Short Album release: 9th of August 2019

It was a quick and short project; took about two months from recording to release.

We have a new venue for recording, finally a really good hall where the acoustics are very nice, absolutely quiet like in a broadcasting studio (I believe it must be a “box-in-box design) and it’s a convenient location. It is actually a concert hall, not very big, all around wood without a huge reverb even without audience. It is a well known venue in this very musical city of Leipzig, – letting you to guess which one.

We didn’t have a lot of time to do this recording session, I was flying to Leipzig from London with the earliest flight, so I was there via Berlin around noon. We took a shared car with all the equipment and instruments to the place and after setting all up we started recording mid afternoon. It went all good, we could do Saint Saëns Rondo Capriccioso, Tchaikovsky Meditation and Glasunov Grand Adagio in a few hours, leaving a bit of energy still for couple of Puccinis and a Carmen Habanera.

I did the editing then back in London, unfortunately in a room without any preferable acoustic and without monitors, only with a pair of AKG headphones. The final mix was a bit “harp-heavy”, after letting others to listen, I was confident to make the balance correct. Thank to my processors with often used settings, I could finish the recordings without any further problems and delays.

The only thing that was missing was the artwork for the release. After a lovely visit with relatives in Budapest I stoped over in Leipzig again and we managed to get some really nice pictures with a local photograph.

The very last obstacle was also solved, after recycling my beloved old computer with Photoshop on it, I had to get a new Photo editing software, so today, I could upload the whole project for distribution.

The release date will be the 9th of August 2019, of course on many internet platforms starting with iTunes. 

We are preparing already for the next recording session, Ravel Tzigane, Rachmaninov Elegie and more Carmen and Puccini’s are coming.

Recording Bartók’s Sonata for Solo Violin

As planned, we had a two days audio recording session with simultaneous video recording for the Sonata for Solo Violin by Bartók.

It was in a marvellous old building, now owned by a boarding school near London, just few miles from the Gatwick airport. Luckily, there is no noise pollution from the airport (and anything else) since it is south of the airfield, not allowing airplanes to fly over there. It is actually in the middle of a huge golf course, having no highways or even roads nearby at all. It was the winter semester break at the school, so without the kids it was the most silent environment one can wish for. 

After the unhappy ending of the audio/video recordings, I was listening to all the sound files. Unfortunately, as I expected, there were a lots of unwanted noises and even much worse, sections with completely different acoustic characteristics. As they were trying to get close shots of me playing, the cameras came very often way too close to me, covering the acoustic field of the microphones. 

Because we didn’t have much time, two days, both with set up and “set down” times, so I couldn’t spend much more than an hour for each movement. Well, also because of the technical demand of the piece, like the second movement Fugue, it is almost impossible to play it more than 3-4 times in a row without collapsing after. So the takes of each movements were actually not very long, couple of full length, main sections a few times and some small corrections. 

I started with the second movement, Fuga. As the most technically difficult movement, I was perhaps mostly prepared and I wanted to avoid making small takes, like I did when I first recorded it about 30 years ago. It was a wonderful experience, playing it absolutely free, without fear of mistakes, knowing that I am well prepared and have a wonderful idea of this extreme complex music. Of course, I’ve got tired after a short while but it was pleasing how the progress was noticeable.

After a short break I continued with the beautiful third movement, Melodia, maybe my favoured one of all. 

We made some changes of the video lighting but basically it was the same spot light just in a bit different angle.

I played three times without interruption through and did a few takes of each sections. This beautiful music made me absolutely calm and I was pleased that there were not too much movement from the cameras. However, no matter how carefully they moved, there were many disturbing noises, even sudden knocks of the floor just because of some small movement even by my self while playing.

About in the middle of this movement came in the schoolmaster. As he was excited about this project very much, I can imagine how curious he was to see and hear our work. It was a bit of a disruption but I was happy that he came and how very interested he was to see how such recording is being done.

I arrived on the second day much earlier than the video people. I wanted to check what we did the day before, the sound, and generally if it was all in order.

By the time we were ready to record it was almost midday, I warmed up already several times when finally they were ready with the video equipment.

With cold hands, because the heating was turned off for the semester break in the school, I was preparing to start with the last movement, Presto, as we agreed the day before on. Unfortunately, there must have been some misunderstanding, I believe the film director wanted to start with the first movement and ignored my wish of doing the last movement first, so the setup took long  to change. I couldn’t understand why was it a problem for her to understand that this was an audio recording with video “in the background” and not the other way around. Means, it was only my decision to choose the order of the recording. However, after some minutes of arguing and changing the lighting we were going on with the last movement.

After a while I could get my fingers warm again, as mentioned before it was getting more and more cold, well, it was the beginning of February after all. I could manage this movement quite quickly, getting to the  longest, most monumental part of the work, the first movement, Tempo di ciaccona.

The structure of this movement is more like a sonata form, (the title is really only a tempo or “style” indication) divided for three parts, easily manageable for the recording. Unfortunately I did not make at the end another full movement take. That made my life somewhat more difficult at the editing stage, especially because of having more and more noises, probably due to the feeling of being in the finish line, spending less attention for sudden motions. But it was done, I was really happy, and I was looking forward to listen to all the files.

After making the backups, I could listen to it but at the same time I had to prepare for another project that took me away for one week. After coming back I started the editing right the way and was able to finish it in a surprisingly short time. Just couple of days ago are the masters ready, now waiting for the approval for iTunes and other digital distribution sites.

There is also a short video on YouTube, with samples of each movement.

At the beginning of May we have our next recording session with my daughter Katrina (harp) in Germany and there we will make the sync video recording also for the movie about this marvellous work. All in planning yet but we have some great ideas to present this wonderful music for a broad audience.

Timeline of my ‘Bartók project’ – so far…

Being a musician, it is always nice to get people interested in my work especially if this work involves Bartók and I am a Hungarian violinist.

It happened last fall, (2018) when a film director asked me if I would be interested in a documentary film about the Sonata for Solo Violin by Béla Bartók. Of course I was very interested, I’ve played this marvellous music many times, it was part of the Szigeti Competition I won 1st prize back 1979 in Hungary and I made already one recording of it about thirty years ago.

We had some nice meetings with this film director, discussed many things, but we came to the actual sound and video recording just recently, after almost a year of preparation.

After long search I finally did find a nice venue for the recording, in a boarding school where the main hall is an excellent space for sound recordings. We have agreed to do the job at this place, saying that this is a sound recording, but we will do also a video recording in the “background” at the same time, hopefully without disturbing with noises etc. for the audio recording.

Making music video involves lot’s of unforeseen aspects, especially when making “classical” video. That means we have to create the same atmosphere like we would be at a concert hall. This is not an easy task to do, so right at the beginning I was a bit suspicious how it will work out. 

Meanwhile, I was practicing, preparing my gear, visiting the recording venue to plan the setup, arranging a “thank you” concert at the venue and so on.

We had two days for the sessions, of course starting with setup. Not easy doing alone all the work, and after that the playing. As expected, doing sound recording same time with video, is really difficult. Having two persons with cameras moving right next to me while playing, making unwanted noises, covering the sound field of the mics, hitting actually my violin also and being so close to my bow hand that I was afraid to play, had to stop several times.

But the real problem came after the sessions. The wish of the director was me to provide a complete finished wav sound to make it sync with the raw video, and after finishing the video editing it would have been my job to edit the sound. 

Anyone who did ever syncing work knows that the sound has to be edited first, all post work done, and then take with playback the video. In this case, because of the seriousness of the music, I agreed to do it the other way around, in a way that I would sync the edited audio to the  edited video. This way it could work for short periods of time frames, but the director insisted to make also a full version of the sonata with video. Obviously, this seemed to me absolutely impossible, unless we would have used the unedited audio. Even if you don’t know this Bartók music you can imagine that this is clearly impossible.

After I explained my thoughts about this mater to the director, this was the answer: (copy/paste from email)

“I have analysed the whole situation that we went through together so far and I decided that I don’t want to continue working with you. We are very different people and we need very different things.”

I was shocked! How can someone drop a project with so much efforts behind, just because we are supposedly different? What kind of reason is this for ceasing something being involved many people, money, time, work already, with a simple childish reason, without any discussion, any effort to make things work, or at least to try to understand my point of view as sound engineer.

I made several very polite attempts to discuss matters; here some of the correspondence: (also copy/paste from emails)

part of my email:

“I understand. My problem is following:

if I give you let’s say “final quality” sound files they would have to be 16/44.1 stereo wav files. those then you could sync with video and would send me back for editing. Unfortunately, this is no solution for me. I’ve recorded multichannel, I had five mics, so five tracks, and I have to edit those five tracks before making the final versions, means my raw files are 24/48.00, so I have to come down, make it stereo, dithering, effects etc etc. Simple said, all editing has to be done before finalizing.

Maybe your suggestion to do it is a standard procedure in general, but this time we are making a video about music, and that means to me, I cannot make any compromise or workaround where sound is getting secondary importance.

Well, I knew, this is not an easy thing to do, usually we sync mostly in pop music, (I’m sure you know that) so that we make first a complete edited and finalized sound version, and then we make the video with the edited version’s playback, so we hear and play with the playback. That way we are always together in sync, but of course without the original emotions. This is good for pop, and I know, it’s not for us. Unfortunately this is the only way to do how we did, I know too, so I am trying to figure out how could we do it so that we both are happy at the end.

So, I thought that if you know exactly how long my takes are each movement, so you could identify with timings and let me know each edit from where did you take.

Also, if you would give me after video editing the edited video, I could make the sound files here, knowing which take where etc., with the highest accuracy, using a simple soft that I used many times successful.

Perhaps you know also that sound editing is completely different from video editing. We have to take out of course all mistakes and noises possible, some times note by note, making sure we keep the musical flow all over…”

answer:

“I do not see any ‘unforeseen technical problems’.  

There is nothing that we can further discuss.”

After putting several other names (being involved) in the cc, in this email I was a bit more direct:

part of my email:

“Well, OK, as you like, we don’t have to discuss anything but in that case I have some words for you.

Naturally, you have the right to cancel a project, however not without any consequences! 

Since you have cancelled the project without any explanation or notice, I have to ask you to cover all expenses we had to make. There were many hours of preparation,…

…As I was planning the sound recording alone, it was a big compromise to have you on location, very distracting, worrying while playing whether the bow would be thrown out of my hand, or the scroll of the violin knocked by a camera. Also, noises such as your breathing close to the mics was extremely bothersome, I am probably unable to use the sound recording as it is because there are not enough takes to cover everything…

…As it seemed, you have never realized that in this situation your role as director is different than in a usual setting. You had an artist instead of an actor. Even this artist was also the sound engineer. It would have been your homework to understand the situation and accept any questions to discuss while or after the sessions.

It was quite unclear to me that you didn’t want to understand why I wanted to play in a certain angle to the room and that you didn’t even hear me saying that I wanted to start on the second day with last movement. Well, obviously you completely forgot that this was a sound recording session where you wanted to be there to take videos…”

answer (to all recipients):

“I’m very sorry if I have disappointed you in some way. Please forgive me any problems that I might have caused by that. 

Thank you very much for all the work you have done for this project.”

Now, I was trying to get the footage, explaining that we had quite a bit of expenses, as a compensation:

part of my email:

“…I still find it is extremely unfortunate that you’ve dropped this project and because I am greatly disappointed  I am trying to find a friendly solution to this matter.

Unfortunately, because there are some real financial elements involved, we must clarify a few things, also because of my involvement as musician and sound engineer. I trust that our mutual agreement doing the project was enough without any written statement or contract, for an honest and fair solution.

As I already mentioned to you, there are some expenses involved. Actually, even with very modest math, I came to a quite high sum, but of course I would prefer to avoid making those demands and come to an amicable agreement…

…Right now only one thing I would like to ask you. Since all the videos were taken with me on them and if you did not erase them yet, I would like to hope that we could agree to at least giving me a copy.”

answer:

“I understand that you would like to use the video recording for yourself. I have not erased it yet from my discs but I’m intending to do it soon. I do not want to work on it myself considering all the situation. However if you are interested in buying the footage the total price would come to 5840 GBP.” 

And as last, I listed our expenses to show that it was more than the price of the footage:

part of my email:

“Up until today, I have not received any indication directly from you, other than getting highly unfriendly emails, for the reason of your sudden breaking off the Bartok project.

I certainly did not do anything that could have been the reason of your decision. Therefore I have to present you the invoice of my/our work…

…Some facts:

The project was your idea, I agreed to do it, whereby I discussed my conditions regarding a sound recording. Any concerns should have been discussed mutually on location.

We were aware of the costs. As the rental of the location was a reciprocal agreement involving a benefit concert, the actual costs of such a concert have been included above.

Cancellation from one side does not eliminate the costs, so the party cancelling must give a valid reason and bear the costs.

It is the duty of the cancelling party to inform the other party of a cause with due notice.

If none of the above are applicable, the canceling party must pay the expenses of the other party…”

answer:

“In this case I’m erasing the footage now. And we will discuss the whole situation with the lawyer. I’m not going to pay you anything. I didn’t do anything wrong despite not willing to work with you.”

At this point it was absolutely clear to me what’s going on.

Already at the recording sessions I had some feelings, (yes, we musicians have some times that funny seventh sense) that they don’t want to do this project with me, they just needed the footage to be able to sell to me after such breaking off and use it indeed in the future.

Erasing digital media is impossible to proof because of the countless possibilities of copying, even after full initialization of a computer.

After this whole story I am contacting a lawyer and I am deeply concerned that they will use the video without my consent, so I would like to ask if any of you would ever run into a video showing me playing Bartók with the initials of M. R. or D. R. as film director, please give me a short message! (I cannot give the name of the director because of legal reason)

Since I will finish this film in another arrangement, there will be a release but only with my name.

Inventory Update of the New Year (2019)

Since end of the summer I have been working mainly on the transcriptions, having more and more difficult time to find new projects. But the ideas are coming, some not so good for the trash can and some really good for more fun.

But before I show you my newest babies, I would like to mention some thoughts I am concerned about.

Well, one of the main concerns is that there are so many internet platforms for anything that I am not sure where to try even to make a bit of advertisement for our music. The problem is that no matter how good or bad our transcriptions are, there is barely a chance that many musicians will find them.

Of course the first reason is that these works are new, so no one knows about them. And here I am in trouble because I have no idea where can I find the right places to reach out to our target audience, namely harpists and violinists.

Facebook is almost the only platform as a social network where we have already quite a lot of harpist colleagues as friends but I am not sure if the other social places would help me much at all. I think Facebook and co. are all for people to show off with what ever they have to show, but they mostly don’t care about the others. Quite natural so, I know, so I would love to find more serious places. Well, I’m working on it!

But my real main concern is actually the harpist community, as it is.

Knowing many personally and hearing the tons of stories about them, I am really not sure about the perspective of a harpist after having finished studying this lovely instrument.

Orchestras have little space for them, many do not even have a harpist position at all. So all of them in orchestra are probably the most lucky ones, hopefully with a tenured contract in a secure orchestra.

But a probably very high number of the remaining harpists live as freelance players. 

That can be really good if you are a great player with some nice social talents, but actually it can be also not so easy if you don’t have the right contacts and have less talent how to “sell yourself”.

But in any ways, what are the freelance jobs for a harpist?

Playing for weddings, all kind of other celebrations, as a “background” musician. And that is all but not necessarily a very pleasing job. Even if you like it, playing all the time the same easy popular pieces, could at one point become very boring, and on other hand not very encouraging. You never learn something new, you play just like a machine, as if it would be almost better to use a recording instead.

What I would like to point out here is that except a few soloist harpists, there are just not enough harpists on the recital stages; harpists as soloists or chamber music partners.

As an enthusiastic musician, if I meet a harpist, one of the first things I am asking their opinion about the sound of the harp with a violin. And the answer is always, oh yes that’s really nice because the two combine so nicely together with their similar character.

Yes, it is a beautiful combination of voices.

I would like to encourage every harpist to ask their violinist friends to play chamber music together. It is a genre that doesn’t have a huge literature, well, we are working on that here for sure. And if you think about the structure of the two instruments, no matter how much is the size difference, it is the combination of lots of wood with mainly gut/nylon strings.

If we have a look at the general chamber music literature, perhaps a very big part was written before the last development of the modern piano. Especially playing the big violin/piano Sonatas, Beethoven, Brahms etc. as a violinist, we have to be really diplomatic and gentle with our partners, how to ask them to try to reduce all dynamics to a medium level to allow our often old nice Italian violins to come through to the listeners.

I don’t remember that I had to use this method to approach a harpist chamber music partner ever because from nature the two sounds are so similar not only in colour but also in dynamic levels.

And here is the time to mention our first new transcription because it was written already in time of the modern pianos, however, what many probably don’t even know, originally it was written for a different kind of piano, the luthéal; Tzigane by Ravel.

Yes, this instrument was hardly ever used, had a smaller sound, similar to the cimbalom. And when he rewrote it for orchestra accompaniment, he used the harp a lot, with those many glissandos too, which was impossible on the piano because of its chromatic system.

It is not easy for the harpist but I think also not more difficult than the piano part for the pianist.

Another gem, much easier technically, is coming very soon, Saint-Saëns Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso.

For both, you’ll need an excellent violinist, but there are thousands of them out there.

More on the lighter side is the Sarasate Zigeunerweisen (Gipsy Airs), where I included some nice additions, knowing, as a Hungarian violinist, how this kind of music is played by the Gipsy musicians; in this case the cimbalom. This officially “national Hungarian instrument” can be played very virtuosic, with many rubato up and down runs and rolled arpeggiandos. I changed the beginning of the middle song, as it is played mostly by the native Roma bands.

Here, I wrote also a kind of preface with some explanations, which I find are useful for the musicians playing the piece to know about.

There are a number of easier pieces music (in all senses and meaning of the word) in preparation, such as some lovely parts from a Glasunov ballet and couple of Debussy Preludes.

I’m just trying to give a nice shape to a Liszt Etude, and Wagners Feuerzauber with original and

Isolde’s Liebestod quartet version, complete with the original harp part.

Back to the roots…

Like every violin student, at least in Hungary, I also had to start learning the Bach Solo Sonatas/Partitas when I was quite young. There was not one day without at least a few minutes of Bach on the practicing list. It was like a daily prayer, actually really cleaning the brain, taking away all the problems of everyday life, showing the path to the pure, naked, simple joy of music. It was not easy to really “practice” Bach for me, often after couple of bars just feeling this magical power, it forced me to play and play without stopping for corrections.

Growing up without access to the first stereo good quality LP’s straight from the record companies, we could listen at least via radio broadcast to the recordings of great violinists of our times, the 60’s, 70’s. If someone was able to get hold of an LP, that went around the circle of friends, so we could make cassette recordings of it, to be able to listen to them at any time. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an LP player, so I looked up the broadcast programs every week, and picked the best music I wanted to listen to, of course mostly late evenings when I had the time for that. At one point, I got an LP player chassis, not knowing that I need an amplifier and speakers too, well, I was just putting my ears very close to the pickup and so could hear it like in an old phone booth, holding the phone at a similar distance to the ear!

The first Bach recordings were on the way, we hardly knew the names because they didn’t come to Hungary to play, however two names, Szeryng and Milstein we learned very quickly. I don’t think Milstein ever came to Hungary, but Szeryng did, it was the greatest experience every time. Especially when he came to the encores, we hoped he would include a Bach movement also.
Much later, I had the chance to listen to Milstein live, in Germany. He played only Bach!

The tendency of having a “mandatory list of recordings” for a young violinist (or any other musician in fact) these days is a bit disappointing to me, having uncounted series also of the Bach solo works, played by more or less known superb violinists with 200% technical perfection, absolutely flawless; somehow so overwhelming that I am not sure any more what or who am I listening to. It used to be so wonderful to try to guess who the player was, by sound, style, character, interpretation, etc.

Actually, I am not sure any more where are we going today. The repertoire of a violinist has all the major concertos, the Bachs, some virtuoso works and maybe a few contemporary works to hide in their programs. Same with orchestras, the concert programs are full of repeated works, and unfortunately there is hardly any contemporary music that is able to survive this mass of “standard” literature.

Anyway, as we made the Bach Chromatische Fantasie and Fugue to work for both, violin and harp, I had the urge to make more like that. I looked through the keyboard works of Bach and picked all that were suitable for transcription. And again I had to realize that Bach was simply the greatest of all! His music is never the same, he has always something more to say, he is showing the way one has to go in his music, we just have to be able to understand and then we have an endless world of musical joy.

To make the transcriptions was not difficult. Perhaps that is the proof of that these works are just as well fit for the violin too. After all, Bach himself made transcriptions of his works as well as those of other composers. I really loved the challenge of having to deal with some new kind of technical achievements, some unusual chords and chord settings, runs also in a bit more unusual way, so I was figuring out the most suitable fingering also and all the notation is completely prepared that way. Back to Szeryng for another moment, his Bach edition of the Solo Sonatas/Patritas is full of “unusual” fingerings and even bowings, at first attempt even strange, but definitely working well, sometimes even tricky, to work around some of the old type of traditional way of doing it.

These Bach keyboard works for solo violin are made for enlarging the Bach-solo violin literature, to make it possible to have a bit more of a choice when programming recitals.