Every concert becomes a special gift these days – says jazz singer Nikoletta Szőke

The New Orleans Swing Festival will start in the Müpa with the most popular Hollywood movie soundtracks from the 1920s to the 1970s on the 28th of August. In the spotlight we will see jazz singer Nikoletta Szőke who, alongside her band, will play with the Dohnányi Orchestra Budafok. They will play hits from Singing in the Rain, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music or Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Guest is Bálint Gájer who has been already performed with Nikoletta Szőke before. Now we talked to her about the concert, but also about her vlog and the current pandemic.

How did you feel during the pandemic with locked down at home and no concerts?

In the beginning I enjoyed it very much, because I had just finished a very busy phase and I needed rest. I was happy to have days without rush, talking at the family lunch and dinner tables, and that I can watch my favourite series until dawn if I wish. But after I had enough rest, but the bad news about the virus still kept coming, it became worse. I was frightened as nobody could say how long this all is going to be. I wasn’t stressed because of the lockdown per se, but more like because I couldn’t plan. I was unmotivated, and it was hard to get over that.

You have recently started your vlog. Why did you start it?

I have been sharing personal stories on my social media sites and at my concerts for quite a while now, whether they are about my professional or my private life. I noticed that people are interested in such things, and an interactive relationship started with them: they asked, commented, came to talk to me. People usually only see that one and a half hour that we spend on stage, but many things happen before and after as well. Because I don’t set the scenes in the vlog, it is a totally reliable account of the many things that I show. Otherwise I’m also a music and movie fan, and also like to check whether my favourite artists have ‘behind the scenes’ vlogs. I like to watch these videos, because it enriches the experience of the final film or song for me. So I decided to do the same.

(c) Richárd Bolfert

You said in an interview that the concert on 28th August will be a highlight of the upcoming times, because you have wanted to play with the Dohnányi Orchestra Budafok for a while.

This concert has been planned for very long, and originally it was supposed to be in the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall, but in the current situation I’m already happy that it happens anywhere, let alone in the Festival Theatre. I have always been dreaming of having a solo concert with a symphonic orchestra, because I love how it sounds. I have already had good experiences with the Dohnányi Orchestra Budafok, I know that they are open to various genres and they are fantastic partners. When I asked conductor Gábor Hollerung about the ‘Golden Age of Hollywood’ idea, he was happy to support me with it. I was their guest at their New Year’s Concert in January, and we gave a little demo, songs from Casablanca and the Cabaret, and it was very successful.

What does the Golden Age of Hollywood mean to you?

This is a very long and exciting age, as the Hollywood of the 20s is pretty much different from the one of the 70s. What is the same: the elegance, and that the films aren’t superficial. Back then, people had more time to engage with the content, the romance, the emotions were flying high. Music also had a rich amount of harmonies and melodies, which I have always liked.

What were your main aspects when creating the repertoire?

There are some iconic songs that simply had to be included, like Over the Rainbow. I paid attention that as many important actors and actresses are there as possible. You can’t really imagine the Golden Age of Hollywood without Audrey Hepburn or Marilyn Monroe. Because this is a concert for the whole night, I wanted to have melancholic and slow, but also fast and cheerful songs. Although this is a thematic concert, this will also be the premiere of our new song with Bálint Gájer.

How much did you work on the songs? How strong is the swing emphasis on them?

Gábor Werner, a member of the Dohnányi Orchestra Budafok, orchestrated the songs. He didn’t change too much on them, because if we want to evoke the Golden Age, we need to stay true to the known sound, but there will be still a lot of jazz and improvisation thanks to the three instrumental musicians of my own band, the Szőke Nikoletta Quartet. There will also be songs from My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, Singing in the Rain, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Some Like it Hot.

Nikoletta Szőke
and József Barcza Horváth.
(c) Richárd Bolfert

József Barcza Horváth is not only your husband but also your producer and fellow musician. What was his musical influence on you?

I learned so much from him! When I met him with 18, he was already an active jazz musician. I didn’t even learn to sing back then, and it was him who introduced me to my future singing teacher, Gábor Winand. Since then, I’ve been doing a lot apart from jazz, and Józsi was always on my side to experiment with new things. He is one of the most progressively thinking musicians whom I know, always looking for something new, thinking out of the box. This openness and daring attitude for experimenting is a very positive influence on me, because I’m not as brave as he is.

At the concert in the Müpa, you will play Így nem szerettem még (I Haven’t Loved Like This Before) with Bálint Gájer. How does it connect to the soundtracks and how was it born?

Last May, my song Ha valaha szerettél (If You Have Ever Loved) came out, and Bálint Gájer liked it very much. He requested a nice, romantic song with Latin beats. I have been listening to a lot of Latin music lately, so both the melody and the text came very fast. Bálint was preparing for his wedding back then, so the topic was given: the ever-conquering love. My husband Józsi orchestrated it wonderfully, to sound like Mexican on the special request of Bálint, with mariachi in it. It became a slow, but still very cheerful song. It could easily be part of a soundtrack with rich harmonies and melodies, so we decided to include it in the programme. I have this not-so-secret dream anyway to write a soundtrack myself.

How are you preparing for the next months?

I let the tension go. Any concert can still be cancelled, so I don’t stress about it anymore, but take all of them as special gifts. Songwriting is still a secure point in this insecure time. Józsi and I have been working on my single that will come in Autumn, and I also want to write more songs. Next year, when I hope that life will be virus-free again, we plan to have another show, full with our own songs.

More information on the concert here.

Interview: Zsolt Várkonyi

Translation: Zsófia Hacsek