The beauty and the beast of contemporary technology lie in how easily it puts in touch us with the rest of the world, and how easy it makes it for people to find us –– whether we want them to or not! Many years ago I joined LinkedIn. Many people I knew were using it and kept sending me emails telling me I should join. Professionally speaking it seemed like a good idea, so I did. In truth though, other than accepting people into my network, I don’t really use LinkedIn. Composers, however, often do use it as a way to contact people directly about their music and hopefully generate interest in it. This was how Péter Kőszeghy found me. After asking to join my network, he contacted me directly. It turned out that he lives in Berlin and since I have close ties to that wonderful city, I read on. Péter had written a number of works for flute and was looking for opportunities to get those works performed in the U.S. Specifically, he had some flute concertos he was interested in having me perform. I listened to Péter’s music online and was struck by how the Trio really did not have anything in its repertoire that sounded remotely like his music. So, I wrote Péter, telling him that while I am not in that much demand as a soloist, I would be interested in a work for flute, viola and cello. Lo and behold, Souls, a piece that he had been trying to finish, showed up in my inbox about two weeks later.
Péter is Hungarian, and many of his works are inspired by Hungarian Shaman tradition, focusing on the connection between the physical and spiritual worlds. His interests lie in the beauty and colors of sound and the expression of the sensibility and delicacy of music itself.
Souls is representative of the larger scale orchestral works of Péter’s that I have heard. He uses quarter tones and intricate rhythms in such a way that give his music an ethereal quality, conveying the spiritual quality that he believes music should have. Péter says Souls is a pathway, created by sound, from the material world to the spiritual world, where the soul is free to move without restrictions. This is very much how Péter believes music should be –– emotionally stirring in some way without being encumbered by a set of technical/theory based rules.
We had the pleasure of workshopping Souls in Maine this past summer. I was quite struck by how moved people were and how many of them said they felt transported after hearing it. Their background or previous experience with “new” music had no bearing on their reaction to the work. Although we did explain the harmonic language and extended techniques that Péter uses before performing the work, they were not discussed by audience members after the concert –– a sign to me that these techniques had been successfully woven into the texture of the work. Sometimes the use of certain contemporary performance techniques can draw so much attention to themselves that they become distractions, and the piece often cannot be heard as a whole. Kind of like bling: It’s shiny and catches the eye, but not nearly as valuable as some might think!
Thankfully, no bling here! I have exchanged many emails with Péter since we first met online. Below is a more in depth exchange about Souls and Péter’s approach to composing and his life in Berlin.
S.G. Who are your greatest musical influences?
P.K. Music that generates power, peace of mind, balance and impulses and energy has always influenced me. Xenakis, Morton Feldman, Bartòk, Buddhist mantras, overtones, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Beethoven and folk music from Siberia are a few from a very long list of composers, musicians and musical styles that reflect these influences. Good music reaches the world regardless of its style or the background of its composer.
S.G. Tell us a little bit about why you chose to become a composer.
P.K. I started to study music when I was 5 years old. First the recorder, then the flute. I graduated from school with a degree in flute performance when I was 20. I also wrote music throughout that entire time. As an 8 year old I composed little pieces just for myself. For me, composing is a way to convert my energy and pass it on to other people. It is like a battery, which fuels my ideas and fantasies and gives them to the audience by way of musicians who serve as a kind of medium. Composing for me is a ritual with a deep meditative character, releasing power from my soul.
S.G. Why did you choose to move to Berlin and why did you choose to stay there?
P.K. I moved to Berlin in 1992 after my flute studies in Hungary. I wanted to become acquainted with another country, other people and a new atmosphere. Studying composition in Berlin gave me the opportunity to stay. After I graduated, I got a job at a music school in Berlin and then later started a family. I now have two children and a German wife (who doesn’t come from Berlin but from Erlangen, Bavaria) and have continued to live in this city. I have witnessed many things during this time, how the city and the people have changed. Many periods were very interesting. But now, after 20 years, I want to move. Again, I have a need to get acquainted with something new, new people and atmosphere. I do not like Berlin very much – I often wish for a life more quiet than here. A garden, somewhere in a little village with my family, where I grow my own vegetables, feed myself, and work in the garden.
S.G. What is the new music scene like in Berlin?
P.K. The new music scene in Berlin is very heterogeneous. There are lots of small groups here with opposing aesthetic points of view. In Germany, contemporary music is supported by the State, but funding has been severely cut over the last several years and there have been little fights between these groups. As a result the cultural world here has become more and more single-minded and focused on money. I am in an unusual position here in Berlin because I do not belong to any of these groups and, although many people know me and my work, I do not have many concerts here.
S.G. In your bio, you explain your approach to composing. You say you want to destroy the borders of convention. How would you define those borders?
P.K. Yes, this sentence about “destroying the borders of convention“ is a product born out of my rebelliousness. “Liberating the borders of convention” is a more positive way of phrasing this and better describes the way I think about it. I think of “conventions” as a kind of inhibition. Many musicians and composers think if they belong to a special group, they only are allowed to play or compose using specific stylistic elements. That’s not good. We shouldn’t restrict or limit ourselves. In music there are no borders –– not even stylistic borders. Music which touches, moves someone, which gives strength and energy and affects people, is really good music. Music which only serves the purpose of honoring a specific style of composing is simply inferior.
S.G. You also discuss how each of your compositions are a response to a specific musical idea which manifests itself as musical energy. Can you please elaborate on these ideas?
P.K. Yes, that’s easy to describe: Ideas are rays of energy in your brain. They manifest themselves through notation with musical codes –– with notes, rhythms, motifs etc. As a composer, I try to work out the energy generated and born in my mind through musical means. The listeners receive the energy through simply listening and eventually the material they listen to sets off new thought. Energy can become associated with transformation in this way.
S.G. Souls draws very much on Hungarian Shamanistic tradition. As I understand it, the piece is the pathway created for the soul to move from the physical/material world to the spiritual world. There is a doorway from one to the next which the music unlocks allowing the soul to move into the spiritual world, where it can move freely. From a compositional standpoint you incorporate quartertones into your musical language. Can you tell us a little about how this work, both from a philosophical approach as well as a musical approach, might destroy those borders of convention?
P.K. While listening to music we move in different rooms, different worlds. If we let music approach us –– provided it pleases us –– it is very simple to travel from galaxy to galaxy. We, the listeners, decide on our own if we want to or not. My aim as a composer is for every listener to make this journey –– and therefore destroy, or better said, free themselves from the restrictions imposed by convention, allowing them to experience something spiritual.
S.G. How did you become interested in Hungarian Shamanism?
P.K. Hungarian folks came to Europe with the great migration from the Ural Mountains. They belonged to the great clan of the Scythes and were barbaric shamanistic people. After the Christianization of Europe, the Hungarians totally lost their shamanistic roots. Presently, some people there are trying to revive these roots. I have always been interested in this kind of nature-based faith. Although I was raised as a strict Protestant, I am very interested in shamanism. I like its closeness to nature, its harmony with the earth and this way of believing. My mother told me when I was born I came out with the amniotic sac around me –– normally newborns penetrate it inside their mother’s belly. Traditionally, it is said that children born this way will become shamans –– Hungarian “taltos”, much like the medicine man for the Indian people. This fact made an impression upon me. I try to live in line with nature and to give something back to other people through my music
S.G. In your notes about Souls you write that music is pure energy and energy never gets lost in the Universe. The sounds created by the flute, viola and cello are ambassadors for energy, releasing it into the Universe, enveloping the listener and humanity. Your approach to composing and life are deeply spiritual. What and who are some of the influences that have formed your approach to composing? And Life?
P.K. I was raised Protestant. As an adolescent I became interested in shamanism and ancient nature-based faith. I have been preoccupied with spiritualism since then. As an adult, I have spent some time with Kabala and I have also become interested in Buddhism and Zen. I recently became intensively involved with Tibetan Buddhism. Generally speaking, there is one original truth which every faith is based upon: be a good human being and respect every creature and earth, which is your home. This is the way I try to live my life and I also strive for this in my art as well.
S.G. Finally, what are your thoughts on new music in general?
P.K. “New Music”, to me, is a pathological term invented by people who have the desire to put everything in catalogues and drawers. All music is new in the moment in which it is first written. Once it has been performed it becomes “old“ and I often wonder if anything is really “new.” Time is only a human invention. We all live in timelessness –– our soul is always present. If we live in our bodies as energy in the universe, we won’t get lost in time.
Péter studied composition with Paul-Heinz Dittrich and electronic music with Andre Bartetzki at the Academy of Music “Hanns Eisler” Berlin, and has been living in Germany as a free-lance composer since earning his diploma in 1999. His compositions have been awarded prizes and performed internationally, including at festivals such as Ultraschall Berlin, Ensemblia Mönchengladbach, Randspiele Zepernick, Tongyoeng International Music Festival Korea and AdeVantgarde Munich. His work has been performed by ensembles such as the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, MusikFabrik NRW, Kammerensemble Neue Musik/Berlin, AuditivVokal/Dresden, Ensemble Zagros/Finland, Ensemble Aleph/France, GAM Ensemble/Moscow, Ensemble THeNSeMBLe/Budapest, LUX Quartett/Vienna, EAR Ensemble/Budapest and soloists, Camilla Hoitenga, Jennifer Hymer, Peter Veale, Robert Gillinger, Andreas Boehlen and Lenka Zupkowa. To learn more about Péter please visit his website at www.koeszeghy.net.
If you have not had the chance to hear Souls as yet, please join us on November 16th at the Tenri Cultural Institute to hear it along with the premiere of Dag Gabrielen’s Food, with soprano Helen Gabrielsen. Can’t make it? Check out our Upcoming Concerts page for details about other upcoming performances.