PEOPLE

Barnabás Kelemen

Friday, 21 February 2014

The violinist on his favourite work

I could conduct it when I was seven or eight years old — years before I ever played it on the violin

If I had to choose one piece that’s very special to me, it would be Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. I think it’s one of the greatest masterpieces ever written. It has unbelievable emotional and musical diversity — it’s both depressing and uplifting at the same time. Although it was composed in the darkness of early 20th-century Europe, it has a hopeful ending and shows us that we should all keep our heads up.

I was three years old when I first heard the piece, in a rehearsal for a recording session with the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra: my mother played celesta and my father the cello. I was sitting behind the percussion, among the violins that I had always wanted to play. After that I was always talking about it and singing the melodies. I could conduct it when I was seven or eight years old — years before I ever played it on the violin — standing in front of the hi-fi with the score. I conducted it perfectly, of course, because the recording played it perfectly!

I first performed and recorded the piece about five years ago, as concertmaster of the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra. Zoltán Kocsis was conducting, Miklós Perényi was leading the cello section and my wife was playing second violin. It was an unforgettable experience.

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