Saturday, March 01, 2014

The real thing

Tomorrow we have the last performance for a little while of Hungarian Dances: the concert of the novel, at the beautiful 12th-century church of St Mary's Perivale. Stars David Le Page (violin) and Viv McLean (piano) and I narrate. Start time is 3pm and admission is FREE, though if you like us you can make a donation at the end. Do join us. There will be cake.

Last night, though, we experienced a taste of the real thing, courtesy of the Balassi Institute Hungarian Cultural Centre: the Hungarian Roma guitarist and composer Ferenc Snétberger, his trio and some of his students came to London to perform at a converted chapel in Bloomsbury.

Snétberger's music combines influences of traditional music with classical technique and raptly concentrated improvisation. He's a stunningly versatile musician; and besides his hypnotic jazz he has written a concerto for guitar and string orchestra entitled For My People - a tribute to the Roma Holocaust, which he has recorded with the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra, Budapest. His music gets to your innards and twists them with a mix of meditative immediacy and hinted nostalgia as his drummer surrounds much of the music with a glimmer of cymbal or a hiss of brushed side-drum, as if we're listening through the crackles of an old LP.

Snétberger has started an academy for young Roma musicians in Hungary, near Lake Balaton - the Snétberger Music Talent Centre. Last night several of the students were here with him: a 14-year-old violinist who already has a sweetness of tone and depth of musicality to promise much for the future, and a 17-year-old pianist whose absorption, assurance and personal style of playing made a terrific impression.

Here he is with some of the students...