Barbra Streisand inspired me in singing and acting – says Orsi Kozma

Article: Zsolt Várkonyi

Translation: Nóra Fehér

The Kozma Orsi Quartet with the Mendelssohn Chamber Orchestra of Veszprém and Tamás Szabó Kimmel will portray the character of Barbra Streisand, who turns 80 this year. At the 28 August BS! evening, the two-time Oscar-winning, nine-time Golden Globe-winning American singer and actress will approach her repertoire from the jazz side. We spoke to singer Orsi Kozma about Barbra Streisand, the relationship between acting and singing, and how they are preparing for the evening.

When and how did you get the idea to evoke Barbra Streisand’s music at a musical evening?

The idea has been brewing in my head for years. I had Barbra as a childhood favourite. Only a matter of time before this show would come to life. I had a lot of help from my friend Gergely Zöldi, with whom I put together my Woody and the Swing evening five years ago. Gergő is also a big fan of Barbra Streisand. He has attended more than twenty concerts worldwide and is particularly at home in her oeuvre. The show also includes lesser-known songs from the period when Barbra was singing jazz standards in small clubs at the beginning of her career, and of course the big hits like The Way We Were, People and Evergreen.

The title of the evening suggests that the concert will be a personal one. In an interview with Müpa Budapest’s blog, you mentioned that you don’t aim to “imitate” Streisand’s style.

My goal is not to sing like Barbra. I wouldn’t be able to. I prefer to approach her music from the jazz side. My good friend Gábor Cseke, pianist, will be the musical director for the evening. Together with Viktor Hárs, bass guitarist and bassist of the Kozma Orsi Quartet, they will arrange and rethink the songs. There are some songs that should not and cannot be rearranged. The fact that I perform the songs in my own interpretation gives the evening a unique style. It’s going to be a pleasant jazz-infused concert.

How did you choose the guest artist for the evening?

Barbra sang a lot of duets, mostly with men. The evening will also have a strong dramaturgical thread, with stories and dialogues. For this we were looking for a partner who is charismatic enough, who is a high level actor and singer, and Tamás Szabó Kimmel is such a performer.

You mentioned that Barbra Streisand was a big influence on you as a child. Can you recall what it was about her that captivated you?

Her voice, her expressiveness. I will never forget the first time I heard her music as a child. My mother put on a selection and I heard it from my room and went in the direction of the sound. I listened with my mouth open and asked my mother who it was. I had never heard anyone sing like that before. Her performing style is unique and distinctive. She sings with amazing richness. Later, when I delved into her work, it became clear to me that she is not only an excellent singer, but also a great actress. Barbra’s music was one of the impulses that set me on the road to musicals and acting.

Is there anything you learned from acting that you can apply as a singer? Is there an intersection between acting and music?

Throughout my career, I have worked on many performances, concerts and met many people. I have been influenced by different things that have shaped me as a performer. Depending on the ensemble I’m performing in, I have to sing in a completely different style. In jazz, I really like improvisation and being able to push my own musical boundaries. Theatre musicals required a completely different kind of presence. I also had to show myself as an actor, I had to dance and speak prose. I feel that all these things added up, plus the routine I’ve acquired over the years, and that’s how my current style has evolved. To this day, I still have a little bit of gusto before gigs. It would be wrong if I didn’t. I get excited about how the concert will be, how the audience will react.

You mentioned in an interview that you are basically an apprehensive person. Are you anxious on stage too?

This was mostly the case at the beginning of my career when I experienced a lot of things introspectively, but now I’ve thankfully outgrown it. When I go on stage, the negative thoughts and anxiety caused by the need to conform are transformed. A lot of different feelings are dissolved on stage and the excitement turns into doping.

Your singing teacher, vocalist Brigitta Kovács, helps you prepare for the concert. What professional advice has she given you?

Brigitta and I have been collaborating for more than twenty years. She has been involved in my career from the very beginning. We practice once or twice a week. I often ask her for her opinion on technical matters. She is not only my singing teacher, but also my mentor, my surrogate mother and my psychologist. Body and psyche are connected. If you are healthy and balanced in your soul, you are healthy and balanced physically and you can sing much better. I did not ask for your opinion on the BS! The concept of which song I will perform, how I will interpret it, is developing in me.

The evening is a month away. Tell us a bit about the preparations and rehearsals!

Gergő and Gábor and I chose the backbone of the evening, Gergő thought up and built the course of the concert, we did a lot of brainstorming and talking. Then Gábor and I looked at the songs at the piano, played through them, talked a lot about where we should take the songs. Gábor and Viktor are already working on the orchestrations, and then the first rehearsals with the small orchestra will follow. This is where we finalise the structure of the songs and where I can work out and polish the performance style with the help of the musicians. There are the final rehearsals and the dress rehearsal with the guests, so that we can surprise the audience with a brand new, finished production on 28 August.

Article: Zsolt Várkonyi

Translation: Nóra Fehér