August 22, 2011
The Music Doesn't STOP in Budapest!
I feel as if I'm about ten, have just come back from music camp and my life is full of endless possibilities. It's as if I fell upon a candy fountain oozing with different vibes and rhythms from around the world, and they're firing out rainbows of melodies, each one asking me to be part of its creation.
This isn't a mash-up and I'm not even online. All day, I wandered the streets of Budapest getting fed, not with food, but with song. The soul is so full after a day of song that it forgets about food, even with plenty of it around.
With Vienna only a couple of hours away, I felt as if I could have been within its walls, the music permeatration was so intense. Yet, it's not Vienna, but -- some would say -- its less cultured cousin, Budapest, split by the Danube River so that Budapest doesn't even call its city its own entirely - one side gets Buda and the other gets Pest.
My first and only memory of the place was in the mid-eighties and music was first and foremost in my mind, even in an era when East Europe was mostly gray and full of restrictions. I was very young and had not yet been exposed to composition -- REAL composition that is, despite the fact that both art and music teachers had tried. We were in some traditional old world restaurant eating goose & duck and drinking Cabernet before I knew you could have orgasms on the stuff. Around us swam violin players who played throughout the entire meal, one which lasted six hours long and ended with a $25 bill including several deep, luscious reds.
I remembered the violin because both players were so damn good. Every form of expression, whether it be on the keyboard, or on a blank white canvas, happens for me at a visceral level. Back then however, I wouldn't have known a great violin player from a good one and yet, I was stopped in my tracks.
The musicians forced me to stop eating and pay attention. They forced me to understand composition. They forced me to cry at their nearly perfect musical offering. They forced me to hear their texture, whether I was in the mood or ready to understand it or not.
Exceptional talent forces great things on you when you're ready to listen, which I almost always have been, other shortcomings aside.
Exceptional talent stops you in your tracks and then somehow, you're fundamentally changed because you listened and because you heard what they had to say.
Budapest spoke to me all day, starting with folk music at the top of the hill in some enclave within Buda Castle. It was "okay" (better than average), most definitely 'local' but more than anything else, the musicians were committed. God, I love that word. (it's probably because I live on the west coast of America now where I feel as if I'm swimming among the least committed people I've ever settled down with and that's after spending time "settling" in 11 countries).
After the "okay but very committed" folk music performance, I fell upon traditional music which included the top Hungarian dancers from around the world, each one doing a chosen number within a three hour period. All of them were, yes...you got it, committed.
Each in their native custume attire, they flew out on stage ready to perform, none of them fearful or worried about people shooting them with a still or video camera, none of them caring where their "performance -- their committed performance" would show up.
In the states, where the Internet and social media reign, its amazing how much performers care about the potential publicity a 2 minute clip would lose in revenue despite how much publicity and connection it would generate. Then there's their publicists, agents, handlers and middle men.
The Hungarian performers said "bring it on," as their committed selves showed up and played 200% in front of the camera and when the light was no longer green. I get that Hungarian culture doesn't embrace entrepreneurship and so you could argue that their lack of loving green paper has kept them behind socially and economically.
Having an entrepeneur spirit myself, there's no question when I saw a tent loaded with interesting pottery created by the Secondary Technical-Vocational School of Folk Arts and Secondary Academic Grammar School, that I was annoyed that the art was not for sale when every other tent was collecting money for their 'creations.' Let them sell I, I thought. "Teach them entrepreneurship. Profits from their pottery could go towards a future dream," I said to the late thirty-something very blue-eyed woman who struggled with my response. (Below, their beautiful masterpieces)
I knew she understood some of what I said but also knew that my plea was one that would be noted but not transferred into something actionable in the next 60 days, and so I made my pitch, told her the work was stunning and moved on.
From folk to traditional to guitar (one called the ZITHER, which had me mezmorized in the same way that the Indonesian gamelan does does), to world music and Mbaye Ndiaye & the Afro Magic Band, which has its roots from Senegal but did a nice job blending African, reggae, jazz and global fusion together.
Within the hour, I was up on stage dancing with their lead drummer (solo btw) and shortly thereafter dancing with Gabor stage right, a blue-eyed Russian, who while may have been adorable, had so much alcohol on his breath that I had to politely decline after our first attempt at a cha cha to a slow-ish African jazz number.
The performers went out of their way to bring the children on stage and coach them on not just how to dance, but how to move by feeling their way to the rhythm simply by listening. It was fascinating and I loved every minute of it.
I was sorry to see Mbaye Ndiaye pack up...their energy and spirit only made me crave more of it. And so, I meandered over to another area of the massive hill which houses the castle only to discover more folk dancing and guitar, soon to be followed by traditional Gypsy (also spelled Gipsy) music which carried on for another 3 hours.
While it may be hard to dance on uneven cobblestone ground that is well over 500 years old, it was even harder not to try. I ran into a Scientologist who looked like Joseph (yes, Jesus' Joseph) who was selling corn on the cob while simultaneously trying to convert me in VERY broken English, all while tapping his foot to the Gypsy band.
I had already gleefully become ten again and full before I left the castle, when I suddenly fell upon more live music. I was on a search for one of the old world bars, bistros, cafes or restaurants recommended by my host, friends and a bunch of online pals who sent me great suggestions via Twitter and Facebook.
I had crossed the chain bridge, hung a right looking for the decadent chocolate stand on the street (she must only set up on Friday and Saturday nights I quietly cursed), knowing that I had been thinking about that dark chocolate pistachio and cranberry creation for half the day. I asked for directions from a local cafe to two different locations and was told it was a 25 minute walk.
The backpack was heavy with camera lenses and a fabulous set of hand-painted coasters I picked up with a local artist along the way, yet I was in it for the haul, so re-adjusted my bag and foot bandaids (necessary for any Europe trip where you're wearing sandals and plan to do a lot of walking) and began my journey towards my Hungarian bistro on the other side of town.
And then I heard it. Clapping. Voices. Cello. Violin. The violin...ahhh, it purred. This was no ordinary violinist, something I could tell from four blocks away. I was told to scout down Lakatos and hear him play if he was in town for a performance but little did I know that I'd get a surprise I hadn't anticipated: Zoltan Maga accompanied by the Vac Symphony Orchestra, playing outside the Szent Istvan Bazilika, a church named for Saint Stephen I, the first King of Hungary.
Imagine the scene: a gorgeous, ancient white-stoned church named after a Hungarian King on a warm summer night.
The moon was out, glistening over hundreds of people sitting outside, sprawled on chairs and the ground while an orchestra of cellos, violins, tubas, saxophones and clarinets played. Zoltan Maga's passion was addictive as his talent for the violin led the way, together with the conductor and nothing -- I mean nothing -- could have distracted you from the two hours of musical joy.
What I failed to remember is the influence of Austrian music greats at the time when Hungary used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Because of that, people appreciate classical music and embrace it. The country combines composers (Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn) coming from Austria/Germany with strong Hungarian folk and gypsy blends.
AND, Hungary has its own greats, the most famous being Liszt, followed by Bartok, two of the all-time greats. Kodaly is probably next followed by Kurtag and Ligeti, who are two of the most prominent classical composers from the last 60 years -- both Hungarian.
To top it off, they have an amazing number of top-rank conductors: Ormandy, Szell, Dorati, Solti, Reiner, Kertesz, and Fischer. And then there's their pianists: Kocsis, Schiff, Fricsay.
Crikey, it's no wonder I felt like ten, that the world has endless possibilities and that incredible talent was following me around the city all day -- and night.
Thanks Budapest for the incredible memories and the musical talent, all of which was infused with so much passion and commitment that it made me dream of practicing piano again and the idea of searching for a saxophone teacher as soon I got home.
Below, Zoltan Krulik and the Makam Band!
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