Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Gergely Vajda, Gábor Varga, János Szepesi Gergely Vajda: Clarinet Symphony
Everything comes full circle. Some time in the early 1990s I wrote my first pieces for my own instrument, the clarinet. These pieces are still valid, and they work as music. There is something natural in a composer performing his own works. Music composed by a performer-composer is idiomatic by default: the marriage of technique and content takes place without the often unrequested but indispensable help of the match-makers, virtuosos and conductors. This of course does not automatically mean that the notes are easy to play. Seeing and hearing this, the audience too feels that they become the part of something original, something valid, that they can receive the information, the experience, without alienation, or without the intervention of an “interpreter”.
Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Gergely Vajda
János Szepesi – clarinet
Gábor Varga – clarinet
Gábor Varga – clarinet
Nathan Giem – violin, Gergely Popa – violin
Tamás Cs. Nagy – viola, Árpád Amirás – cello
Gábor Varga – clarinet
About the album
In association with MTVA (Media Support and Asset Management Fund)
Recorded at Studio 22 of the Hungarian Radio, Budapest on 24 August, 2016 (1-6); at BMC Corner Room, Budapest
on 27-28 February, 2017 (7-13); and at E4S Project Studio, Piliscsaba on 5 March, 2017 (14)
Recording producer: Tibor Alpár (1-6)
Recorded by Gábor Buczkó (1-6) and Péter Erdélyi (7-14)
Mixed and mastered by Péter Erdélyi (7-14)
The recording is property of MTVA (1-6 ); Music publisher: Editio Musica Budapest (7-13)
Artwork: László Huszár / Greenroom
Produced by László Gőz
Label manager: Tamás Bognár
Gergely Vajda: Clarinet Symphony
Gergely Vajda: Alice Études
The album is available in digital form at our retail partners
Everything comes full circle. Some time in the early 1990s I wrote my first pieces for my own instrument, the clarinet. These pieces are still valid, and they work as music. There is something natural in a composer performing his own works. Music composed by a performer-composer is idiomatic by default: the marriage of technique and content takes place without the often unrequested but indispensable help of the match-makers, virtuosos and conductors.
This of course does not automatically mean that the notes are easy to play. Seeing and hearing this, the audience too feels that they become the part of something original, something valid, that they can receive the information, the experience, without alienation, or without the intervention of an “interpreter”.
They didn’t just write music; they performed it too,
a fact which is of course natural in jazz and other styles.
Miles Davis, Ravi Shankar, Béla Fleck.
Over the last twenty-five years I’ve learned to play another instrument, the symphony orchestra.
Mendelssohn, Mahler, Boulez.
They didn’t just write music; they conducted it too, and not just their own.
Anyone who conducts sooner or later learns which “key” of the symphony orchestra has to be pressed, and how firmly, for this instrument to produce a fine, balanced sound. Anyone who plays music on the orchestra knows that, just like the clarinet, made of wood and metal, this instrument too has a soul, albeit much more complex. Over the last couple of years I have begun to feel that the time has come to compose everything I know about the soul of the clarinet, in a way that only I can do right here and right now. Since it’s more a case of feeling or hearing it within, it’s difficult to write about just why the clarinet is the perfect instrument for bringing to life the character of Lewis Carroll’s famous Alice, or Salvador Dalí’s melting clocks, without words.
Though they did not play the instrument, they still felt what only it could do, they knew, and so they told the story of the clarinet.
The time has come for me too to tell my own story, to unify the two media I feel and know so well and the most intimately, in the spiritual and the physical sense: my two instruments, the orchestra and the clarinet.
The clarinet was chosen for me by my father József Vajda, a bassoonist. He said it was a multifaceted instrument, which can be used to play other kind of music, not just classical. It was mostly sitting by his side that I learned the ins and outs of orchestral playing, the most important being how to play one’s own instrument in such a way that its characteristic sound blends in with the color of other instruments.
Continuous mimicry. Thus the starting point for my Clarinet Symphony was the idea of a “clarinet-sounding symphony orchestra”. Written for János Szepesi, Gábor Varga, and the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, I intended the genre of the piece to be between the symphony and the sinfonia concertante, something along the lines of particular works by
The piece is a variation of the classic four-movement symphonic form, with a brief introduction, interlude and postlude. The two solo clarinets play a perfectly equal part, and even the numbers of notes in their parts match up. In the Adagio I quote the Jewish Hungarian folksong Szól a kakas (The Rooster Crows) and in the postlude, my own solo clarinet piece from 1993, Lightshadow-trembling. The tailor-made parts were composed specifically for the soloists and members of the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, and this contributed to the Clarinet Symphony (whose title could be understood as being written with a hyphen, as one word, or separated by a comma) being my most personal work to date.
In the Alice Études, commissioned by the San Francisco Farallon Quintet, I render in music seven events from the books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. In four of them I make reference to musicians working in very different styles who were inspired by the stories about Alice.
The seven story fragments I chose to be put to music proceed in chronological order.
1) Down the Rabbit Hole / “Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next.”
2) The Pool of Tears / “However, she soon made out that she was in the pool of tears which she had wept when she was nine feet high. ‘I wish I hadn’t cried so much!’ said Alice, as she swam about, trying to find her way out. `I shall be punished for it now, I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears! That WILL be a queer thing, to be sure! However, everything is queer today.’”
3) A Mad Tea-Party / “’I want a clean cup,’ interrupted the Hatter: ‘let’s all move one place on.’ He moved on as he spoke, and the Dormouse followed him: the March Hare moved into the Dormouse’s place, and Alice rather unwillingly took the place of the March Hare. The Hatter was the only one who got any advantage from the change: and Alice was a good deal worse off than before, as the March Hare had just upset the milk-jug into his plate.”
4) Looking-Glass House / “’Let’s pretend the glass has got all soft like gauze, so that we can get through. Why, it’s turning into a sort of mist now, I declare! It’ll be easy enough to get through ...’ She was up on the chimney-piece while she said this, though she hardly knew how she had got there. And certainly the glass was beginning to melt away, just like a bright silvery mist.
In another moment Alice was through the glass, and had jumped lightly down into the Looking-glass room.”
5) Wool and Water / “’That’s the effect of living backwards,’ the Queen said kindly: ‘it always makes one a little giddy at first...’ ‘Living backwards!’ Alice repeated in great astonishment. ‘I never heard of such a thing!’ ‘...but there’s one great advantage in it, that one’s memory works both ways.’ ‘I’m sure mine only works one way,’ Alice remarked. ‘I can’t remember things before they happen.’ ‘It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,’ the Queen remarked.”
6) Shaking / “She took her off the table as she spoke, and shook her backwards and forwards with all her might. The Red Queen made no resistance whatever; only her face grew very small, and her eyes got large and green: and still, as Alice went on shaking her, she kept on growing shorter… and fatter… and softer… and rounder… and… “
7) Waking / “...and it really was a kitten, after all.”
Everything comes full circle, or “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards”. I wrote my solo clarinet piece Persistent Dreams in 1991 before my “Opus 1” Lightshadow-trembling, inspired by Salvador Dalí’s painting La persistència de la memòria. The musical equivalent of the infamous melting clocks is like a convolvulus made of notes moving between various overtone systems, interrupted here and there by short chromatic outbreaks. Although it recurs in various forms, in its variations it portrays the immutability and persistence of time and memory. It is not often that I revise a piece I composed decades ago. The main reason I avoid doing this is that the Gergely Vajda who existed in 1991 is alien to me, someone that shares a memory with the Gergely Vajda of 2018 but differs from him in every other respect. How dare I rewrite somebody else’s work? At the same time, if I see and hear that the notes, rhythms, and sound-colors are still coherent, that a piece of music written by a strange young man wearing my name works, then, together with him, I am delighted.
Translated by Richard Robinson
Gergely Vajda is an internationally renowned musician, musical director of the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra (Alabama, USA) (2011-), the artistic director of the International Armel Opera Competition and Festival (2014-), and the musical director of the Portland Festival Symphony (2017-). For three years he was at the helm of the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra as principal conductor, then in 2014 he was appointed permanent guest conductor. He is a sought-after conductor and composer world-wide, and a permanent guest professor at the masterclasses of the Péter Eötvös Contemporary Music Foundation. He is the conductor of several world premiere recordings, and his works have been released by Hungaroton Classic and BMC Records. His publisher is Editio Musica Budapest.
He has been awarded the Gundel Arts Prize (conductor, 2001) and the Bartók-Pásztory Prize (composer, 2018). He is an artist of Dispeker Artist Management.
Gábor Varga is the principal clarinetist of the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (1997-), and has been the principal clarinetist of the Singapore Symphony (2005-2007). He regularly performs with the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra (2001-). He is a professor of the Varga Tibor Faculty of Music at the University in Győr (2014-), and holds the title of International Chair of Clarinet at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester (2017-). He regularly holds masterclasses all over the world, for instance at the festivals of the International Clarinet Association and the European Clarinet Association. His solo and chamber recordings are regularly featured on Hungarian Radio. His has won many prizes in Hungary and internationally.
János Szepesi, DLA, is the principal clarinetist of the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (1983-), and the founder of the Budapest Clarinet Quartet (1995-). He regularly performs as a soloist and chamber musician with Hungarian orchestras and chamber ensembles, and has been a guest performer in many countries throughout the world. He won the Ernő Dohnányi Prize (2005) as orchestral musician of the year, and has twice won the Artisjus Prize (2009, 2010). His recordings have been featured on Hungarian Radio and have been released on the Hungaroton Classic and Naxos labels.
During the 75 years since the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra was founded, with countless concerts in Hungary and abroad, and its radio, TV, and CD recordings of almost the entire symphony and oratorio repertoire, it has won its place in the vanguard of symphony orchestras. The world‘s leading critics are unanimous in praising its evenness of sound, its flexibility, and the support it provides in promoting and recording contemporary Hungarian music.
Special thanks to Jonathan Fillmore, Panos Fourtounis, Carl Herko, Andrea Leung, Hazel Mascarenhas, and Deborah Patel for their generous donation that made the recording of Alice Études possible.