(Photo: Steve Babin)
Gergely Vajda is one of the most talented Hungarian composers of the mid-generation. He is an exceptionally versatile musician, being a clarinetist, a conductor and a composer at the same time. His own works bear the imprint of his complex performer’s experience. He makes liberal use of variegated colours and unusual effects; his compositions are, partly due to their individual tone, more and more recognized internationally.
Gergely Vajda was born in Budapest on 13 August 1973 in a family of musicians. At the Franz Liszt Academy of Music he studied the clarinet with Béla Kovács and conducting with Ervin Lukács. His professor in composition was Miklós Kocsár, but he also studied privately with Péter Eötvös, László Tihanyi, József Sári and Zoltán Jeney. He attended some of Péter Eötvös’s international workshops in conducting, and later he acted as Eötvös’s assistant in productions of his works.
Despite his manifold duties as a conductor – he is presently the music director of the Huntsville Symphony and Principal Guest Conductor of the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra – he is a productive composer. He first created sensation in 1993 with his early composition for clarinet solo, Lightshadow-trembling. He has been composing vocal music since 1992; his individual approach is exemplified by his work from 1997, titled Non-figurative, which is composed for a “speaking percussion quartet”. His first opera, The Giant Baby, based on a novel by the Hungarian author Tibor Déry, was premiered in 2001 at the Budapest Autumn Festival. It was followed in 2005 by the “Jewish operetta” The Golem, and, in the following year, by the one-act, two-character opera Barbie Blue, a parodistic re-interpretation of Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle. The “hotel-opera” Magic Mountain, based on Thomas Mann’s novel, is notable for the fact that it replaces the full orchestra with a major ensemble. His latest opera, Georgia Bottoms, having been premiered in the USA in 2015, is subtitled as “A Comic Opera of the Modern South”.
Out of his numerous orchestral and chamber compositions his live incidental music written for the silent film La foule (The Crowd), premiered in the Louvre Museum in Paris in 2001, proved to be a sensation. He raised a similar response with his orchestral piece inspired by folk-music experiences, Duevoe, which has been recorded by the Hungarian Radio in 2010 under his baton; with the chamber composition Conversations with Children, awarded with the jury’s prize at the 2008 composers’ competition in Brescia; or, recently, with the Clarinet Symphony of 2016 for 2 clarinets and orchestra, also recorded by the Hungarian Radio.
His works have been performed, among other cities, in Budapest, Paris, London, Berlin, Freiburg, Saarbrücken, Marseille, Utrecht, Milwaukee, San Francisco and Huntsville.
His prizes and awards
Prize of Excellence of the Budapest Autumn Festival, 1997
Annie Fischer Scholarship, 1999
Kodály Scholarship, 2000
Eötvös Scholarship, 2000
Gundel Art Prize, 2001
Bartók-Pásztory Award, 2018