Wednesday September 14, 2022 - Off to Budapest
Another travel day. I grabbed some coffee at the conference. Hardly anyone was there yet. “I like your approach,” someone from Budapest says. “I like the combination of technology and interpretation.” I wished I could stay longer to elaborate (and also talk about his work), but instead asked him for advice: should I buy the Hungarian highway vignette before or after the border? (After is the correct answer: they charge almost double when you get it before.)
Driving to Budapest revealed my dependence on a different piece of technology: Waze. As I crossed the border, it failed me: it didn’t want me to go back on the M1 highway—maybe because I didn’t know how to add the highway pass that I ended up struggling to buy and going off the highway to find. What if my telecommunications were to continue to fail now I was in the East? Should I have updated my phone after all?
My first trip to Hungary was when I was seventeen: I flew to Vienna and then took the bus to Keszthely, to participate in a masterclass with György Cziffra. I remember spending the night in Vienna and almost missing the bus the next morning: it wasn’t clear at all where to catch it. That divide between West and East stuck. Suddenly having to improvise threw me back into a panic.
But Google Maps saved me.
Arriving in Budapest, my dependence shifts from technology to people. I must find those whom my contact had instructed to help me. And fast. Located at the heart of the city, the Zeneakadémia or Franz Liszt Academy is surrounded by one-way streets and no-parking zones. So, where are those stage managers?
One minute I’m focusing on where to leave the van, the next I’m crisscrossing a building with offices and hierarchies as difficult to navigate as the surrounding streets of inner city Budapest.
It’s all a bit of a blur, but I do connect with the two guys I needed, and immediately feel in professional hands. The freight elevator makes me happy: clearly, they know how to move stuff in and out. And as I find myself facing the solemn Solti Hall, the piano on its legs, the emotion is special. The piano sounds lovely, but thick and reverberant.
“You cannot keep the pedal like that, can you? It sounds horrendous!”
My host László Stachó (one of the piano professors at the school, who has by now joined me on stage) reacts to my trying out a few bars of Steibelt: “You cannot keep the pedal like that, can you? It sounds horrendous!” (This is a direct quote.) Clearly, a challenge has been issued. During the concert tomorrow, I’ll need to convince him otherwise.