Gwendolyn Toth

Gwendolyn Toth is the director of the New York City-based early music ensemble, ARTEK, and a soloist on early keyboards (organ, harpsichord, fortepiano). She is married to harpsichordist Dongsok Shin, and they have three children.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Hungary - drinking, food, more drinking, and a little music!

On Monday, July 25 Samantha and I set off for Budapest where we were picked up at the train station by the inimitable Gabor Kallay. Like a giant friendly bear, he greeted us effusively and immediately made us feel at home. First stop: Lunch! (That is, mid-day dinner...) First we had to try Palinka. Oh my! This is a SERIOUS fruit liquor, a lot like slivovitz. VERY strong. Then wine! Then...a huge chicken lunch, simply delicious. Then, a 3 hour drive to Kapolcs, somewhat near Lake Balaton, where the festival in whcih I would play with Gabor's early music group would take place.

On the way I found out that Gabor was not only a recorder player, which was the only information I had known about him, but that in fact he was Hungary's leading early music tenor from about 1980 onwards, and gave the first significant performances as Orfeo in Monteverdi's opera of the same name in the early 1990s. Common ground! Likewise he had not known that my ensemble specializes in Monteverdi.

We spent that night in a small B & B about 3 km from Kapolcs, in another small town. Braving the rain, Samantha and I went out into the festival (which was a giant 3-village celebration of art, pottery, music, crafts, folk music, rock music, pop music, theater, dance...something a bit of a cross between a really good street fair and Edinburgh Fringe Festival...) where we sampled more Hungarian food (always lots of meat!) and listened a great Hungarian folk music ensemble play.

The next morning, still drizzling, Samantha visited the horses & dogs at the B & B, I studied music. Around lunch, we went to the town of Kapolcs proper, visiting more of the street fair (I'm still wishing I had bought a set of the ethnic Hungarian 18th-century style long dresses & matching male jackets!), art galleries, lots of fair food (and wine of course), and finally a concert by Capella Savaria. After that, we went to Lake Balaton, where we stayed with Gabor and members of his family at their summer house - with a fantastic view over the Lake. Dinner - shall I just say, it started with vodka, moved on to Tokay, wine, more wine, champagne, LOTS of food, dessert...then we made a night visit to the abbey of Tihany (beautiful) and tested the famous Tihany echo tradition that a shout from a hill about a km away from the abbey bounces right off the building & comes back to you quite audibly. Fun! A little inebriated! (understatement of all time!)

The next morning we visited the Abbey again; unfortunately, I could only see, not play, the 18th century organ, but hope that in a future visit I might be able to arrange a concert. The afternoon was our 5 pm concert, preceded by a rehearsal from approximately 3 to 4:30 with Gabor, his daughter and my friend Agnes Kallay, her sister, and five other players. Hungarians do not over-rehearse! What fun would that be?! Fortunately I knew most of the pieces already. I am sorry to say though that there is no video. No time to set it up, between tuning, changing clothes, finding a working WC in the half hour before the it's just my word that it was a great, fun concert, remarkably well-played. After the concert: back to Budapest and...another giant meal! (I am definitely NOT on a diet during these days).

The following day Samantha and I visited museums (art, history, musical instruments) in the old part of Budapest, finally walking across the bridge over the Danube about 5 pm, where 2 other college-age girls accosted us on the street, squealing: "Don't you go to Vassar!" Put that into the small world category.

I can't say enough how generous, friendly, and warm the Kallay family was to us. It was a very special visit.

Finally, off by train the next day back to Vienna.

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