Hungarians playing Bartók

Hungarians playing Bartók: so clichéd, isn’t it?

So often we see French musicians performing Debussy and Ravel, Russians playing Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev, Poles performing Chopin. Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto came to prominence performing Sibelius’ violin concerto, while the Czech Pavel Haas Quartet have made their name playing Dvořak, Janaček, and of course their namesake Haas. So what is it about one’s nationality that, apparently, makes one better suited to certain repertoire?

In the case of Hungary’s Kelemen Quartet, each member of the Quartet can trace their musical lineage back to a teacher of Bartók’s generation. Each member is also familiar with Hungary’s folk tradition, and Barnabás Kelemen also plays in the gypsy style, citing his Roma grandfather as an inspiration.

Bartók’s interest in the folk music and the way this influenced his art music is widely known. A musician may research the folk music of Hungary and surrounds before performing a work by Bartók, but for the Kelemen Quartet this wasn’t necessary. Says cellist Dóra Kokas, “I think it’s very important that most of the folk songs that Bartók puts in his pieces we can sing. We even know the lyrics, because that’s how we were educated. Our mothers sang them for us. Of course there are so many Hungarian folk songs – one cannot sing all of them – but they’re sometimes very similar to each other. We can say that this music is in our blood, because we have heard it since we were born. Because he’s Hungarian and because we know all the folk stuff behind his music, it’s very close to us. And we have, I think, a close understanding of what he wanted. We love to play this music, and I think Bartók is one composer whose quartets we cannot get bored of playing.”

Ultimately there is, of course, no rule stating that only Hungarians can play Bartók (or Russians Shostakovich, or Finns Sibelius…) but I can’t wait to see what the Kelemens will bring to this music!

Daina Kains
Operations Coordinator

For more information, and to book tickets, please visit the Musica Viva’s website or call 1800 688 482. 


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Welcome to Musica Viva’s International Concert Season blog. Here you can follow and read more about our wonderful touring artists.

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