Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

An Evening in Hungary

Zsofia Bodi and Laszlo Stacho (photo; Dorothea Shefer-Vanson)

At the risk of repeating myself (and starting to sound like a cracked record) I feel impelled to write about yet another fascinating musical event I was privileged to attend.

‘An Evening in Hungary’ was the title given to a programme of music primarily from that country performed at the Austrian Hospice in Jerusalem’s Old City. The building, which houses a charming concert venue as well as an authentic ‘Austrian Kaffeehaus’ serving what is universally acknowledged as “the best Apfelstrudel in the Middle East,” is situated in the Via Dolorosa. It doesn’t seem to strike anyone as an incongruous juxtaposition to find brightly-lit cafes and restaurants serving tourists and the local population along the route supposedly taken by Jesus as he made his way to the site of his crucifixion, schlepping the instrument of his torture and murder as he went. To reach the venue we had to walk through the maze of streets and bazaars that comprise the Old City, and were relieved to find that the store-owners we passed on the way, and whom we occasionally asked for directions, were friendly and helpful.

Our attendance at the concert was the result of a chance encounter at a concert the previous week with the pianist, musician and psychologist, Dr. Laszlo Stacho (I’m omitting the Hungarian diacriticals his name requires), who is a professor at the Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest and a visiting professor at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance. We fell into conversation with Laszlo, an engaging young man, in the interval of the concert, and after the concert we invited him to our home.

To cut a long story short, together with our neighbours who are also friends and fellow-translators as well as hailing from the same neck of the woods as Laszlo, we all spent an enjoyable evening in his company, and were eager to hear him play at the Austrian Hospice.

The programme, which consisted of Hungarian songs by Liszt, Kodaly and Bartok, as well as some by less well-known composers such as Ferenc Erkel and Gyorgy Kurtag, was performed by our new friend Laszlo at the piano accompanying a wonderful Hungarian soprano, Zsofia Bodi. Together the two provided an evening of music that was both a delight to hear and served as an introduction to a tonal and poetic world which was quite new to us. An additional dimension to our enjoyment was provided by the printed programme, which contained the words (in English translation) of all the songs, giving us another insight into the conceptual world underlying Hungarian music. Some of the songs, especially the folk songs (as arranged by Kodaly and Ligeti, for example) contained wry and sometimes raunchy humour, conveyed with charm and musical verve by both pianist and singer.

The programme also included two piano solos, Schubert’s Ungarische Melodie and Liszt’s ‘Sersum corda’ from Années de pèlerinage, giving the soprano a well-earned rest, and enabling the audience to enjoy Laszlo’s virtuoso playing. And so, at a time when our world is fraught with shadow and pain, a chance encounter led to an evening of fascinating and inspiring music.

About the Author
I was born and brought up in England. I am a graduate of the LSE and the Hebrew University. I have lived in Israel since 1964. I am an experienced translator, editor and writer.
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