A Slightly Non-Linear Autobiographical Essay
The following text was made with the kind of cut-up technique based on some interviews, comments or writings I gave or wrote in the past. As I did this kind of job many times for different journalists, concert organizers, publishers or simply people interested in my work, I tried to chose for this occasion all the information for which I was asked most pertinently, allowing with this – hopefully - the possibility for everyone to find the answer for all the potential questions (and possible sub-questions) people usually search in Curriculum Vitae.
I was born on the 7th of April 1963 – it was the Easter Sunday - in the city of Novi Sad, exactly on midnight: the latter fact probably developed my serious insomniac character. On the very same day, my native country was renamed to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (the name it held until its disintegration), so we bore on the same day. Twenty-eight years later that country cancelled itself and ceased to exist – believe me, it is a quite
strange feeling to be the one who was born in a todays non-existing country.
Novi Sad - (Ujvidék in Hungarian, Neusatz in German, Neoplanta was the name of the same place in the Roman Empire), the capital of Vojvodina, now the north part of Serbia - back to the days of Tito’s Yugoslavia (the one with the long name mentioned above), when I saw the lights of this world, stood as an autonomous province. During the history, it was ruled by different states & hegemonies: by the Habsburgs, later on Hungarians (during the late period of the Austro-Hungarian Empire & during the Second World War) & Serbians (during the first 1918-1941, second 1945-1991 and the last 1991- 2000 Yugoslavia). Before The Second World War, the four principal nations were Serbians, Hungarians, Germans and Jews. Throughout the Second World War, Jews were almost all exterminated by German and Hungarian fascists, and at the end of the same war the Germans were partly exterminated by Serbian communists - the rest of the same population left Novi Sad before the final battles. Many Hungarians were severely suffered from the liberators vengeance as well - still, they somehow managed to stay there in a considerable number. It so befell that the next huge exodus of Hungarians happened during the Yugoslavian civil wars in the nineties. All these ethnic permutations are probably best documented in the oeuvre of the late Aleksandar Tišma; the well-known Novi Sad writer, with whom I stood in a close friendship and who deeply influenced my work as well.
Next to this four, one could found many other nationalities as well (Rumanians, Slovaks, Czechs, Russians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Turks, Albanians, Armenians...etc). Novi Sad was always one of the cultural centers in all versions of Yugoslavia and was extremely important for Serbians when Serbia was until the Turkish domination. Then, Novi Sad belonged to the Hungarian Crown and was the cultural centre for the exiled Serbian intelligencia (for that reason they called it the Athens of Serbia).
I am a descendent of an old Novi Sad based family, with a very mixed background but by the time, the family - despite of a very rich ethnical and religious mix - consolidated itself as a Hungarian one. Consequently I was educated in Hungarian schools, quite an unique opportunity for one, to be able to attend a school on the language of a national minority (well, communism had some good points as well, next to this a free education and a helth care system were the other great benefits). Although political hegemonies often imposed and arranged inter ethnical conflicts, I was the lucky one to grow up in a family, which perpetually insisted - from both parental sides - on a national and religious tolerance.
Anton (Antal) Tickmayer, the younger brother of my great grandfather, was a well known architect and interior designer – my great grandfather who often worked with him, had the same profession - who gave many well known architectural compositions to Novi Sad: one of his oeuvres was even rebuilt in 19th century Vienna after his original plans.
In our home, music was omnipresent from my early childhood: as my older sister Edit prepared herself for a pianist career, long lasting piano practices were scheduled for her on everyday basis. There was also some musical background from the parental side as well – my father, although a civil engineer by profession, was a good violin player, who used to give house concerts to the rest of the family accompanied with my sister on the piano. During those concerts, I familiarized myself with classical music at early ages, and among the very first influences, the music of Schubert as well as Schumann was of great importance to me. Later on, some more locally colored music played on piano made an ever-lasting impression on my imagination. These were in particular three piano compositions played (again) by my sister, all of quite similar characters: Allegro Barbaro by Bartók Béla, Slovenska Igra (Slavic Dance) by Josip Slavenski and Tocatta Diatonica by Károly Krombholc who eventually became my occasional piano teacher. The polyrhythmic and polymetric barbaro style, married with some typically Hungarian and Balkan scales, made a huge impact on my imagination.
At the age of seven, I enrolled piano lessons at the local music school. Although a very stern and strict piano teacher, the aforementioned pianist and composer Károly Krombholc – who as a retired professor, occasionally replaced his wife, my regular teacher - gave the first memorable lessons to me. Krombholc was a former student of Paul Weingarten, who was a student of Emil Sauer - a well-known student of Liszt Ferenc – consequently, Krombholc represented a living descendent of the Liszt school. He always pointed out a problem in the slightest detail, isolated the “right virus” and immediately found and applied an effective remedy. That was the old school touch at its best, something I faced much more later during my work with the Kurtágs; something which – unfortunately - is going to disappear from the face of this planet quite soon.
Few years later, I left my studies convinced that music will never interest me again. I prepared myself for a scientific carrier. Before I left my piano studies, I tried to write an opera! Very soon, I discovered that I am incapable to do this job, so I thought that I am not suited for a musician.
My starting point considering musical genres was similar to my starting point with speaking languages. As I’m coming from the mixed background - Hungarian in Ex Yugoslavia - I became a perfect bilingual person from my very early ages - I acquired both in the same time although these languages differ tremendously (Serbo-Croatian – now a divorced couple, each represents a language per se - and Hungarian). It was similar with music. I started to learn piano officially - which means at music school - at the age of seven. I said officially, as in East Europe learning music privately or being a self-thought was never considered nor accepted as a serious and efficent way of aquiring knowledge in music. It is a rather though and rigid system that I hated back to those days, but by the time (especially since I am arrived to the West) I discovered the good aspects of it. Soon after my lessons, I started to play easy pieces for piano four hands with my sister and during those sessions, we tried to play rock music pieces heard on radio. I can still recall the very first rock riff I played with her: it was “The Children of the Revolution” by Marc Bolan’s T.Rex. Next to this, I was enchanted by boogie-woogie piano techniques and had a keen interest in all non-classical piano playing styles. I was still under the age of ten when somebody gave me a record of Oscar Peterson to try it out. As his playing immediately caught me, soon my attention expanded slowly into to world of jazz as well; finally at the age of fourteen - after few years of listening to some progressive rock music - I suddenly re-discovered the world of jazz improvisation, this time with the jazz-rock, which was paradoxically the path that soon led me to free-jazz.
Unexpectedly I casted away the idea to devote my life to science and I decided to continue my music studies as I harshly regretted my abandoned music lessons. Those days as it wasn't possible to continue my piano lessons at the music school because of the rigorous musical education system in Yugoslavia, I switched to the only instrument I was allowed to study, and that was the double bass. I studied contrabass enthusiastically for the next six years – later on, as a composer, I realized the enormous advantage of learning a string instrument next to piano. During those years of studying a new instrument, my attention rapidly moved toward early influences mentioned above to the new music directions: I discovered a free-jazz, the New Polish School, György Ligeti along with minimal music tendencies and some conceptual art ideas as well (quite opposite aesthetics, although for me, back to those days they didn’t look so incompatible). It seems that one bears his artistic visions very early on - even if they aren’t yet structured nor quite clear – later, he just develops and crystallizes his primary imaginations and concepts. Speaking very loosely, my compositions even nowadays can be split in two huge categories: a harsh, complex, often dissonant wild motions or a slow, calm, introspective silent pieces (the composition written for two alto, two tenor saxophones and a piano, written during my studies with Louis Andriessen, was entitled as Wild Motions and Silence).
At the end of seventies Novi Sad got an international jazz festival, which soon became a festival mostly devoted to the new tendencies in jazz. During ten years, names like Art Ensemble of Chicago, Anthony Braxton, Sam Rivers, Archie Shepp, Barre Phillips, Chet Baker, Oregon, Ganelin Trio, Peter Kowald, Charles Gayle, Phil Minton, György Szabados, Dresch Mihaly and alike visited the city. What made this festival unique and important, were the great jam sessions organized every night after the official concerts programs: the last notes of those jam sessions usually faded away with the first morning hours. It was a unique opportunity for domestic young musicians to listen closely and sometimes even to play with all those great names. All of sudden, there was an explosion of the interest for new jazz of any kind among the young generation.
When things got more serious, still in my (late) teenager days I felt under the heavy influence of - what we refer today – post Second World War avant-garde music or music modernism of 50s & 60s (so, after minimalism I travelled backwards in history). The logical counterpoint to this music was a sheer interest in a progressive left wing philosophy, as the so called Frankfurt School (especially Adorno, Horkheimer and Fromm) and overall Ernest Bloch, with great chapters on music in his groundwork entitled “Das Prinzip Hoffnung”. This early and sincere enlightenment with historical modernistic tendencies in music – already anachronistic in those late seventies and early eighties, when post-modern composers gained the terrain on daily basis – quite soon faded away and by time, I definitely casted away the Adornian theory of cognitive character of art and music. In simple terms, even if music has something to do with truth or non-truth, I doubt that I can repeat the disharmony of the world by its own disharmony, and that by its own order can falsify the social order.
I started out as a double bass player. The first serious group I played with was "Ritual Nova" (the first line-up of the group) from Novi Sad directed by saxophone player Boris Kova?. This early formation was an acoustic trio: saxophones, double bass & acoustic guitar played by an extraordinary guitar talent Daniel Stari – from both these non-classical musicians with a substantial experience in jazz and rock music I learned a lot (I was also the youngest member of the group). We played a sort of chamber music based on domestic folklore, filled with lot of improvised parts. Without any doubt that was the first group from Novi Sad that emancipated itself from obliged Western influences, and succeeded to build-up an original music world. Boris brought the folk & some of jazz influences, Daniel integrated his passion for Debussy like harmonies, bossa, classical & rock guitar playing techniques; finally myself, the fascination for free jazz, minimalism & experimental rock music as well as for the experiments of the Polish School of sixties. Unfortunately, this line-up did not last for long time. We tried to expand the horizons and later on added a drummer to the trio line-up, but this ended the group as drums somehow put out all the magic of the trio playing.
Boris was among the very rare personalities who owned a good private recording studio in Yugoslavia, so by time, we continued the mutual work as mostly studio-oriented musicians (using the studio as a creative and not solely as a documentation tool). That was a time when I gained substantial and valuable experiences in the field of studio recording and mixing techniques. This collaboration gave some very interesting results that sound acceptable even today. In general, back to those days, we had to do everything on our own: whether it was building a studio and experiment with the same, organizing a concert and advertising the same, to publish our work in a “samizdat” way, or write and publish our aesthetical and artistic visions or ideas, etc. - we had to do all that job ourselves.
Folk music is another very important source in my and many East European composer’s cases. That music is still a strongly living tradition in many places in East Europe. In some isolated parts of Transylvania, some of them hardly touched by any tendencies of modern civilization, you can still find musicians who play exactly the same music that was played many hundreds years ago, and this has no connection with the nowadays-overwhelming world music mish-mash movement. Due to this “time machine effect” like phenomena we still - I do not know for how long before all that tradition became just a part of the Coke culture as well - have an astonishing opportunity to face the extraordinarily rich tradition that always offers a healthy source to build on something fresh. Music and art in East Europe is something embedded deeply in the tradition of many little nations. In the history of West Europe, one can clearly point out that in many historical periods, art was not much than a noble way of wasting time. Constantly under the danger of Mongolian or later on, Turkish invasions, often faced with the possibility of being annihilated by them, many East European nations considered they culture as an ultimate way of preserving the sign of their existence on this planet. That is the reasons why one can find such a rich folk music, literate and art tradition there, while - with the exception of few countries or regions – the very same folk tradition at West is almost insignificant.
I studied and graduated composition at the "Academy Of Arts" in my hometown under Rudolf Brucci, a Croatian composer who mixed in a very peculiar way dodecaphonic tendencies with folklore heritage of the Balkans. For example Brucci – otherwise a great orchestrator – in the slow movement of his Third Symphony – which is a real musical gem - shows a marvelous knowledge of mixing (in a non-banal manner) folkloristic material with the atonal and dodecaphonic language. In that movement, he also employed a so-called Istrian Scale with its very peculiar dispositions of half tone/tone intervals. The curiosity about this scale is that the ascending notes represents the succession of half and whole tone interval stepwise pattern:
In 1986, still as a student I set up my own ensemble called "Tickmayer Formatio" with the various numbers of musicians (from two up to fifteen – the same was disbanded in 2001). Early compositions for this ensemble as Urban Music or Moments to Delight in the compositional process involved many "controlled improvisation" parts. In the same time, I experimented with spationalisation of the ensemble. Often we had guests from Budapest as sax players Dresch Mihály & Grencsó István, or drummers as Geröly Tamás & Baló István & the double bass player Benko Róbert (all these musicians “grew up” in different formations of György Szabados, the great father figure of Hungarian new improvised music scene). In the same time, I composed music for other ensembles as well as for piano solo - that instrument served me as a laboratory for all my compositions as I develop all my ideas solely on the piano. During those theme, motive or structure gathering sessions I improvise a lot, rationalization comes always later. In 1987 I started, my solo piano activities, and I have to admit that those concerts were among the most successful stage performances of mine.
As I said, compositions for "Formatio" as well as for solo piano projects of that period involved structured improvisation. With this, I always had an intention to incorporate improvised material deeply in composed structures, to efface the borders between two opposite approachment to the musical language (composition/improvisation). For that reason, I often composed the basic structures for the required improvisation (this was necessary for some musicians according to a fact that some of them were only involved in classical music performances). In the same time, compositions I wrote in that period (between '86-'89) for other ensembles and instrumentalists dealt in one hand with partly reduced modal material (as in compositions "Room Music" for three flutes or "Hymns & Rite" for piano) what was my personal investigation in a kind of minimal music area (though these pieces were never considered as minimal compositions). In the same time, I made my first output ofthe "Dance Phenomenology” cycle, entitled as "Intellectual Cabaret" (what was a name for my first group with I never made any performances just few recordings) for chamber orchestra which was the first piece of mine to gain a success both in Yugoslavia & abroad. That was an awarded composition on the "Annual Review of Yugoslav Contemporary Music Festival" in Opatija - today in Croatia - in 1986; it was also published on the Recommended Records Quarterly LP in 1987 and presented at the UNESCO’s International Rostrum of Composers in Paris. The very idea behind this project was a kind of reaction to the omnipresent New Music dogma based on the Adornian „progressive” ideas still present at those days and taught on the conservatory as a sole and only possible truth. The other idea was also a kind of revalorization of the other “sin”, materialized in the so-called B scored music and usually underestimated by the academic circles with the greatest pleasure. However, this fusion did not suggest any banal solutions or simplifications – far from that, the music puts very high demands on performers. It was, and still is just another vision of today’s music where elements of both tradition – the classic and the entreating or lighter one – meet each other in the kind of surrealistic cook book and forge together a possible vision of the music of our time.
Next to my engagement with Formatio, I was active in organizing and playing at the Telep Seassions (Telep – means “settlement” on Hungarian - is a suburb of Novi Sad, in those days heavily populated by Hungarians who left the country in a rather sizeable number during the Yugoslav Civil War(s) period) where we organized improvised music evenings on regular basis. In the same time (that was around 1987) I started to collaborate with the represents of the Budapest improvise scene of eighties (the afore mentioned musicians as Szabados György, and the members of Dresch Quartet and Grencso Kollektiva) so, few improvisers from these formations played with us as well (my aim was to mix up classically trained musicians with improvisers - so scores were much alike this concept: 60% composed & 40% improvised parts). As I played a lot with those musicians in Budapest as well, for a shorter period I partly belonged to scene of that time. Next to Budapest musicians, some well-known free improvisers from West Europe played on Telep sessions as well (e.g. Peter Kowald, Floros Floridis, Phil Minton, Roger Turner, etc.). We had a small but very solid and utterly devoted audience during those concerts, and the whole atmosphere suggested the “the last tango before the apocalypse” kind of preapprehension of social events of that kind (actually, the apocalypse arrived soon).
About the same period, as a member of the editorial of Új Symposium (New Symposium) - a magazine for social questions, art & culture published in ex-Yugoslavia on Hungarian language - and still a student at the Music Academy, with a huge help of Dushan Mihalek, as well as the local television channel (notably the festival was supported by Boros István, a former pop singer) I managed to organize an international festival for new music and performing arts.
A musicologist and the head of the music department of Radio Novi Sad, Dushan Mihalek (who, when the war started in 1991 relocated himself to Israel) was a big supporter and defender of the New Music. He helped me a lot with his advices, articles he wrote about my music, with numerous recording sessions I realized for the Radio Station under his organization and supervision. One of the interesting things about this personality was that he had a very good connection with the Russian avant-guard scene of the Soviet Union. As a head of the music department, he traveled a lot to Soviet Union and made a lot of friendship with Soviet composers. Dushan always brought from these visitings lot of recordings (mainly made by him on concerts) as well as scores with him & organized meetings at his flat, where we were informed about tendencies in USSR (so that is how happened that I heard the music a lot of composers from USSR much before they became real stars here in the West).
The festival bore the title East European Experiences. This was just two years before the fall of the Berlin wall and I wanted to draw together musicians and artists from East Europe who were – more or less - detached from the establishment circles in their respective countries, consequently suffered from very restrain possibilities of producing and presenting their music and art. Without any doubt, they weren’t politically correct in their countries and there was a little fear that this could be understood by authorities as an act of gathering anti communist artists on that festival. This wasn’t a gratuitous assumption but what happened was an unexpected Copenican turn as quite soon, just before the start of the festival, the local cell of the communist party accused me, that with this summit of the East European block (then those countries, with the exception of Yugoslavia, were all members of the Warsaw Treaty) I was trying to restore the spirit of the Stalinist ideology in Yugoslavia! The most disappointing moment behind this story is that the main propounder of those charges against me was also one of my professors on the Music Academy (and an active member of the Party).
Also in 1987, upon the invitation of the Polish composer and pianist Zygmunt Krauze, I spent a month in Poland, participated on the summer courses for young composers, and received a scholarship from the Polish Section of ISCM. Two years later, I enrolled my postgraduate studies in composition with Louis Andriessen & Diderick Wagenaar at The Royal Conservatory in Den Haag. At the Rotterdam Conservatory I also attended lecturers of Witlod Lutoslawski – I was really satisfied to being able to attend courses given by the composer I admired so much and whose music made a huge impact on me during my formative years.
Louis was a very interesting and inspiring teacher with the huge knowledge and much more indulgent regarding non-classical elements in the classical composition, as in his career he experienced much variety of “underground” styles (as the jazz music, very much developed in Holland) or minimalism he played with his ensemble De Volharding. His left wing political engagement was quite understandable for me (if I would be born in England I would be probably involved into Marxism or Communism as Cardew did), although I never shared the slightest enthusiasm for it as I experienced a very different impact of leftist ideology. Consequently, when I showed him some of my earlier works written in the style of East European spiritual quasi-minimalist style, he always rated them as non-acceptable from the ideological point of view, as they reflected “a very bourgeois ideology”. His idea of that time was a kind of minimal music based on much more harsh and dissonant harmonies – as opposed the American modal style. Anyway, Louis brought back dissonance into my music (I remember the first thing he asked me was to write short dissonant chorales – some of those I re-used in my later compositions as well). I still consider his composition De Tijd as the masterpiece of the XXth century music. In the same time, during my studies, I had a chance to work with another represent of the so-called Den Haag School, the composer Diderik Wagenaar - a very different nature and kind of teacher with his precise, analytical approach and a huge knowledge of music history. His composition Metrum for symphony orchestra and obbligato saxophone quartet, literally blew me away and still does the same whenever I listen to that truly great piece of music.
During my staying in Holland, I got in touch and played with the late Paul Termos, a wonderful new- jazz saxophonist and very interesting classical composer, and by time made a sincere friendship with him. Through Paul, I learned much about the Holland improvised music scene, as he virtually played with everyone; in the same time, I got in touch with other musicians as with the great tenor saxophone player Peter van Bergen. Unfortunately, Paul left us prematurely in 2003, leaving behind him a huge empty place on the Dutch musical scene.
When in 1988 the nationalists of Milosevic came into power (and that has happened exactly in Novi Sad, people here in West do not know this shameful historical fact. Yes, Milosevic started his nationalistic crusade - on political base - in July 1988 in Novi Sad and in October the same year, he took the power there) everything changed. That was the last year of our jazz festival (symbolically 10th and the last issue, and the second and last contemporary music and arts festival). I have to say that I was amongst the rare people who already predicted a civil war and somehow prepared myself to the exile. My first station was Holland when, during my studies, Josef Nadj invited me to France. Back from Holland, in 1990, I stood another one year in Novi Sad - during that time, I composed the music for the choregraphic piece entitled Comedia Tempio and with my ensemble had a very successful feature programme concert at the Zagreb Biennale, the most important and internationally well-known contemporary music festival of that time. On June 25 in1991, we gave with Formatio our last concert in Novi Sad (since that date I never played nor was invited there), the next day I left Novi Sad for Vienna as we had an invitation with the dance company to the festival in Krems. On the 27th the Yugoslav Army bombed the Ljubljana airport, our flight back was cancelled, and with a small luggage, mostly stuffed with my scores, some basic clothes and some first aid cash in my pockets (in those days I always travelled abroad fully prepared for the exile) I arrived to Paris. Since that time, I am living in France.
In the period of 1990-1997, I worked for Josef Nadj's dance group - with my ensemble we performed my music written for his choreographies. During those intensive tourings I gathered valuable experiences and practical knowledge (the advantage to have an ensemble is that you can check out ideas instantly and don’t have to wait months or even years to hear the real time performance of your work) although during these performances the role of the music passed somehow in the background. That usually happens with choreographic works, even with those where the role of the music is announced as substantial or on equal importance with the dancers, as - quite logically - for the audience, the action of the dancers is far beyond of interest comparing to rather static musicians. One of the rare exceptions to this rule was Chris Cutler who’s attractive visual drumming put somehow on the cold the action of the dancers on the stage, consequently the stage designer insisted that the musicians (Chris and me) should be hidden behind the curtain; otherwise, the attention of the spectators will be cought solely by the drummer’s action.
In all formations I led, next to classically trained musicians I always added at least one person with non-classical background (jazz or rock). This usually worked great as jazz or rock musicians, with their different feel of timing and agogic solutions somehow watered down the stiffness often present in the world of classical performers. I have to underline here that in the eighties the great part of new jazz players in Europe had a keen interest to participate in new music experiments. With the appearance of the neo-bop movement, most of them turned their back to any kind of experiments and stepped back into neo -swing, bop, cool or whatever spheres. Suddenly, I founded out that in the meantime rock musicians became very literate and technically speaking moved much forward. When Chris Cutler proposed me - around the mid-nineties - to write a music for a conceptual album with his lyrics based on scientific topics, I decided to melt in some of my classical pieces in the texture of the Science Group material. For example, pieces as Napoleon, Chimera and Aleph Zero are based on the different parts of my already mentioned composition Wild Motion and Silence composed back in 1989. When I started to work on rearrangements, I had few doubts about the idea, but when I heard the result, I started to believe that my serious stuff actually sounds much better in the rock medium. A real Copernican turn for somebody who never played in a rock group (I played a lot of improvised and experimental music but never in a rock band). Otherwise, I was amazed by the input of all the musicians participated on that release (Denio, Cutler, Frith, Drake, Puntin ) – I think each of them did a great work and without it, that CD would sound much more flat. The work of Bob Drake was a real miracle as he arranged to learn all those very complicated parts by heart, only by listening to the MIDI previews I made, as he could not reed any music at all!
Questioned often about the genre of music I write (especially after my entrance with compositions for The Science Group to the avant-garde rock or whatever called area) I always tried to get a rid of those fruitless discussions. Since long time, I do feel that commercial aspects mostly drive the question and debates about genre (even in the field of most experimental genres, as in Western societies you have to sell everything: I sell, therefore I exist). Unfortunately, I still do think about genre and the act of getting rid of that undesirable process became for me an action of serious discipline. You know, if you are in Europe and especially if you studied music during twelve years in institutions as classical music conservatories Bach, Mozart and Beethoven are all the time behind your back, they watch carefully every movement of your pen, and you unconsciously always pay attention to the tradition, as you have to stay “in a line”. In my opinion, the self-consciousness about genre is truly undesirable as it generates the omnipresent wrong way of thinking in the music styles - put this on that shelf - categories when the high art and B rated distinctions emerges easily.
Here and there, I still hear voices of the “ars inveniendi” simple minded partisans, with the obligatory and common place remark: that was John Doe who did it first. So what? Music is not about inventing technology or scientific concepts but inventing music helped out by technology and sometimes inspired by some of the scientific concepts as well (but great scientific concepts don’t necessarily generates great art – an other very common avant-guardistic misleading concept). Bach employed among the first the well tempered system; does this means that all the other composers who came after him should be degenerated to the lower level of originality, just because Bach already did it? This neglectful way of thinking and presenting things is the very result of the fast food like education with enormous holes implanted, where everything to be closed to the nearest neighborhood. The tendencies of the Popper’s “open society” generate an extra closed, limited society.
It’s not very difficult to write in a difficult manner but what is really difficult is to make complex texture sounding comprehensible and acceptable. This is where the post II.W.W. high culture sucks – the antagonism between thinking (brain) and singing (heart), where - with the pretext of being serious equals with being complex - the brain wins always over the emotions. This is also where popular culture sucks as well – cheap emotions exclude any intellectual reflection and efforts. I always tried to take the best from the both world and in the same time wasn’t much impressed by the fact who was the first. I never thought the first is necessarily the best. I do prefer the not pioneers with some content to pioneers without any content, full with l’art pour l’art-istic news.
”The truth is that real music is never “difficult”. That is merely an umbrella term that is used to hide the poverty of bad music. There is only one kind of music: music whose claim to existence is justified by what it actually is, whether it is just another piece in waltz time (for example, the music of the café-concert) or whether it takes the imposing form of the symphony. Why do we not admit that, of these two cases, it is very often the waltz that is in better taste”
About the same time, I got an unattended opportunity to work with György and Marta Kurtág – actually with the trombone player Erika Bereczki we wanted to give the world premiere Six Pieces for Trombone and Piano written and dedicated to her back in the seventies (that actually happened in 1997 at the old Icebreker venue in Amsterdam). The composition were not published yet, and we rehearsed and played it right from the manuscript. I shall never forget the first repetition we had with Kurtags in Paris: I was the black sheep and not without reason. Although classically raised, my technique and touch was deeply changed with my improvisation endeavors and severely altered, as I didn’t play any classic music for a long period. I was sandwiched between Márta who supervised my hand positions, constantly corrected me, and gave great advices (later on, I had a lot of use of those tips) meanwhile Kurtág relentlessly insisted on every possible detail of the performance: volume, phrasing, tempo and agogic.
Useless to say I could never go on more than few seconds. Finally, to be able to reproduce a short phrase, Kurtág asked me to stand up and to bark that very phrase. That was probably for the first and last time in my life that I was seriously barking during a rehearsal. The result was apparently very successful, as Kurtag concluded that my barking was an excellent one. Kurtágs taught me how to play a good piano and pianissimo dynamics on the instrument – those were the greatest and toughest piano lessons I ever received in my life.
All this happened in the middle of on of my crisis period – yes we all have them. If one never doubted the work he or she had done, he or she is in a deep trouble, for sure. I sincerely started to questioning all my work, so I asked Kurtág for a rendez-vous and waited almost a year to get it: I needed somebody’s sincere opinion about my compositional work as I wasn’t far to abandon everything (I even enrolled computer programming studies and slowly prepared myself for a change of profession). Kurtág and Márta were not enthusiastic about everything I showed them, but few scores of mine seriously drew their attention and from that moment, I was sincerely encouraged by them to continue on the path I chose. I always got extraordinarily useful feedbacks from them – they always turned my attention to all those “minor” things sometimes overlooked during the composition process. Those “minor things” if fixed in a right way, will certainly give great results.
I remember clearly the very first time when I played my Hymns and Rite I wrote for a solo piano. My professor of composition and the other professors on the conservatory really disliked it for its “minimalist” character and soft harmonies. A real paradox if we take into consideration how many problems had earlier generations with introducing dissonances in their work, as consonant harmonies were required and allowed. So, when dodecaphony, serialism and aleatorics became obsolete, at the conservatories writing peaceful and consonant (or modal in my case) pieces were characterized as the devil’s business. What a turn! The only person who encouraged me was my former professor of counterpoint from the high school Ilija Vrsajkov – a remarkable personality and intellectual to whom I owe a lot. He was the one who drew my attention to an outstanding violin player called Gidon Kremer. He was his fervent admirer and he translated me a lot of information concerning Kremer's career, as he was subscribed to some German classical music magazine (I do not really recall which one). One day – it was in 1981 or 1982 I cannot really recall the exact year – he told me the news that Gidon established a chamber music festival in some little village in Austria, (you guess, it is Lockenhaus) and told me the story about the openness omnipresent at those festival sessions. He was delighted with the idea behind it, and often listed me the names of the participants with great enthusiasm and usually concluded with the phrase “that’s something we can only dream of”. Unfortunately, he died three years before I got my first residency invitation from Gidon – I can imagine how delighted and proud he would be – just as I was when I got my first invitation to the Lockenhaus festival in 2003.
As I mentioned above, there was another very important source for me about the underground new music life of Soviet Union, in the personality of a gifted musicologist from my hometown Dushan Mihalek. Back to those days, he obtained easily financial support from the government for his musicologist trips to USSR – as nobody asked for that kind of support: everybody were trying to travel to West. From those frequent journeys he always came back with lot of scores (often only photocopies as the interesting things were rarely published) tape recordings and other useful information. A little circle of devoted people gathered at his apartment, there he informed us what is going on in the avant-guard underground behind the iron curtain. That is how we knew much earlier (I guess) about many composers and their oeuvre than people here in West. During those conversations, the name of Gidon Kremer occurred often. It wasn’t really difficult to conclude that he was the only one “huge” name from the classical music arena (and sincerely I think he still is) who really cared for new music tendencies, always searched after new names (often found completely unknown composers), supported many of them as well as introduced them to the big auditorium. He really did an amazing work –it occurs to me, that his behavior inspired also some younger well-known musicians, and that is trully great.
During all my Lockenhaus staying, I met many great musicians and with some of them stood in close contact – as it is the case with some of the Kremerata Baltica players or the great Keller Quartet, who already world premiered two of my string quartets. András Keller the leader of the quartet in the meantime started to build a very successful career as a conductor, and up to date he premiered one of my orchestral piece as well as some other chamber music compositions as a solist. There is a great and creative atmosphere at that festival where very different kind of music and repertoire stands next to each other without a slightest problem.
Today I slowly continue my way further into the journey I started some twenty-five years ago – I certainly made many mistakes and consequently often wasted a valuable time (oh my Lord, but time is money – yes I know) but ifI would have to start over the whole story, I would certainly did it in an exact way. The way I learned music and life (and I can’t separate those two) is an invaluable experience for me, and despite many problems I encountered during my real life adventures – or may be thanks to them - I learned my lesson well.