Jacques And Richard Without Words

We are ready for our next adventure this weekend. Huntsville Symphony presents “Wagner Without Words” at the Von Braun Center on Saturday evening. The stage will be packed with musicians and instruments including some unusual ones like 4 Wagner-tubas, bass trumpet, anvils (in reality they are different size brake drums and other pieces pf metal). We are going to have 4 (!) harps on stage as well. Conductor Lorin Maazel, encouraged by Wieland Wagner, grandson of the composer, created a symphonic synthesis of Richard Wagner’s famous “Ring Cycle”.
Maazel wanted to
ONE a free-flowing synthesis (no stopping in between scenes or operas) in a chronological order starting with the first notes of ‘Rheingold’ and finishing with the very end of ‘Götterdämmerung’
TWO the transitions between scenes must be musically flawless
THREE most of the parts of ‘The Ring’ originally written for orchestra alone (no voices) must be included
FOUR every note must be Wagner’s own

The end product is a 75 minute long gorgeous piece of music for a huge orchestra. It includes the most original and powerful musical moments of the entire cycle and presents Wagner’s orchestral writing at its best.
Going down the “without words” path I have selected two short pieces by Jacques Offenbach, ‘Intermezzo and Barcarole’ from ‘The Tales of Hoffmann’ and ‘Overture to Orpheus in the Underworld’ to make up the first half of the concert. It only takes about 20 minutes to play these two pieces, but then again we will make up for the length in the second half of the show.
Why put Offenbach’s
https://www.wikipedia.org
music with Wagner’s?
https://www.wikipedia.org

First, they were contemporaries.
Second, they were both highly successful and popular, and had a great sense of stage.

I believe, that putting ‘Can Can’ and ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’ on the same program makes for and entertaining yet thought provoking evening. If you like popular melodies and great orchestra playing do not miss this concert!

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

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!

More Power to the Horns!

In the last few weeks I have been working on Béla Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle and Peter Eötvös’s Senza sangue, an opera double-bill at the Hamburg Opera in Germany. It is going to be a beautiful staging by Dmitri Tcherniakov, see a NY Times review about his work here http://nytimes.com
with four powerhouse singers in the principal roles, and the orchestra of Staatsoper Hamburg. The performances will all be in November.
I am not sure if the expression of “taking a break from sg” can be applied to my schedule. Conducting Mahler 5 does not sound like a break at all, and it sure is a great challenge for orchestra and conductor alike. Well, I am “taking a break from” opera this week and conducting a program of Mahler’s amazing symphony along with Mozart’s Magic Flute Overture and DiLorenzo’s Phoenix Concerto with the Huntsville Symphony.
http://hso.org
The latter composition was written for the amazing French Horn player William Vermeulen, whom I had the pleasure to work with on a few occasions.
http://vermeulenmusic.com
His playing and our extended horn section for Mahler 5 will sure make this week a powerful one!

I am excited and proud that our Huntsville Symphony can present such divers and exciting program to all the music lovers in the area. At the end of September for our first Casual Classics program called “Yoga with Live Music” we played compositions by Steve Reich, Arvo Pärt and John Cage at Lowe Mill. This week we are back with great symphonic repertoire at the Von Braun Center. Come and join us!

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!

Brahms and The Chairs

Three Brahms compositions in two concerts mark the Finale of the Huntsville Symphony’s 15-16 season. Yesterday evening, celebrated by a large audience at the Von Braun Performing Arts Center HSO was playing Brahms Symphony #3 and Violin Concerto in D. After a long standing ovation the mesmerizing sounds of the first movement of Bach’s Violin Sonata No.2 in A-minor ended the last classical concert, played beautifully by Nikki Chooi. What an amazing way to end the season!

Now wait a second! There is more. It is a little “encore” to our 61st season if you wish. This afternoon, members of the audience are invited to sit on the stage of the VBC next to and around the principal players of the HSO as we perform Serenade #1 by Brahms. This time it is the wind-quintet+string-quintet version on the program and I will be talking about the music, about the composer, and about the process we musicians rehearse and perform. To start the show I am planning to make our audience just stand in the lime light on stage and stare out into the empty auditorium to get a sense of what it feels like being up there in the presence of hundreds of people. In between movements of Serenade #1 I will ask the audience to switch to a different chair (hence the concert title we used for a similar show last year: Musical Chairs) to experience the acoustics of the stage of the VBC and to be able to watch and listen to different musicians playing different instruments. If you like unusual concert formats, join us at 3:30pm today or sign up for our Casual Classics series next season. The program will be out soon!

http://www.hso.org

Thanks Everybody for making 15-16 a successful season in every regard! We are looking forward to welcome you back in September. Have a great summer and keep up listening to good music!

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.

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.

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!