“We have never seen anything like that before – a Hungarian institution awarding so many Hungarian composers in so many categories.”
This is how Gyula Fekete, lecturer and head of department at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, characterises the composing competition of the Müpa. It really operates with astonishingly huge numbers: there were 14 categories, for which composers sent 258 pieces in total in the end. Depending on the length and complexity of the pieces, there were categories of one or two rounds with a diverse system of requirements, of course. Gyula Fekete has not only been member of the professional board, but also taken part in the jurying of three categories: solo and chamber pieces, chamber opera, and electro-acoustic pieces. We were talking to him about the intriguing details, the situation of Hungarian composing, and about what is happening with the winner pieces these days.
What was your first thought when Müpa asked you to take part?
It was a great honour for me, head of department at the Academy, to be part of such a huge competiton and to follow it from an insider’s perspective. Müpa had admittedly no experience in the execution of such a huge competition, so they started with a meeting of the professional board where my peers and I gave feedback on the first draft of the call, then we also helped to launch the competition. They also needed us for having our name and credibility as a guarantee for the high quality and the transparency. The apparate and the competition secretariat of the Müpa did a wonderful job. The composing competition is a huge success, seeing how many young composers sent in their pieces, how much of an interest it generated within our profession, and now we can see that Hungarian composing is in a good shape.
The fourteen categories were all full of pieces, including basically all genres of the profession. In the end, forty-eight composers were awarded: for instance, five from twenty-five in the category of chamber music, or one from eleven in the category of children’s chamber opera, which shows how selective the jury has been. We did not give first-second-third prizes, all composers won the same: a contract with the Müpa that included a cash prize and the pursuit for a premiere of their works in the institution soon.
The competition was anonymous with code names, but how possible was it for you to recognise someone, due to the profession being very small?
We have not even seen the code names, with the music sheets only containing numbers. In theory, we were supposed to disqualify those whom we recognise, but luckily that did not happen. There were some cases where we had a clue who that might be, and we only realised at the awarding ceremony that we were wrong anyway. And apart from that, the jury members of the categories did not even know about each other, so we did not have the chance to discuss the results. This was the fairest way of evaluation.
Is it really possible that a teacher of composing does not recognise his or her own student?
Yes it is, for two reasons. One is that composing requires a lot of professional knowledge and if someone is good in that, they can hide themselves behind the piece. Usually we cannot really identify authors solely based on technique. Another reason is that many young people attended the competition who still do not have an individual and characteristic musical language. Nevertheless, they wrote great pieces, so I am very happy for the great opportunity they have received. Time will tell how and where their individual style and character develops.
Did you also follow the categories where you did not jury?
No, I only listened to the winner pieces once we received them after the awarding ceremony.
What is the typical journey of a young composer at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music?
We try not to mess them up! (laughs) As a teacher, we do not want them to compose in our style, we rather motivate them to find their own uniqueness. This is what we have to open up then, so that young people say with music what they really want. Apart from that, we also teach them the secrets of this profession, some basic elements, but in the end it will be their personal talent and determination to lead them on this path.
We also strive to give them opportunities to showcase their works in front of the audience. There is a composing competition for students every year – a much smaller one, of course -, and we also take them to international competitions. We also find it important that students familiarise themselves with each other’s works.
Are there subjective aspects of jurying? Like you see that someone knows the profession very well, but you still do not feel moved by the piece?
Yes, that happens. I see the sheet from page to page, how good the candidate is, how much they know, and in the end I still say: nope, it is not good enough. We can only teach the tricks of the profession to a certain extent, and some parts – like how the audience will resonate with a piece – cannot be taught, that is in the domain of talent already. One can usually see, and it was also the case at the Müpa competition, that many pieces are quite good and few pieces are truly golden. We are in the jury to find all of these, including the extraordinary ones.
At the Academy, there are many cases where someone enters with skills, but they vanish with time. It is mostly because of their personality and attitude. But it can happen the other way as well! Sometimes we say: OK, let us admit this student, it is good for the moment, we will see it later… And then she or he blooms like a flower, getting way better than anyone would have expected!
The competition lasted for half a year. Is this time not too short for composing?
This was the reason for the one-round or two-round categories. In some genres like chamber music, it is absolutely possible to finish a piece within half a year, so we expected the full ones. In other cases it would not have been realistic, so in the case of the operas, for instance, we only asked for a synopsis and a short part for the first round, and the selected few had to come up with a 15-minute sequence for the second. Winners are contracted by Müpa these days to finish their pieces. Fifteen minutes does not sound too long, but it indeed is enough for us to decide whether we want to listen to the same for a longer time.
I hope that the audience will like these pieces just as much as we liked them. This is a huge opportunity for the future of Hungarian composing and music.