“I WOULD BE DOING THE SAME IF I WERE ON A DESERT ISLAND” – AN INTERVIEW WITH ANDRÁS GÁBOR VIRÁGH

How was this ensemble formed?

Studio 5 was formed 5 years ago, and ever since we gave two concerts each year. Traditionally, one of these are always held at the Liszt Academy. This will be the same at the beginning of next March with Solti Hall being used as a location. We always make efforts to create a story around our performances to bring about a unique flavor and make our concert stand out from the pool of contemporary music concerts. This is also backed by a more focused advertising campaign.

Actually your formation has a quite strong media presence with relatively high exposure. How do you manage this?

First of all, we try to submit bids for as many project funds as possible. In addition, Liszt Academy offered to host one of our concerts each year. As far as our so called “external” concerts are concerned, two of such events were sponsored by CAFe Budapest Contemporary Arts Festival. Here we must express our appreciation to Teodora Bán, Director of the festival. We also recruited a press agent and a manager, but it is quite obvious that a project of this scale could not be managed on a self-made basis. To some extent, Studio 5 operates as a business. We have some jointly managed online spreadsheets and we have a conference call each week with all members invited. Normally, we join the event from at least three different foreign countries. Also, we converse with each other almost every day. We are friends and running this project would be rather difficult without such a trust as we discuss a lot of confidential topics within the project.

What kind of confidential topics do you mean?

I mainly refer to the fact that we trust each other with no strings attached. One of us always acts as a project leader with more focused efforts in a given project fund application process, but this role shifts randomly within the team. This time I am the lucky one.

If my information is correct, today’s five members are not the same as the ones who played in the quintet at your first concert.

At the beginning, five of us established this formation with Szabolcs Mátyássy being the fifth member. At the very beginning, in 2016, Máté Bella contacted me to explain that he and some of his fellow musicians, such as Bence Kutrik, Szabolcs Mátyássy and Árpád Solti, would like to organize a Composer’s Night, where pieces composed for no more than 6 musicians would be performed. He asked me if I would be prepared to join them and I happily agreed at once. Finally, this saw giving our first concert in February 2017. Our initial plan already included an ambition to increase the public exposure of the concert instead of submitting ourselves to the so common phenomenon of having just a handful of people turning up at contemporary concerts. We knew each other with Máté from the Music Academy years, where we sat through some of the lectures together. In addition, Máté Bella, Árpád Solti and myself, we had a common master, namely Gyula Fekete from the Liszt Academy, where he is the Vice-President of Research and International Affairs and Head of the Composition Department.

So right from the beginning we wanted to make sure that our concert will not be seen as one of those “usual” ones. We spent weeks trying to find a name for our ensemble, and finally the idea, Studio 5, sprung out from Máté’s head. I also had an acquaintance from the press, namely György Naszály. We shared our ideas with him and he got really
interested and decided to give us full support. Eventually, we could not be happier to see that our first performance, held at Liszt Academy’s Small Hall, became a full-house concert. Now it was clear that we had managed to achieve our initial goal. Although each of us has distinct ideas about music as a whole, we share some main principles that helped us forge a working team in the past two years.


Since then you had some more full-house concerts and now you are attempting to have the same in the Grand Hall of Urania National Film Theatre. It may not be an easy task to manage.

Going forward, we realized that organizing concerts is awfully time consuming, so we decided to hire a project Manager. Now Vera Meczner holds this position, but each of us continues to put a lot of energy into Studio 5. After the first concert, Szabolcs Mátyássy decided to leave us, because he felt he would rather take different roads. This is when we invited Judit Varga to join us. András Batta told me the problem is that the audiences lost their confidence in contemporary music and it is difficult to regain their trust and bring them back to the concert halls.

Has it become a kind of a mission to be accomplished for your team?

We have a lot of discussion about it. This is why we always come up with some extra experience at our concerts to try to reach out to younger generations. The underlying theme of our last concert was “eight seconds”, which is the duration of the echo that you can hear in St. Stephen’s Basilica. But that concert also had an internal cohesive power. Roland Szentpáli played some improvised cadences on the tuba. They were all based on motifs taken from the compositions that had been played at the concert. Each Studio 5 concert has a unique music concept as well as a “peripheral” story that provides a frame for the entire concert. This February, the theme of our concert at Liszt Academy, Solti Hall, was based on string instruments, where the specialty came from the episodes between the different compositions, when Ciao Hua Chang, a Vienna-based oriental musician girl, played on the erhu, a Chinese string instrument.

For the upcoming concert you have chosen a widely known theme as a framework. How did Dani Varró become part of this picture?

Our concert titled “Aki szépen tubáskodik” will be held at the Urania National Film Theatre, and Dani Varró agreed to participate. The title of the concert is a word-play after Dani Varró’s book of poetry titled “Aki szépen butáskodik”. We used some of his poems as a basis to compose corresponding musical pieces for brass wind instruments. They will be played by Szeged Trombone Ensemble, led by György Gyivicsán. This concert will also have an underlying theme. Using musical tones, the five world-premiering pieces are going to depict 5 different parts of a common weekday. Before playing each piece, Dani Varró is going to read out the related poem for the audience. We will also have Adrienn Csepelyi moderating the evening at the concert.

How did you manage to involve Dani Varró? He is known to be a very busy writer.

Yes he is. Moreover, he has a fairly introverted personality, so having him reading out his own poems is even more exciting than the fact he has accepted our invitation. Dani and us have the same manager, Vera Meczner, so it made it easier to contact Dani. Actually, Dani thought our concept was very exciting, so we did not really have to convince him.

In terms of musicality, is it necessary for the members of Studio 5 to try to adapt to each other?

Well, yes and no. Certainly we have nothing to do with what notes the others are using in their compositions, but when it comes to work out a new concept, we have a lot of discussion. Actually, we are very open with each other, but at the same time, we are also critical and express our opinion, which sometime tend to create certain tensions. Perhaps it is this openness that creates the cohesive power to hold us together. Although we have very different personalities, the stimulating power of these differences allow us to come up with some unique brainstorming results.

Now let’s turn to your current professional life. This summer one of your works came very close to becoming a world-wide success. Please share your thoughts on this.

My ensemble composition titled “Metamorphosis for 14 players” was composed for the request of Warsaw Autumn, a renowned international festival of contemporary music, which commemorated its 60th anniversary last year. Actually, this festival is one of Europe’s highest ranked contemporary music event. My composition was concerted on the opening day of the festival. It was an excellent world premiere of Metamorphosis performed by the Cracow-based The New Music Orchestra, conducted by Szymon Bywalec. In the same year, the live recording of the concert was published on CD by POLMIC (Polish Music Information Centre), and as a result of certain referrals, the recording also raised France Musique’s attention. I could not be more surprised to realize that one of France’s leading radio channel had played my Metamorphosis more than fifty times since the beginning of July. It is especially pleasing to know that this piece will be played again at the end of November in Warsaw.

EHas it been your biggest achievement?

Some of mine minor works such as soloist and chamber music pieces received similar attention, but they were not played in the radio so often, especially not by one of the world’s highest ranked classical music radio channel.

You graduated as an organist at the Debrecen University and then you receivedyour second degree at the Composition Department. How did composing music come about?

It is proven that in my family. through my father, we had church musicians and organists five generations down. My grandfather, Endre Virágh, was the first to receive an organist diploma and he was also my first organ teacher. The next was my father, András Virágh, who is also a professional organist and choir master. Although my family could have put pressure on me to start playing the organ, in fact no one has ever forced me to do so. To the contrary, I was warned that I should start dealing with music only if I am really interested in it. My grandfather had a vast amount of scores and I kept playing with them already when I was a child. In my kindergarten age my favorite pastime was to copy the scores. However, the desire to create music has been there with me since an early age. I always felt I should create music similar to what I can hear. I had no idea about what composing music means, but I felt positive discomfort for not being able to create it. I kept writing notes, which eventually grabbed my father’s attention. One of his close acquaintances was István Koloss, composer-organist, who used to be a cathedral organist of St. Stephen’s Basilica for forty-seven years. My father showed him my sketches to get his opinion, and he said it would make sense to deal more seriously with it.

Did you feel that the only way to grasp the craft of music composition is to study it at the Music Academy?


From my very early age I had a strong desire to learn. It is part of my personality and a pattern that I could see at home. I was surrounded by many musicians who kept practicing, because they wanted to improve. In this sense I am a maniac when it comes to self-improvement. It was obvious that I had to be at the Music Academy to grasp the learnable part of this profession. I always asked the heavenly powers to give me the ability to bring the most out of me and to give me good teachers and masters to achieve this. My wishes have been fulfilled at the Liszt Academy. I am sure I would be doing the same If I were on a desert island. If I had no chance to ever leave, I would still writing notes on a palm leaf.

You have been granted one of the highest ranked classical music recognitions, the Erkel Award, at a very young age. Did you get embarrassed?

I knew I had been nominated but was also sure I would not get it after the first nomination, so I was really surprised to hear the positive outcome.

How do you manage when you realize that your peers are envious of your professional achievements?
Of course I cannot completely ignore it, because I am interested in the people around me. So if someone is envy of me, I absolutely understand it, because, conversely, I would probably feel the same way. It’s no secret that sometime I also feel enviousness, but after a few minutes it fades away. I have seen many examples when someone is working really hard, but things will not work out the way they should. This can bite you on the long run. But one should never forget that success is like a balloon: it can go flat in any moment. That is why I think that both professional and personal humility must be employed every day.

Which pipe organ would you call your favorite one in Hungary?

It is definitely the one in St. Stephen’s Basilica.

What compositions are you currently working on?

I am in a fortunate situation that I received requests for new compositions that will keep me busy till the end of 2021. I will be glad to fulfill each of these requests. I would highlight two of them: In 2020, to fulfil his request, Gábor Varga clarinetist will premier my Clarinet Concerto that is to be dedicated to him; Secondly, the German town of Konstanz asked me to compose an organ concerto titled Konstanz Concerto with its debut in 2021.

I enjoy asking each composer the question of how it feels to hear his or her composition for the first time.

Normally I am nervous, because it is like having your first date with a girl. The first personal contact is always different from what you expect. Some things work out better than others. The excitement of experiencing something for the first time is always there at each world premiere. Our concert titled “Aki szépen tubáskodik” will feature five world debuts for the audience at the Urania National Film Theatre on October 7 at 7:30 p.m.

Leadfoto: Zoltán Sebestyén
English translation: László Kiss

Source: kortarsonline.hu

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