soloist instead of a violinist or a piano player :). The audience loved the piece and rewarded the performance with a long standing ovation.

The second half of the concert started with one of my all time favorite compositions, the Sextet from the opera ‘Capriccio’ by Richard Strauss (I rearranged it for a small string orchestra) and ended with Till Eulenspiegel’s Marry Pranks. HSO rocked the piece!

In the first half, as an homage to Richard Strauss’s admiration for Mozart’s music we performed the Posthorn Serenade. I had the flutes, oboes and bassoons seated in the front of the orchestra. This emphasized the fact, that the two middle movements of the Serenade are really a hidden Sinfonia Concertante for woodwind instruments.
Chris Coletti
played the famous Post horn solo beautifully. Other than the famous 2nd Trio of the 2nd Menuet with the post horn in it, the trumpet section played on natural trumpets for the entire piece.

One more casual classic about The Science of Music and a classical concert with Liszt, Bartok and Brahms on the program are in store for this season with the HSO. Visit our website for details!

Paris, Weimar, Budapest

The international conducting workshop organized by
has begun. 14 students from Paris, Weimar and Budapest are working with three professors:
Ulrich Poehl
Jean-Philippe Wurtz
and myself.
Tomorrow afternoon the members of
will be joining us.
On the program:
Philippe Manoury: Passacaille pour Tokyo
Pierre Boulez: Derive 2
Matthias Pintscher: Occultation
Hindemith: Kammermusik no.1

We are all lucky to enjoy the luxurious facilities of the Budapest Music Center.

The conducting workshop is supported by
Institute Francais Budapest
Goethe Institut Ungarn
Liszt Music Academy

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.

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. 🙂

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:

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

Kodaly in The Cold

When 10 ys ago I first conducted the Calgary Philharmonic we played an unusual program: Arvo Part: If Bach Were a Beekeper, Poulenc: Gloria, Gorecki: Third Symphony. I remember all of it. It is interesting to me, too how much I remember of musicians, the hall, downtown restaurants and many more things. A brief interruption aside (got rerouted by Delta which enabled me to get here on time but left my luggage in Minneapolis) I had a nice trip from Huntsville, AL. First time ever I used the on board internet service and got a lot of work done (mostly planning next season and working on programming, answering interview questions via email and other fun stuff), so overall it was good.
This time I get to conduct an entire “Hungarian” program, including Brahms Hungarian Dances, Liszt Rhapsody #2 and Totentanz, Weber: Introduction and Hungarian Rondo (Yes, I have two soloists for this concert, one on the piano, one on the bassoon), Kodaly Galanta Dances and Dohnanyi Symphonic Minutes. Great orchestra, fun program and we are expecting a good size audience.
But here is the thing with Canadian orchestras… For some reason Toronto Symphony, Montreal Opera, the orchestras of Edmonton, Winnipeg and Kitchener Waterloo almost always invite me in the beginning, middle or the end of the coldest Canadian winter. Not complaining, just saying! ☺

See the website of the Calgary Philharmonic here with details about the upcoming concerts:

PS: OK, just to be fair, the sun came out this morning, the weather is sunny and fresh, Weatherman says the temperature will rise as high as 9 Degrees Celsius by tomorrow

Season Opening, Gyorgy Ligeti and the Rapper

On Monday I am starting the rehearsals for two big projects with the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (MR Symphony). On September 21 the orchestra opens its 70th Anniversary Season at the Palace of the Arts in Budapest with the following program:
Liszt: Les Preludes
Chopin: Piano Concerto #2 [Gergely Boganyi -piano]
Dohnanyi: Symphonic Minutes
Tchaikovsky: Symphony #5

This program is the exact replica of the very first public concert of the orchestra on October 7, 1943 conducted by Ernst von Dohnanyi himself. This concert kicks off our 70th season celebration with many exciting concerts and projects. More info here:

Two concerts are coming up the week after our season opening concert. We’ll be playing 8 brand new compositions in two concerts (chamber orchestra and full orchestra), one at Budapest Music Center (my first time conducting in this amazing new chamber music hall) on Sept 25, the other one a day later at the Palace of the Arts. After the concerts the final committee (including myself) will decide about the prize winner compositions. I got to tell you that it is going to be a difficult decision. The quality of the 8 pieces in the finals are very high and every one of them represent a very unique, personal voice. Just as a teaser: one piece is for “pianist” and orchestra, where the soloist only plays one chord at the end of the piece. Another composition employes a rapper alongside with the symphony orchestra.
This year’s New Hungarian Music Forum competition is dedicated to the great Gyorgy Ligeti. Check out the details here:

All concerts mentioned above can be heard live thanks to the Hungarian Radio. They are also available online live or after the performance for another two weeks at