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First Concert at the National Concert Hall, January 8, 2005

2005. 01. 15.

My heart tells me I should devote my report to the celebration, that I should employ grand words to do so, but sadly “I can't find words”. Additionally the entire event seemed to contradict such behaviour. What was most moving about the way this inauguration was organised was its lack of protocol and pathos.

They were working in the hall until 6 o'clock. then at 7 o'clock everything was shipshape as though it had been for years. Every colleague did their job without the usual chaos and hysteria and basically, everything worked. Soon a host of personalities, artists, various prime ministers arrived, in civilian clothes and without fanfare. People walked around the building, stopping here and there to chat. The space was working as perhaps an architect might say. Entering the hall, we could see heads twisting this way and that; others were battling with its mild terrace. And everywhere, snatches of approving conversations. I heard only comments like: “it is much better than I expected”, and “it is not stiff at all” while the youngsters approved of it with their own term of praise: “cool”. I don't want to talk about the building right now, I'll try to do this later during this trial period of operation. Let me just inform our listener of some important details, speaking as a music critic and a city loving, regular concert goer. All I'll say is the most important consideration is its acoustic. When the music struck up, the hall proved itself within a few seconds: I have never heard anything this good in any Budapest concert hall. I went to several points in the hall, and it was true virtually everywhere.

But let us continue with the event itself. There were no protocol speeches, ribbon cutting or anything like that. Judit Petrányi welcomed us concisely in Hungarian and also extremely good English, informing us that this was only a test run and encouraged us to have a look around the house. And with no more ado, the first concert at the new National Concert Hall began. As if they organised this every day.

Of course, Kocsis would not be Kocsis if he had not had a hand in devising the evening's programme and hopefully, the performance as well – “it is not only important where we play but also how” he seemed to be saying. But before all else, I'd like to say something about Zoltán Kocsis, because I now have the opportunity. The continuous change in Kocsis's artistry – we cannot avoid the word – its development, has now reached a point (or at least, this is how we sense it now) where some kind of “change of dimension” has occurred. And – accidental or not – it has coincided with the building of this hall.

I cannot resist returning to his solo piano recital on January 4th. What we heard then – I am brave enough to say it – was a new quality in performance art. I have never encountered this spiritual sphere, have never had to confront anything so moving. It was only at some of Richter's concerts that we could experience something from this world. I do not wish to assert that there weren't great moments at his concerts in earlier decades, but this intensity – this elevated air, to use critic György Kroó's term – could not be breathed. We could talk about the concert of January 4th for hours but we'd rather listen stunned. I'd love to play you an extract but Kocsis did not allow it to be recorded. It makes my heart bleed but I can see that it is best this way. When the unnameable comes forth and shows its face to some of those who just happened to be there, is cannot be recorded. We cannot put this moment of enlightenment into a machine and replay it at will.

But let us return to the January 8th concert: the same thing was heard, the same thing happened as at the Music Academy on the 4th, only this time not with solo piano but orchestra. It is also a statement to all those who have not yet been able to sense that Zoltán Kocsis's quality as a conductor is no different to that of his pianism: in both capacities the same musical gravity is present. From this perspective, the two concerts were indivisible because Kocsis gave us an image of his Mozart playing or rather his concept and also a statement about his musical career, and it is worth talking about this in relation to this concert. Under Kocsis's baton, the same relatively powerful Mozart we hear in his piano playing is heard in the orchestra. The old-new Mozart. For me, this is a new Mozart, as though I have never really heard what is happening in his music before and yet remains so familiar. The continuous experience of “oh of course!”. Where can this derive?

Above all from the structure. In Kocsis's presentation, we can sense that Mozart's is a synthetic form. A structure which is built on the pillars of harmonies, in which the harmonic events adumbrate the ground plan of the building, its cohesive power. It is the temporal delegation of weight that gives it its armature. Melodies, ornaments, rhythms and dynamics are all just additions to this edifice, be it a brief concert aria or a complete symphony. The tone colour or so-called beautiful keyboard playing means nothing, they are worth nothing, and are only interesting from the perspective – like the texture of enveloping materials in a building – of how much they underline the structure or perhaps, contradict it. The choice of tempo, which is the principal hobbyhorse for those who find Kocsis's Mozart alien, is also only a device. No more or no less than, shall we say, the distance from which we must examine the building to see it all at once. Some can see it from closer, others from further. (For me, it is easier if Mozart is an energy bomb, and I find it hard to bear when presented as gossamer finery.) But all this is just the building. The form. Very few performers reach the point where they can show it in its entirety but also in its wealth of details. To enter the building, to be able to say something about life inside, is something only the truly exceptional can achieve.

The unnamable of course turned up in the most unexpected nook in the building, in a side flight of stairs. There he was without ceremony, a faint smile on his lips. Let me quote an example from the solo recital: in the variation movement of the A major sonata (K. 333), after the minor key passage, the simple little tune appears again, with hands crossed, with a great many parallel thirds: we can happily say, it is absolutely banal. It has the tone of a children's song, it is a cheap little cross hand joke, we find here homely warmth and simplicity. In Kocsis's playing, and without any forcing on his part, he opened up a perspective onto the solitude of space; he saw what Mozart saw, we could read and hear from the expression of the music just what this simplicity was floating above. It was an absolutely moving moment.

The concert on the 8th was an organic continuation of this. He continued where he left off the Mozart four days earlier. Of course the many works with soloists proved ideal for an acoustic test, and a concert with so many participants evoked a genre of 19th century “introductory” concerts. But not least it was a statement of intent: we were brave enough to inaugurate this new national concert hall with a synthesis of Mozart. But it was with the quality of the music making that Kocsis imbued the event with true weight.

Barnabás Kelemen, who also joined the orchestra ranks as concert master, also took his place as a soloist and as always, was an adequate partner for Kocsis's musical concept – as one can guess from the above, I cannot bestow greater praise than by using this cliché. Of course there are differences in habits and generation which cannot be avoided but this doesn't make their collaboration disturbing. As a concert master, Barnabás Kelemen undertakes his duties with such élan that he almost betrays more about his relationship with Kocsis than he does as a soloist.

Andrea Rost also took to the stage with three concert arias, among them a unique piece with a piano solo: “Ch'io mi scordi di te”. We must test this hall with many singers, but Andrea Rost's voice sounded beautiful. True, I heard her from behind from the organ loft but her voice came across far better than it does to the same place at the Music Academy. I heard Mozart for the first time from Andrea Rost, when she was still a college student at a small aria recital and for me, it is always a great experience to hear her sing this composer.

Two woodwind players were also able to test the hall. László Gál's horn playing, although some critics felt it was rather out of tune, seemed perfectly fine to me, indeed I truly enjoyed his performance. Anita Szabó's flute tone was very beautiful, the C major Andante for flute and orchestra testified to how accurately the musicians located the sensitive proportions of sonorities and also of its true musical homogeneity. The acoustic of the hall was ideal for this delicate arrangement, and the independence of the flute and its integration with the orchestra was also fine.

At the end of this long concert, we heard the great G minor symphony which is hugely popular but I don't believe I have ever heard it played better. We can analyse fitfully how Mozart's perfect edifice shimmered on this evening above the waters, shall we say. I don't understand a great many thing but how Kocsis never tires and how he seems to have fewer artifices and is yet even more effective by the end of a concert is something that I will ever be able to follow.

In summary, I believe that now on January 8th, we arrived in Europe – in G minor.

János Mácsai
(Hungarian Radio, New Music Magazine, January 15, 2005)

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