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A parting of ways

Some will say it was inevitable. Others might feel some of my pain. It’s not easy when two people find themselves going in different directions, especially after blogging to the world that they had fallen in love. Well, actually, I blogged … he still doesn’t know I exist.

I met him last March. Me and 299 others sat and watched him for 20 minutes, most of us enthralled, some disgusted. Then later that year, in December, our paths crossed again. I just couldn’t get enough of him but he travels a lot and is rarely in Budapest. I saw him tonight, though, and sadly, while I can still attach every superlative I know to him and not feel that I’m exaggerating in the slightest, it seems that we’ve come to a parting of ways.

havasiAside from the TEDx appearance (the cupid moment), Havasi’s first major appearance in Budapest was to an audience of 600. Then in December 2011, he played to 4000. Tonight he played to 12 000. At one time there were 200 musicians on stage with violin-playing angels suspended from the rafters and choirs singing in mid-air. His Hooligan buddy Endi even played the drums upside down as his drumcage revolved and turned on its head. The opening light sequence was masterful. The video backdrops were stunning. The sound and light effects throughout would have been at home in Las Vegas. It was a truly magnificent performance. And therein lies the rub – it was a performance. [He changed his outfit four times, for God’s sake. Four times! That’s a Rod-Stewart-type record!]

I’m in a spin. My head is all over the place. My heart is broken (yes, I’m in a dramatic place these days!). I am so happy for him that he’s playing to such huge crowds at home and to such great applause. I’m delighted that he can command the best of the best to appear on stage with him. I’m thrilled skinny that he’s still as talented and as passionate as ever about his music. But deep down inside, there’s a piece of me that’s sad because now that he’s big, it will never be the same.

havasi 2Somewhat poetically, earlier this evening over dinner, conversation dwelt for a while on growth – business growth – and how it has become a priority for many. It seems as if success and expansion have a chicken-and-egg thing going. But when you grow, when you expand, what do you have to give up? Quality? Time? That personal touch? Those little details that make you special, that make you different? I’m not naive enough to think that growth should be banned and that cottage industries should reign supreme. Neither am I advocating the death of multinationals and the propagation of small businesses. I’m just wondering aloud here. Is there a middle-ground? Or is that what we call mediocrity?

Do we all have to be bigger and better, continually striving for fame and glory, profit and gain? Or is this just the lot of a small portion of society? Am I just too lazy to expand and too indifferent to want to make millions? Perhaps having drawn a firm line between ‘want’ and ‘need’ has me the way I am.  Yes, I’ve done my five minutes of navel gazing and no, I’m not envious of Havasi. And no, I don’t begrudge his success. I’m just sad that he’s moved on – albeit to bigger things – and that the magic has gone. And I’m a tad upset that he’s left me with all these unanswered questions.

And even more poetically, as I listen over and over again You are a lover – an original Havasi composition that Tracey Thorn made famous –  I feel a little like the song says … only I got dumped in the wake of success and while I will no doubt dream of him tonight, I don’t want it all happening to me.

That makes it my issue… damn!

I just can’t get enough of this man

There’s a lot to be said for falling for a younger man (even if he does look older than his years and has crammed more into his life to date than your average person is liable to do in three lifetimes). There’s even more to be said when every time you see him, he transports you to new heights and for a few hours, catapults you into a world where everything is possible. I first met him back in March of this year. And it was love at first sight. But I was just one of many in the audience and while he seemed appreciative of my applause, it didn’t seem to reach the inner recesses of his soul. Havasi Balázs has played in front of 12,000 people in Bejing, 4000 in Bucharest, and last night in front of perhaps a crowd of 2000 people here in Budapest, he received so many standing ovations that you could see he was visibily moved.There’s nothing quite like being appreciated at home and the pride the people felt in their boy was tangible.

The man is not yet 40 and yet has a talent that fuses rock drums with classical piano in a way that seeps to the very marrow of your bones. Partnering with Endi, the dummer from the Hooligans, the pair have just released a new CD and DVD of their piano and drum project. Obviously the best of mates, they make an unlikely style duo – a little like tats and chains meets Armani.

This was the first time I’ve seen Havasi playing with a full orchestra and the sheer variety of instruments pushed me to the pin of my musical collar. Is there such at thing as a miniature cello or was the versatile conductor able to extract extraordinary sound from a simple violin? Perhaps the most impressive piece –The Storm – was utterly beguiling for so many reasons, chief among them that fact the tiny sound of the tin whistle (Ír furulya) stood out above all others. Now, I don’t know much about musical composition but to be able to hear the haunting sound of Szabó Dániel above everything and everyone else, for me, was masterful.

The video backdrops perfectly complemented the music. The video of Unbending Tree (music here) took me back to Africa and disturbed all sorts of hidden memories in my mind. Very, very powerful stuff. He’s also updated his video background for My homeland to scenes of maurading Huns, yurts, and open plains. Completely mindblowing. I think I would have no problem at all sitting through a feature-length video on the history of Hungary set to a Havasi soundtrack.

In fact, it struck me that although Leonard Cohen (the other great music love of my life) was phenomenal in Amsterdam, amazing in Budapest, and great in Zagreb, I’ve seen him now and am happy to have done so three times. With Havasi though, without words, there is so much introspection to his music. This sounds odd coming from someone whose life revolves around words but for once, for two hours on 3 December, I didn’t need any.

In love … again

I have fallen in love. Truly, madly, deeply. I know I do so at a somewhat alarming rate, but this time it’s for keeps. I simply can’t imagine any circumstances under which I would fall out of love with this man. And no. This isn’t the lustful blush of a fatal attraction but rather the result of an earth-shattering, mountain-moving, tsunami-like surge of emotion that has lodged itself firmly in my bones, having already run roughshod over my heart.

Havasi Balázs defies all conventional wisdom as to what an internationally renowned concert pianist should look like. Not for him the gloved hands and associated delicacy. Although clad in black from head to toe, his ensemble – shiney patent boots, black jeans, fitted black shirt, black suit jacket – was a far cry from the tuxedo’d look favoured by many in his position. Foregoing the combed-back or side-parted hairstyle also favoured by his ilk, his shock of blond hair screamed rad!

Taking the stage for the final session of the TEDx Danubia in the Urania theatre in Budapest, Havasi’s mandate was to share with us something of his search to find a new musical lanuguage to communicate, ‘not to copy, not to imitate, not to replay the concepts of others. Rather to create a new style in which his classically trained style is mixed with the musical inspiration of the modern world around him’. He was coming on after the legendary John Foppe, who had had the first standing ovation of the day; a hard act to follow. But follow it he did, and in what style!

According to Havasi, with the advent of social media, composing music is a little like writing a message, putting it in a bottle, and then casting it into the ocean for somene else to fish out and add their creativity to it. The compostion is the music. The ocean is the Internet. One tune he composed in his attic room in Hungary – Tüdérálom – has found him aclaim all over the world in the package of Tracey Thorn’s You are a lover. In 2009, he set a new world record for the fastest pianist, 498 repetitions in 60 seconds. And when you see him in action, beating the music with his left foot, rising and falling on his seat, leaning in to the keyboard, you see how this is possible. He plays with every inch of his body and soul – not just with his hands, heart, and mind.

He told us of how uncool it was to be a pianist growing up, how he took pains to hide it from his friends, afraid that playing the piano would exclude him from playing ball or hanging out. But that when they came to see him play (he was playing classical music back then) they all converted. Who said Bach could not be fun? This classically trained graduate of the Hungarian Academy of Music always wanted to be a rock star. And he sees no reason why his classical training should stop him. So when he launched into his latest piece, it was loud, loud, loud. The sound filled the Urania and I had little trouble imagining him playing Wembley or O2. Not far into his piece, we could hear the drums but not see them. Then on stage wheeled Andy  – the drummer from the Hungarian band, Hooligans, who made the news a while back for being accused of  causing ‘moral damage’ to the citizens of Moráhalom. With tatoos for sleeves, he too was in black, punctuated by chains, studs, and piercings. That the pair have played together before was obvious; that they share a mutual respect was tangible, that this unlikely duo from two completely different musical backgrounds could together produce such an amazing sound, was inspiring on so many levels.

I have no doubt in my mind that Havasi will accomplish his goal of ‘reinterpreting the possibilities and dusting off the concept of piano concerts that has solidified over the course of centuries’. In front of 400+ in the Urania on Friday, 25th March, 2011, he made a start. For me, the performance last night ranks right up there with seeing BB King play in a boxing ring in Dublin so many years ago and seeing Leonard Cohen on his comeback tour in an outdoor gig in Amsterdam.

I am kicking myself that I didn’t know of him in time to catch his concert here earlier this month, the Symphonic Red. Symphonic conveys a musical world that cannot be categorized into any of the traditional musical genres. It contains elements from New Age, World Music, classical and pop music, as universal contents cannot be squeezed into the limitations of a single genre. Bertie Downs, the manager of REM heralded the birth of a new musical category in relation to this project, which he labeled World Classical Music. It is a new, multicultural genre that will touch the souls of people all around the world.

So, my friends, help me keep this love affair alive. If any of you reading this ever hears of another gig, anywhere, let me know. My bags are packed and I’m ready to go…