Szakcsi Jr: everyone will remember my father in a slightly different way

We have had a sad anniversary on 2 October: it has been more than one year now since Béla Szakcsi Lakatos passed away. A man whose life work is literally impenetrable and incomprehensible, who continuously shaped and reformed Hungarian musical life, and who is considered an eternal inspiration by thousands of his colleagues. Now, a number of these musicians have come together to remember their fellow musician, mentor, friend… or even their beloved father. The title of the concert is Szakcsi – Visszhangok (Echoes). I spoke to Szakcsi Jr. about the details of the concert, which will take place on 10 November at 19:30 at the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall.

A very difficult year is behind you, having lost your father a year ago. Is this concert consciously so close to the anniversary of his death?

Yes, that is one aspect of it. But it’s not just the anniversary of his death that we’re commemorating, it’s his life, it’s him, the musician. At the beginning of the year, Barbara Bércesi, who was on very good terms with my father, suggested that we could hold a commemorative concert at Müpa Budapest, and I helped to organise it.

Szakcsi Jr

Szakcsi Jr. (c) János Eifert

There is a very long list of contributors, and according to the description of the concert, they were all related to your father.

This is the main theme of the evening. We have undertaken the impossible task of modelling his career: we go through his records in chronological order, with the musicians who played on those records, who toured with my father or who were present at important moments in his life. Of course, we had to leave a lot of things out, we could only limit ourselves to the very important stages, because to present the whole oeuvre would have been a concert lasting four or five hours or even longer. But we still managed to squeeze in the important stuff.

What can we hear from this great oeuvre?

The concert will start with the beginning of my father’s career, with the band Rákfogó (‘Crab Catcher’), the band he formed in 1970, or at least those former members who are still alive. They were the first fusion jazz-rock band in Hungary, and it was at their concerts that Fender pianos and electric instruments were first heard: they brought a fresh, new sound to Hungarian music. It was a strange twist of fate that my father’s last band was a revival of Rákfogó.

Then come more of the important stations: the band Saturnus with Gyula Babos, playing together from 1979, and so on, through all the albums, all the formations. But of course, if the audience only heard jazz all the way through, it would be too much to absorbe, and it would not even represent the fullness of this unparalleled oeuvre. What is very important is the end of the concert: my father was very fond of classical music. He listened to it a lot, and even wanted to be a classical pianist when he was young. My wife, Laura Csík, whom he loved very much, is also a classical pianist. It was also very important to him that my brother Robi should play classical music, and he pushed him in that direction rather than towards a career as a jazz pianist.

So this is how the second part is going to look like: we invited the Grazioso Symphony Orchestra. Their concertmaster is the Kossuth Prize-winning violinist Ferenc Bangó, who also holds this position with the National Philharmonic Orchestra, and their conductor is Alpaslan Ertüngealp. First, Robi will play with them the adagio movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A major, and then the orchestra will perform my father’s last work, the mystery play The Tree of Knowledge – it was very, very important to him, he finished it shortly before his death. The text was written by György Bolyki, Ibolya Tóth was the musical director, and Mihály Farkas, an excellent cimbalom player, was the producer. What will also be special about this evening is that The Tree of Knowledge was originally released on CD and has never been performed on stage before, so what we will hear here is actually a premiere. The whole piece cannot be performed here either, because it lasts two hours and would need a large apparatus anyway, but the overture will be played. That will conclude the concert.

Your father’s biography tells us that he started off as a classical pianist, but I am surprised that he remained so close to this world later on. How close, I wonder?

He did make occasional forays into classical music, but not as someone who was constantly involved in it. For example, he played Mozart’s Coronation Concerto in D major with Gábor Hollerung very often, but not like a classical musician. But that was what was so special about it: he improvised on the cadenzas instead of playing the written notes. He didn’t stick to classical music as a performer, but he spent much more time on the theoretical side of it, for example Bach, Stravinsky, Mozart, and incorporated these influences into his own playing. He drew inspiration from many sources anyway, one of them being classical music.

Yes, behind the seemingly effortless improvisation there was an incredible knowledge and understanding of music…

You could say that the more information a musician has in their head and in their fingers, the more music they are familiar with, the better they will be able to improvise. These are stored in one’s mind, if not directly, but subconsciously, and come out during improvisation. By the way, my father was also very fond of Péter Eötvös, Kurtág and Ligeti, and he studied their pieces with enthusiasm.

He also collected Gypsy folklore. Will this be performed at the concert?

Yes, we will commemorate that part of his life work, too. In the early ‘80s, a famous gypsy poet, Menyhért Lakatos, took my father to a very bad-looking gypsy village. My father was quite surprised: people were living in really terrible conditions, and it was there that he heard all those particular melodies that he subsequently also tried to incorporate into his oeuvre. Anyway, he went to collect for a play he was working on at the time, which ended up being the first Roma themed musical in Hungary, called Red Caravan. Géza Csemer wrote the libretto. And of course there’s the Na dara! album from the 2000s, on which my father mixes Gypsy folklore with modern jazz. Parts of it will be played at the concert.

What pieces will be played?

Almost exclusively my father’s compositions. There are a few exceptions, which are works that are closely related to my father’s oeuvre. For example, the Mozart piece I mentioned earlier. It’s included because we used to talk a lot about Mozart at home, and we always came to the conclusion that although to many people Mozart seems cheerful, to us Mozart is a bit sad. We always agreed on that. And then there’s one jazz rendition, a Thelonius Monk composition, Round About Midnight. And that’s because no matter what concert my father gave, he always played it. Krisztina Pocsai and I will sing it as a duet.

Who will be present on stage from the family?

Three pianists will be at the concert: my little brother Robi, myself, and our cousin Kálmán Oláh who was also my father’s godson. We will represent the family and will be happy to be on the same stage with all the guests. Among them, all generations will be represented, each remembering my father in a slightly different way, and each will play or sing something from this great oeuvre. Perhaps the hardest part was really where to draw the line, who to invite. Because had we invited everyone my father ever had anything to do with, the concert would never have ended…