Barnabas Kelemen: The fantastic premiere of Nador's Violin Concerto at Carnegie Hall


June 2013


On May 2nd at Carnegie Hall, the American Symphony Orchestra presented a concert titled “Hungary Torn”. They would play works from Jewish composers from Hungary who suffered or died in concentration camp during Second World War.


Someone might expect a dark depressing night oozing pain and incomprehension but at the contrary an irreducible vibrant sparks of beauty and hope was found throughout the concert. This feeling founds its culmination with violinist Barnabas Kelemen world premiering the concerto of Mihály Nádor (1882-1944). The Heifetz style’s performance was just fantastic! It turned to be more ecstatic than any Tchaikovsky, Brahms or Shostakovich I would have heard lately. Euphoric, the audience couldn’t stop applauding after the first movement or the followings. “This reaction is very similar to the Amsterdam Concertgebouw premiere of Bartok’s Second Violin Concerto”, said the violinist proudly after the concert. The next morning, I had the chance to meet Barnabas at the Hungarian Embassy. We discuss the reasons that brought him to Carnegie Hall and we talk about music in general and the Hungarian in particular.


Barnabas Kelemen ended up at Carnegie after receiving the called of violist Peter Barsony a year before. Barsony, also a soloist at the Carnegie Hall concert, made researches and found some forgotten jewelry of the Hungarian music. Leon Bolstein, American Symphony Orchestra’s conductor, an enthusiast and expert of lost works love the idea. Kelemen said he would not take the concert for granted, thinking in its inner self that too good to be true and in the end something might come against the whole thing. The digitalized manuscript of the Nádor Concerto was sent in the fall but the violinist didn’t had time back then to look at the score. Being usually very quick at acquiring new work, he says he was fortunate that he started learning the Nádor early February. It took him a month just to be able to play all the notes in tempo. “It was so difficult, it was quite an adventure!” he exclaims. Nádor was himself violinist and wanted to write a virtuoso concerto, “and it works!” smiled Kelemen. The Hungarian composer wrote the first movement in 1907. He went to perform it as a piece for violin and piano but ultimately had to confess that he couldn’t play it himself and has to canceled the concert. Here one wonders why this concerto so arduous? “It’s a lot of challenges in every ways of the violin playing”, start answering Kelemen, “like other virtuoso concertos it’s fast, it has many notes to play in a short time in left hand and in the right hand. There are virtuoso concertos not so deep musically that when one learns so to say the notes most of the job is done but the Nádor have a lot to say musically and can already be compared to works like the Korngold, Goldmark, Khachaturian or Elgar Violin Concertos.” Time, in music, tells us what is important. I am looking forward to see what place will take this beautiful forgotten work that recalls a little bit Vieuxtemps with something very Beethovenian and a twist of Hubay.


To play Hungarian music, advises Kelemen, especially Bartok or Kodaly in the Hungarian style, one should study the Hungarian language, the general basics of it, listen to the folk songs and to Bartok playing which is an amazing musicological source. Also he suggests to be aware of the Hungarian history. “Be aware of the history to see how much we suffered and we always suffer. If we don’t suffer from outside problems like today, then we suffer from each other but we have to suffer from something”, he says. According to the violinist, together with their very unique language, their depression is what keeps Hungarians thinking how things could be better, and keeps them improving.


When I ask how is the Hungarian music scene today Barnabas Kelemen answers that it’s not better not worst than anywhere around. There is up and there is down but about 8 years ago the Hungarians build the beautiful Palace of Arts in the capital. With its huge concert hall, its big theater and big museum, it is now the home of the National Philharmonic, the National Choir and the music library. Plus next October Budapest will see the opening of the newly renovated Franz Liszt Academy, a building old of over 100 years. According to Kelemen, it will be absolutely stunning. In addition to that, his wife, also a violinist, creates a chamber music festival: the Kaposfest. “It is really going very well!” says Kelemen proudly. And proud he can be! The Kaposfest, which will feature for its 4th edition this summer, violinists Feng Ning and Vilde Frang among other extraordinary musicians, saw Joshua Bell opening the festival on its first year.


Proud of its Hungarian roots, Barnabas Kelemen likes to say however that regarding music he eats everything from early baroque to 21st Century music. For the next he would like to premiere the Nádor Violin Concerto at home in Hungary and eventually to record it. He will play in England, the English premiere of Ryan Wigglesworth Violin Concerto and the Penderecki Violin Concerto. In addition to that, his String Quartet and him will be very active in the next seasons with a six weeks tour in Australia and New Zeeland, tours in Europe, festivals in Ireland, England and Italy. The ensemble will also be in residence at Palace of Arts for the over next season. They have the idea to invite some guest artist like Joshua Bell to play a String Quintet since their second violinist and their violist often exchange roles. Not to mention a project with ballet dancers and the performance of the Ligeti Quartet or even asking a filmmaker to create some visual idea. Outside performing around the globe, Mr. Kelemen is teaching chamber music at the Franz Liszt Academy. He started studying conducting privately in Finland with two great masters and has lately conducted Bartok’s Second Violin Concerto in Romania. In addition to that he is the happy father of a daughter or 10 years old and a son of 5.


I told my grandmother about the concert on the phone. She attended every Queen Elisabeth competition for years and Kelemen, winner of the third prize in 2001, still her very favorite competitor together with Vadim Repin. After keeping silent for a wile she said: “It worth living for moment like that, no?” In fact, it was worth it. Somehow it was what all the concert was about, worth living for great people sharing great music.


Published on on June 2013: