Bringing Down Dominion

July 30, 2009

              The stars aligned perfectly this year so that Roby Lakatos and his band could make an appearance at Chamberfest. With an open spot on the festival roster, a space between gigs for the band, and a cimbalom somehow making its way to Ottawa, concertgoers were incredibly lucky to have heard such a spectacular concert.  When the band came on stage, they wore dark suits with hints of red and white. When Roby Lakatos entered, it was like watching Sir Elton’s piano rolling onto the stage. Seeing Roby’s bright red leather pants, audience members knew immediately they were in for something unique.
              The opening piece, Balogh’s Fire Dance, began with a cimbalom solo, sounding like Hungarian rock. When the band joined in and Roby sawed away at his violin, the bright red rock star moved across the stage, stopping now and again to jam with a band member, then moving on. At some points, the piece would change styles from Spanish  to tango, to “Italian riverboat” then to “French café”. The performance had a sense of jamming, and Roby’s technique was sheer pyrotechnics. Unbelievable!
              When Roby introduced the second piece, I was astounded at how mellow his voice was. After hearing the passion and energy of his violin playing, this small, almost unsure voice was surprising. It made one listen even more closely to see how it was possible that this quiet – almost retiring – man was responsible for the explosive energy through his violin.
              The first half of the concert brought together the essence of Hungarian jazz, gypsy, and rock music, with moods ranging from mellow to eccentric, each solo more spectacular than the last.  Even the untrained listener could tell that these musicians must be even more amazing in the classical style, evidenced by their completely mastery over the technical demands of their dazzling solos which employed every possible deviation of  scales and harmonic progressions.
              After intermission, the next piece, Balogh’s  Cickom Paraphrase, was remniscent of Hotel California with the guitar solo foreshadowing the telling of a sad story – then Roby entered on the violin as storyteller. The piece gave way to fast, energetic moments with a gypsy flare. Again, the solos were amazing – the cimbalom solo in particular.
              The second composition of this half was an arrangement of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody #2 for solo cimbalom. It was incredible to hear – the cimbalom player, using only two mallets, accomplished what many pianists with ten fingers could not. He performed with dazzling technique, gorgeous inflections, and an amazing touch on this exotic instrument. After playing almost the entire rhapsody, the band jumped in like gangbusters and turned it into gypsy rock, with the cimbalom continuing as the soloist. At some points, the cimbalom player’s hands were moving so fast that the mallets were invisible. It was riveting!
              The remainder of the programme was fantastic. Again, there were amazing mood and character changes.  Despite the length of the concert (more than 2 hours), we were thrilled to encourage two fresh encores from the band.  These were played with gusto in the style of a hoe-down and reverberated through the church with the audience vigorously clapping along.  At one point, Roby, drawing in the audience, played a long, improvised solo with brilliant technique so quietly that in the breathless hush he had invited, we could hear it barely whispering across the ceiling and pillars of the church.
              The entire event brings me back to a tour to Hungary and Austria I was part of with the Ottawa Youth Orchestra, and two things in particular.  The first was of our visit to Szeged, Hungary where we came across a man busking in the street, playing gypsy music. In a way that transcends all differences between cultures and languages, he passed his violin to one of our orchestra members and then to our conductor, each contributing to the spontaneity and shared love of music with their own particular flair.  The other thing that I was reminded of occurred at the end of each concert we perfomed in or attended, and that is the tradition of the audience clapping together in slow beats until the performers return to the stage and play an encore. This happened at last night’s concert. I imagined that this would have made the band feel very much at home, as I have never heard an audience do this in any Canadian or American concert hall.  
              I have to say that the connection with the audience, the massive outpouring of energy and the spontaneity and virtuosity of the members of this group place this effort firmly among the top performances I have seen this year.  ITunes, here I come!

Lindsay Bryden, flutist

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