A living composer in the spotlight: an evening with Judit Varga

This has never happened before! The Musician and the Composer of the Season kick off with a joint concert in the Müpa. Judit Varga, with whom we have talked several times before, has put together the programme of her signature concert, where her own compositions engage in an exciting dialogue with other people’s. I asked her about its details…

How did it feel to hear that you would be Composer of the Season?

I’m very thankful to the Müpa for this wonderful opportunity. We composers are usually very much in the background, as most concert programmes are rather based on long-dead classical composers. So thank you, Müpa, for considering me, even  though I’m still alive. (laughs) And even more so because it’s very difficult to work with composers, to find performers for our pieces, to accommodate everyone’s schedule, to coordinate the whole process. As far as I remember, this is the first time since Péter Eötvös – who also stepped on stage as a conductor – to put a contemporary composer in the spotlight.

How did you start to work on this upcoming evening’s programme?

I picked up pieces which are able to showcase different aspects of my work, but also don’t require a separate orchestra for each one. I’m happy to have found the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra as a partner, because that generated the main aspect: I chose chamber pieces of my own that were written for string orchestra and another few extra instruments. Fortunately I have written a whole lot of them throughout my career. Then I chose another piece to accompany each of mine, because they fit together, because the other composer’s work inspired mine, or simply because I like something and would be happy to hear it at this concert.

So the programme was developing well like a jigsaw, it was only one piece missing. I filled that hole by looking at what instruments are represented alongside the string ones – percussion, piano and trumpet –, and I wrote a completely new piece for them, obviously with string accompaniment. This is how Bending Space and Time was born, which will have its premiere at the concert. Gábor Boldoczki, the other Artist of the Season, will play the trumpet, alongside percussionist Tamás Schlanger, cembalist Zsombor Tóth-Vajna and pianist László Borbély.

Judit Varga

Gábor Boldoczki

The programme promises us a first part which looks into the future, and a second which looks into the past. What does that mean?

Those who are familiar with my work know that I’m active in two different scenes. On the one hand, I write music for concerts – that’s what the first part is about. As a contemporary composer, I look forwards, explore the development of contemporary music culture, experiment with and research on possibilities for the future. The piece by Biber symbolises it well: it is very old but still terrifyingly modern. Nobody would guess at a first listen that this was a baroque work, it sounds like something from the last 50 years.

On the other hand, I’m also a film music composer, which we also wanted to show at the concert. So in the second half, you can hear film music written by me, and stage music written for concert use that features rather popular tunes. For this part, I chose works by others that also became great hits in the last couple of decades: everyone knows them.

Will the film music work well without the film?

This is a short section that works well on its own, but if you are interested in that to a greater extent, you are welcome to join us for the film screening. Lou Andreas-Salomé, The Audacity to be Free will be broadcasted in the Müpa on 8 October, and there will be an accompanying discussion which I’m also taking part in.

What else will you do for the rest of this year?

This evening will be the biggest concert, but there will be other exciting things a few months later as well. We’ll have a surprise concert in early 2023, I won’t reveal more details of it yet, and then in April and May two of my orchestral pieces will be performed by the Prague and the Luxembourg Philharmonics respectively. It turned out that Gábor Boldoczki will also feature at one of the upcoming concerts, so I’m extremely pleased to have been able to ‘surprise’ him with the new piece mentioned above.

Last time we talked, you worked at the University of Music in Vienna. Has anything changed in that regard?

Yes, I’m not the head of the composition department anymore, because by the end of the pandemic I received a lot of assignments and concerts abroad, so I wasn’t able anymore to take all the responsibilities of such a huge administrative task. I’m still a professor there and leading one of the subgroups specialising in film music and  applied composing. It is also a challenge to be a teacher and a creative artist at the same time, nevertheless I’m happy and honoured that so many people count on me in so many different scenes.

Get your tickets here!