Performance Wednesday, February 22, 2012 | 7:30 PM



Zankel Hall
Artist-in-residence András Schiff joins Muzsikás—perhaps the world’s most admired Hungarian folk-music ensemble and the first group to popularize their country’s traditional music.


  • Muzsikás
  • Mihály Sipos, Violin
  • László Porteleki, Violin, Koboz, and Tambura
  • Péter Éri, Viola, Kontra, Mandolin, and Flutes
  • Dániel Hamar, Contrabass, Gardon, and Turkish Drum
  • Mária Petrás, Guest Vocalist


  • András Schiff, Piano


  • Muzsikás

    Muzsikás, with a career that spans nearly 40 years, is the most renowned and popular Hungarian folk-music ensemble in its home country and throughout the world. Due to its distinctive musical skills, instrumental knowledge, and musical versatility, it has collaborated with noted musicians and ensembles, from folk and world music to classical, jazz, and alternative rock. Muzsikás has toured to nearly every European country, North America, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan. Its performances at famed festivals and prestigious concert halls include the Royal Festival Hall, Barbican Centre, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Théâtre de la Ville, Cité de la musique, Rome's Santa Cecilia Academy, and Amsterdam's Concertgebouw.

    As the first Hungarian folk ensemble acknowledged by the classical-music world, Muzsikás combines traditional music with the classical compositions of Bartók, Kodály, Kurtág, and Ligeti. The group's efforts to blend 20th-century Hungarian classical and traditional Hungarian folk music have saved the heritage of Béla Bartók, the greatest Hungarian composer and collector of traditional music, for future generations. Its musical collaborators include soloists, string quartets, choirs, symphonic orchestras, and folk musicians and ensembles. Its longtime partner was the female folk vocalistMárta Sebestyén. Muzsikás's music appears in Oscar-winning director Costa-Gavras's Music Box, the film that also received first prize at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1989, and in Dancing Room, a contemporary dance piece that was performed in England and filmed by the BBC. Among its various prizes, Muzsikás was honored with the Kossuth Prize (the most respected Hungarian State award for artists), the Prima Primissima Award, and the 2008 WOMEX Award for World Music.

    Muzsikás takes its name from the word given to musicians playing traditional folk music in Hungarian villages. Its performances transport audiences back to the remote Hungarian village atmosphere where traditions survived through the centuries. Members of the group play and improvise in the style of the old traditional Hungarian folk bands in which the solo violin and song typically were accompanied by the three-stringed viola and the contrabass. Its traditional arrangements of authentic Hungarian folk music are typical of the best village musicians. Its folk music of Hungary is composed of beautiful melodies that Bartók considered to be equal with the greatest works of music.

    Mihály Sipos, born in 1948 in Budapest, grew up in a musical environment. His paternal ancestors were shepherds; his grandmother knew old songs and dances. His maternal grandfather was a great singer and lover of classical music, who also provided the young Sipos with his first violin. Sipos's mother learned piano at the Liszt Academy of Music. He became a pupil at one of the famous music schools established by Zoltán Kodály, where he started to play the violin at the age of seven. He studied the classical violin for 11 years. Involved in traditional music since 1972, he founded Muzsikás in 1973 with his friends Dániel Hamar and Sándor Csoóri, and became the primás (first violinist) of the band. He is the artistic director of most of the ensemble's concerts and recordings, and is the coordinator between Muzsikás and guest classical musicians.

    László Porteleki, born in Budapest, grew up in the little Transdanubian village of Ozora, where his grandfather was a village musician playing citera (zither). As a child, Porteleki learned the citera and played together with his grandfather at different village feasts. When he was 12, his family moved to Budapest, where he started learning the classical violin. He regularly visited the Muzsikás tanchez (dance house) and became interested in traditional music. He formed his first group in 1975 and a year later founded the folk ensemble Téka, where he was the violinist and the solo singer. Téka recorded four albums and became one of the most popular tanchaz clubs in Budapest. Porteleki collected folk music for the Academy of Science of Hungary and played together with the local folk musicians, whom he regards as his musical masters. He left Téka in 1991 and became a musician in the Honvéd Art Ensemble. In 1996, he joined Muzsikás.

    Péter Éri, born in 1953 in Budapest, won the first prize of a dance competition at the age of 10 with the Lads's Dance of Kalotaszeg, accompanied by his schoolmate András Schiff. His stepfather Dr. György Martin, the famous ethnographer, brought the young Éri on trips in which he collected the Hungarian traditional dances and instrumental music; it was on these trips that Éri made his first connections with living musical and dance traditions. When Éri was 14, he became a dancer with the Bartók Dance Ensemble, where he was active for six years. He became the bass player of the first Hungarian revival band, the Sebő Group, which featured Márta Sebestyén as its singer. When Muzsikás was formed in 1973, Éri became the guest musician of the band; in 1978, he became a member. Éri graduated from the Eötvös University of Budapest as an ethnographer and philologist of Romanian language and literature.

    Dániel Hamar, born in 1951 in Budapest, began playing the piano when he was seven and took up the classical bass at 15. He became a member of the Symphony Orchestra of St. Stephan Grammar School; although this orchestra was considered to be an amateur one, the best Hungarian soloists and conductors performed with it, and many of its young musicians became professionals. Hamar started to play traditional Hungarian music when he was 22. He visited remote Hungarian villages to learn the old techniques of playing, and established Muzsikás with his friends Sándor Csoóri and Mihály Sipos in 1973. He is the spokesman for Muzsikás and the official leader of the band. Hamar graduated as a geophysicist from the Eötvös University in 1974 and earned a Ph.D. in 1994. He is a senior research fellow at the Space Research Group of Eötvös University.

    Mária Petrás was born in a small Csángó Hungarian village of Diószén in Romania, in the region of Moldavia. She spent her early childhood there, before moving to the village of Klézse. She grew up in an undisturbed, natural surrounding, where she learned all the traditional songs, ballads, and Gregorian songs of the Latin-language mass of the Csángós. Her way of singing is an extraordinary example of the rich, colorful style of the best village singers that captivated folklorists and musicians, including Béla Bartók. Today, she is regarded as a master of the Hungarian folk revival. Since 1990, she has lived in Hungary, where she graduated as a ceramicist and sculptor. Her works regularly appear in famous European art exhibitions. As a singer, she performs as a soloist or with music groups such as Muzsikás, with which she performed in Hungary, Belgium, France, Holland, Japan, and recently in the UK during the Infernal Dance concert series organized by London's Philharmonia Orchestra.

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  • András Schiff

    András Schiff was born in Budapest and started taking piano lessons at the age of five with Elisabeth Vadász. He continued musical studies at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music with professors Pál Kadosa, György Kurtág, and Ferenc Rados, and in London with George Malcolm. Recitals and special cycles (including the major keyboard works of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, and Bartók) form an important part of his activities. Between 2004 and 2009, he performed complete cycles of the Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas in 20 cities throughout the United States and Europe, a project recorded live in the Tonhalle Zurich and released in eight volumes for ECM New Series.

    This season, Mr. Schiff was named a Perspectives artist by Carnegie Hall, where he performs in a series of concerts that focus on Bartók and the legacy the composer left on their native Hungary. Unique to this series are the many colleagues who join Mr. Schiff during the 12 concerts included in his Perspectives-most of whom he has known since childhood. Additional North American performances take place in Philadelphia, Princeton, Vancouver, Toronto, Berkeley, Boulder, Napa, and Washington, DC.

    In 1999, Mr. Schiff created his own chamber orchestra, Cappella Andrea Barca, which consists of international soloists, chamber musicians, and close friends. He also works every year with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. From 1989 until 1998, he was artistic director of Musiktage Mondsee, a chamber music festival near Salzburg, and in 1995, he founded the Ittinger Pfingstkonzerte with Heinz Holliger in Kartause Ittingen, Switzerland. In 1998, Mr. Schiff started a similar series, entitled Homage to Palladio at the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza. From 2004 to 2007, he was artist-in-residence of the Kunstfest Weimar, and in 2007-2008 was pianist-in-residence of the Berliner Philharmoniker.

    Mr. Schiff has established a prolific discography, including recordings for London/Decca (1981-1994), Teldec (1994-1997), and since 1997, ECM New Series. He has received several international recording awards, including two Grammys.

    Mr. Schiff has been awarded numerous prizes, including Zwickau's Robert Schumann Prize, Italy's Premio della critica musicale Franco Abbiati, the Klavier-Festival Ruhr Prize, the Wigmore Medal, and the Royal Academy of Music Bach Prize; in 2006, he was named an Honorary Member of the Beethoven House in Bonn. Also in 2006, Mr. Schiff and the music publisher G. Henle Verlag began collaborating on Mozart and Bach editions. To date, both volumes of Bach's Well-Tempered Klavier were edited in the Henle original text with fingerings by Mr. Schiff.

    Mr. Schiff has been made an honorary professor by the conservatories in Budapest, Detmold, and Munich, and a special supernumerary fellow of Balliol College in Oxford. He is married to violinist Yuuko Shiokawa.

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"Eddig Vendég"

The Program

The origin of this program dates back to the Aspen Music Festival in 2001, when the idea of a joint concert of Muzsikás playing traditional music and classical musicians playing compositions by Bartók, the great Hungarian composer, was first suggested by renowned musicologist Joseph Horowitz. This innovative concert with the Takács Quartet went on to be presented at numerous venues throughout the US, including Carnegie Hall, and Europe. Meanwhile, several similar collaborations between Muzsikás and pianists, violinists, chamber ensembles, and large orchestras were born with Alexander Balanescu, Jenő Jandó, the London Sinfonietta, and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. These programs were designed to combine works of Bartók with traditional folk music to create a new musical experience. During these concerts, the Muzsikás folk ensemble and its classical partner illustrated the strong connections between the compositions of Bartók and rural traditions.

This concert at Carnegie Hall is the first opportunity to see Muzsikás and world-famous pianist András Schiff on the same stage. The friendship between Schiff and Muzsikás member Péter Éri dates back to their childhood, when they were schoolmates between the ages of six and 12.

Some of the strong connections between the rural traditional music and Bartók piano pieces are obvious, such as pieces in For Children and Romanian Folk Dances. But we can also hear the influence of folk music in the abstract compositions of Bartók, as in Out of Doors and Allegro Barbaro. While Bartók created a modern, new musical language of the 20th century, he used melodies, melodic shapes, harmonies, and rhythms that he encountered during his own research and subsequent work transcribing and categorizing the material. Bartók was delighted by the authentic rural village folk music that was seldom heard in big cities. He wrote: In the so-called cultured urban circles, the unbelievably rich treasure of folk music was entirely unknown. No one even suspected that this kind of music existed … The melodies are the embodiment of an artistic perfection of the highest order; in fact, they are models of the way in which a musical idea can be expressed with utmost perfection in terms of brevity of form and simplicity of means.”

This traditional music of the Hungarian territory is the focus of the concert performed by Muzsikás, sometimes using unusual folk instruments, and Mária Petrás, a traditional singer from the Hungarian minority of Moldavia, Romania, known for her highly ornamented vocal presentation of folk songs. During the concert, piano pieces by Bartók will be presented by András Schiff to continue or contrast the musical atmosphere.
Program Notes
Presented by Carnegie Hall in partnership with World Music Institute.

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