This Life in Music: Bassoonist Dávid Adam Nagy

Bassoonist Dávid Adam Nagy (photograph by János Sutyák)

Bassoonist Dávid Adam Nagy (photograph by János Sutyák)

One thing I’ve particularly enjoyed about my explorations into contemporary classical/new music is the chance to hear instruments in soloist positions that aren’t often heard in that role. I first encountered bassoonist Dávid Adam Nagy in a solo role in Contemporaneous’s world premiere performance of Dylan Mattingly’s A Way A Lone A Last A Loved A Long the Riverrun. Nagy’s accomplished performance led me to race to hear him when I learned that, as a winner of the 2011 Bard College Conservatory of Music Concerto Competition, he’d be performing as soloist with Bard’s American Symphony Orchestra.

In two pieces by Carl Maria von Weber, the Bassoon Concerto in F Major and the Andante and Rondo Ungarese, Nagy was utterly in command of notes flying everywhere at the speed of light, particularly at the end of the Andante. David Bloom, who is among other things a clarinetist, noted, “and he doesn’t even double-tongue!” (Bloom gave me a brief demonstration, but I still had to go home and look that one up.) Which is all just to say that I’m delighted to present Dávid Adam Nagy on Prufrock’s Dilemma.

Q: In January, you participated in a central European tour of chamber music with Bard College’s Conservatory of Music. The trip included concerts in Debrecen, Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Brno, and Prague. That’s quite a roster of fabled cities and performances. How did the tour come about, and what led to your participation?

The idea of the tour was a lucky coincidence of several factors, including the Conservatory’s strong ties to Hungary and growing reputation in Europe, the keenness of our Hungarian Visiting Fellow, violist Péter Bársony, to help organize a Bard concert in Budapest, that many of our students were returning home for the holidays or happened to be in Europe around the proposed dates for the tour and, of course, Bard’s well-known aptitude for making dreams come true.

From the initial late-August idea we had 4 months to orchestrate every tiny detail from setting the repertoire through putting together a program book in 5 different languages to arranging parking spaces for the tour-bus. Organizing was a wildly effective group coup with an army of simultaneously moving parts in a perfectly well choreographed manner. We cannot be thankful enough for the help from our friends in Europe, old and new, who helped and advised us along the way.

I personally was in charge of all technical and personnel details of the trip as tour manager, a skill-set I have been developing for four years now at the Bard Music Festival, and of course I was also one of the lucky musicians who got to participate in the performances. It was a slightly nerve-wracking but wonderful task, without doubt one of the most rewarding projects I have been involved with.

Q: Would you give us an example or two of memorable, startling, or just plain quirky moments along the tour?

Our venue in Budapest was a brand new chamber-hall of which we had only seen architectural renderings up until we arrived there the morning of the concert. The pictures looked enormously impressive and we all felt and still feel honored to be one of the first guests at a venue that will potentially become internationally recognized and applauded in the future.

Alarming signs gathered upon my arrival in Budapest just a couple of weeks before the tour: no one seemed to know where the hall was or had even heard of the place before. Tickets had been on sale already with the address printed on them, all posters were up, fliers winging their way, internet articles, ads, blurbs, blog posts, etc. I was patiently waiting for disaster.

Finally, the very morning of the concert, we found, enclosed by an impressively spray-painted construction fence, the coolest building in the neighborhood, which turned out to be our venue. Inside, a handful of people were running around getting the place ready for the event: cleaning the lobby, setting up lights, blocking off doorways . . . Reporters, photographers, a camera crew, acousticians and our promoters accompanied us all morning long: countless interviews, building tours, and meetings.

My only worry was whether the audience would find the place despite its disguise and, on top of that, the gently unfolding snowstorm. (Meanwhile, 4 of us spent the short afternoon running around Budapest – crossing a huge protest, a sizable Italian family on vacation, and a failed dress try-on, accompanied by a crew of 5 girls having a constant laughing fit, all trying to find a place to get the long awaited haircuts and blow-dries).

Then everything came to a happy end. The show went on stage looking fabulous, in front of a packed house with standing room and even extra chairs. Some guests, who went to a wrong address first, posted on one of the marketing websites, made new friends while all gathered and walked to the undercover event of the night in the, by then, heavy snowfall. The hall, as promised, delivered excellent acoustics and a long standing Hungarian tradition of ‘iron-applause’ that completely caught our American guests by surprise and confusion.

Note: “Iron Applause” is slow synchronized clapping, which, in Hungary, is “so named because the theater audience is so impressed that they continue to clap even after the iron fire-proof curtain is lowered.”

Q: In one of the great serendipities of life, you met my blogging friends Jane and Lance Hattatt, whom I’ve not yet met! Would you tell us something about your time together, and is there any message you’d like to give them here? 

photograph of Cellist Tamás Zétényi (2010 Bard Hungarian visiting fellow), Nagy, and Sabrina Tabby courtesy of Jane Hattatt

photograph of Cellist Tamás Zétényi (2010 Bard Hungarian visiting fellow), Nagy, and Sabrina Tabby courtesy of Jane Hattatt

Jane and Lance are extraordinary people, fantastic friends and great lovers of art especially if that has some edge. During my initial “short” visit to their fabulous residence in Budapest for tea, our conversation touched on so many subjects and took such wild turns, that our trio completely lost the sense of time and they almost missed their dinner date. We had to wrap up quickly, leaving lots of open ends that meant and means still countless excuses to meet for dinner at their favorite restaurant, where most of the furniture is black ink paintings on the walls.

I am so grateful to you that you have arranged for our paths to cross in December, and I eagerly await a big reunion here in New York next fall!

Q: OK, one last thing about the tour: I’ve been told the answer to this by a credible source, but I’m looking here for an eyewitness account. Is the Danube blue or not? Seriously, though, this is a magical part of the world, isn’t it? If you’d like to say something about that, please do!

I really wish our arrangements would have allowed us to spend more time in each of the six cities we have visited. The only one we could really discover was Budapest, where our rehearsals were held. Even though I was never officially a resident there (a “pesti”) while I still lived in Hungary, I would be lying if I said I don’t miss it while I am in the States. It is truly a magical city that enchants every visitor, especially when one has a chance to go off the tourist tracks and discover some of the hidden treasures.

Unfortunately, as a Hungarian concerned with where our country is headed under our current government’s regime, I must say the Danube is always bluer from afar.

Q: Now, on to other things. When did music first come into your life? Can you tell us about an early musical experience that has significance for you today? 

According to my mom it was impossible to keep me away from our record player when I was little. I was particularly fond of a collection of opera overtures conducted by Toscanini. I learned folk dancing, acting and sang in choirs from a very young age, but was not particularly interested in instrumental music until I turned 10 and went to a new school. I started taking piano lessons with my rebellious music teacher whom I adored for going against the system. Instead of the government-set music curriculum, she shared with us the love of music and thus actually got people interested in widening their horizons in the field – even as far as the classical realm.

A couple of years later I had to take my little sister to the auditions of the city’s music school. While waiting for her I got bored and signed myself up for trumpet auditions. I got in, got an instrument and started my short trip in brass land. I soon realized however that the trumpet really didn’t fit me; it was too high, too harsh, and just too small, so I moved on to the big brother: the trombone. I loved the range from the deep powerful bass to the mellow and singing tenor and stayed with the instrument for almost two years, when finally a strange instinct made me go to those auditions again and try myself on percussion and the bassoon.

To this day I don’t know why this happened, and it actually caused a minor turmoil in the music school: teachers arguing over having me in their studio . . . to this day I don’t understand why everyone got so upset over me wanting to learn another instrument. I ended up transferring to our local music school (my family moved in the meanwhile) where I met my future bassoon professor Edit Kubinyi to whom I owe a lot of my success. She restlessly worked with me throughout my high school years to turn me into the best I could possibly become.

It was around when I went to high school that I heard the Hungarian National Philharmonic – an outstanding orchestra with an excellent conductor: Zoltán Kocsis – play Dvorák’s New World Symphony. I left the concert hall on a high. I had a whirlpool of feelings and emotions mixing my insides. I think that was the first time I was able to fully perceive and experience the power of music.

Q: Would you name a figure in music you regard as a role model and tell us a little about why?

The first time I heard of Jeremy Denk was right after arriving in New York nearly six years ago. I found an abandoned score of Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata and soon after listened to the live recording of Jeremy playing the piece at Bard a few years before then. I fell in love with his playing immediately. He is an extremely sensitive artist, full of ideas triggered by his deep understanding of music. When he works on a piece he starts living with it, and it seamlessly connects to all aspects of his life.

He has been a very important role model for me, and I am really glad to see that even with the classical music world in constant deficit, he is still making a flourishing career as one of the most important and inspiring young artists of today.

Note: Nagy provided a link to Denk playing The Alcotts from Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata, which may be found in the Listening List at the end of the post.

Q: You are actively involved in Contemporaneous. How did you first become involved in the ensemble? Would you tell us about a moment with Contemporaneous that was particularly memorable for you?

I was asked by Contemporaneous’s co-artistic director and conductor David Bloom to be part of Contemporaneous in the very beginning, but because of a conflict I had to say no to the inaugural concert. It was about a year later that I first appeared in concert with the group, if I remember correctly, and since then, many times. I watched Contemporaneous grow into what it is now, and I am very impressed and inspired by the work David has done. I am excited to start my work as director of development this year and help the group grow further and earn its rightful place in the contemporary music world.

For me the most memorable moment was the premiere of Contemporaneous’s co-artistic director, composer Dylan Mattingly’s Riverrun (A Way A Lone A Last A Loved A Long the Riverrun). It is a fantastic piece, and I was very honored to be asked to do the world premiere. Dylan has a really good instinct of how to widen the horizons of writing for the bassoon (and writing music for it that is actually playable without painfully annoying and pointless demands from the player . . .), and I do hope that in the near future he will surprise us with a full scale bassoon concerto that will shake up the rather dusty repertoire a bit.

Q: Would you name some pieces of music new to you that you particularly enjoy?

How about a selection from my Recently Played playlist on iTunes?

  • Ligeti: Öt Arany dal
  • Britten: The Turn of the Screw
  • Verdi: Othello
  • Stravinsky: Les Noces
  • Schumann: Cello Concerto

Q: I always know that I’m making a big assumption when I ask about free time. Do you have any, and if so, how do you like to spend it?

I feel really lucky to do things professionally that I enjoy tremendously. Work (rehearsals, practicing, arranging concerts, etc.) never feels like a chore, and I anticipate things staying this way for a long time to come.

Free time indeed has been a rare treat in the past few years. The little I have I try to spend with friends. When I don’t feel like being social I usually read, which fortunately I get to do a lot as part of my schoolwork; I am taking an amazing course on Nabokov’s short stories this semester that will supply me with enough inspiring reading material till the summer. I do also have a few TV series that I really like, including Mad Men, for instance.

I also love cooking, and I am looking forward to doing a lot more of it starting next year, along with a potential new hobby: home brewing.


Postscript: This edition of This Life in Music is the second in a two-part series. The first part featured violinist Sabrina Tabby.


What’s New for Dávid Adam Nagy

On April 13, 2013, at 8PM, Nagy will perform in a recital entitled “Madness at its Best”: I have played some mad pieces to date but nothing quite as wild as the selections for this recital. Five composers at their best, writing for cello, flute and shakuhachi, all re-rendered for the duo of Milena Gligic, virtuoso pianist, and me with my domestic-partner (bassoon, balloon, celloon, bello…), Sebastian. The fantastic Stanley Moore and Rylan Gajek-Leonard will also join us for a surprise with their real (stringed) cellos. Wine(s) and cheese to follow, and hopefully, as well, a lively discussion in the black and white lobby of our very own Bitó Building. For more information, click here.

On May 17, 2013, at 8PM, also at Bard’s Bitó Building, Nagy will perform a recital of world premieres and recent new music including new commissions from Tamzin Ferré Elliott, Alex Fager, and Andrés Martínez de Velasco, and pieces by Dylan Mattingly and Elliott Carter.

About Dávid Adam Nagy

Dávid Adam Nagy hails from Debrecen, Hungary. A top-ranking graduate of the Zoltán Kodály High School of Music, Nagy was admitted as a Bitó Scholar to the unique double degree program of the Bard College Conservatory of Music where his studies focus on the bassoon and Japanese language and literature. He is a student of Patricia Rogers and Marc Goldberg and studies as well with cellist Luis Garcia-Renart. Over the past 10 years Nagy has won numerous competitions and was also a recipient of the Kodály Prize for his excellence in music and academics. In August 2012, he was named a Distinguished Visitor of Táchira County in Venezuela while was a teaching artist at the inaugural San Juan de Colòn Music Festival. Nagy has appeared as a soloist with the American Symphony Orchestra led by music director Leon Botstein and on the Bard Conservatory’s first European Chamber Music Tour. He recently took on the role of director of development for Contemporaneous.


 Listening List

Dylan Mattingly’s A Way A Lone A Last A Loved A Long the Riverrun

For Contemporaneous: Dávid Adam Nagy, bassoon, Amy Garapic, percussion, Finnegan Shanahan, violin, Dylan Mattingly, cello & composer, Zachary Israel, contrabass, and David Bloom, conductor

Felix Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D minor, op.49 III. Scherzo

Performed by the TNTrio: Sabrina Tabby, violin, Dávid Adam Nagy, bassoon, Mayumi Tsuchida, piano (with David Bloom assisting)

Jeremy Denk playing The Alcotts from Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata

16 thoughts on “This Life in Music: Bassoonist Dávid Adam Nagy

  1. David N

    At the risk of gushing, thanks for bringing to life another talented and delightful Young Person. Love the lead image; heads up for the listening list and to everything he says – especially about Jeremy Denk (whose revelatory fresh take on Prokofiev Visions Fugitives was a highlight of my last visit to Bard; and I had his Ives Alcotts, too, in my Glasgow riff on Beethoven’s Fifth). Makes me quite nostalgic for Budapest, though the present situation, with institutionalised anti-semitism and other governmental extremes, make it no place to be at the moment.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      David: I hope you’ll always risk gushing whenever you wish, and no better a reason that I can think of than celebration of the Dávid Adam Nagys and, as you so delightfully put it, other talented and delightful Young Persons of the world. I’m proud to present them here, you can be sure. I remember you noting Jeremy Denk in your post. I’ve missed an opportunity to hear him live so far, but hope that will be corrected soon. On the subject of Hungary, more to come below.

  2. Leigh McAdam (@hikebiketravel)

    I loved reading about how music entered David’s life. As someone who literally begged my parents for a piano – for years as a birthday present, I am envious of people with supportive parents and those that have the talent to go so far. Great post – that also makes me want to visit Hungary.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Leigh: Supportive parents and talent figure large in the equation, don’t they? I had the former, but only a modicum of the latter, though enough for me to be able to appreciate beautiful music, beautifully performed, and the talent and dedication it takes to do that. You do, I must say, make your own kind of beautiful music with nature and travel to so many beautiful spots in the world, and how lucky we are that you share so generously what you discover. I hope, also, to visit Hungary one day–I do hope the situation there improves soon.

  3. Jane and Lance Hattatt

    Hello Susan:
    Dávid Nagy is an impressive young man. Not only on account of his prodigious musical talent, but also for his capacity to inspire and support others to give of their best and, even on occasion, to venture into uncharted musical waters. He is courageous, an extremely hard worker, a consummate professional, a passionate performer and all round good egg!!! We feel privileged that he has come into our lives and we hold him very dear to our hearts.

    The whole Bard College Central European Tour experience was a life enhancing event for us. Our eyes were opened to music making at the highest level by young people who are, of course, all our futures. Hope springs eternal when this happens.

    Never more so has Budapest, a most magical and highly cultured city, needed to be in the limelight so that the Arts in all their forms and guises can be allowed to blossom against the many pressures which are upon them currently.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Jane & Lance: I can’t express enough my delight that you had the opportunity to meet, get to know, and hear the music of Dávid Nagy, Sabrina Tabby, and all those from Bard involved in the tour. It’s one thing for me to cheer from here, quite another to be able to share the experience with others. I agree with you that “Hope springs eternal when this happens,” and, from what I’ve learned along the way, hope is sorely needed where you are right now.

  4. wanderer

    Another thank you from me Susan for introducing this wonderful, and brave, and diplomatic young artist. And like David, I have special memories, extending back to the Soviet days, and more recently when we for several years returned for the Summer Wagner Festival in the brilliant Palace of Arts, a short tram ride down the river from the hotel where some even say Raoul Wallenberg was last seen, his memorial nearby. But no more.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      wanderer: I feel very lucky indeed to be close enough to Bard to get up to hear Dávid Nagy, Sabrina Tabby, and all the other wonderful musicians at Bard as often as I do, and it’s a special pleasure to know they’re being heard around the world. It is a dream of mine to visit the cities of the Danube, of which Budapest is a crowning jewel. It is tragic what is happening there. One can only hope that these bleak circumstances will change soon.

    2. David N

      Thanks for the link to that very chilling New Yorker article, wanderer. It’s a difficult question as to whether by visiting Hungary (as a non-Hungarian and a non-Jew) one is doing wrong: a question for the individual conscience, I guess. I’m kind of inclined to the boycott myself simply because I don’t have to go back at the moment. But how applicable to this ride to the abyss is the Karl Kraus quotation with which the piece ends: “The situation is desperate, but not serious.” I’d be interested to know the Hattatts’ precise take on how this all affects daily life in Budapest at the moment

      1. Susan Scheid Post author

        David, wanderer: Just as Sophie, with her posts on Mali, educated me on the troubles in that part of the world, so, too, my understanding of the depths of the problems in Hungary has increased. I think you’re right that visiting or not is a difficult question, which each must examine for him or herself. I can only, however, applaud the Bard Tour for bringing music to a place where it is so sorely needed–and so endangered. Times like this bring special meaning and poignancy to a concert in Budapest that was greeted by a standing room only crowd. I hope we can all join in, across the world, in giving Dávid Nagy, Sabrina Tabby, and the other musicians who participated, resounding and prolonged “iron applause.” I was always proud to know them. I’m even prouder now.

  5. angela

    Hello my dear blog friend… thank you so much for checking on the YHC the other day. I must revisit you and MK’s post tomorrow for I swore I would sleep before midnight! Anyhoo, thought of you Not certain if you had heard of this via your music circles, so thought I would share. Currently taking 4 classes…but may be room for one more, no?! Be well ~ a

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Angela: Thank you so much for sending on the link, which I hadn’t seen. The roster of presenters includes some excellent people, including Marin Alsop and Jennifer Higdon, to name just two. I may just sign up! Get some sleep, and, as always, I’ll look forward to seeing you over here when you can.

      1. angela

        …another wonderful post, Susan, that has me wishing to get back to my appreciation for music on a deeper level (ergo, think I must attend those short lectures in April). Nagy is yet another young talent you have highlighted – thank you! I must also say that I am delighted to discover his mention of Denk – just visited his blog and listened to a piece and am quite smitten.

        1. Susan Scheid Post author

          Angela: I did sign up for the course, and thank you again for spotting it. Perhaps our paths will cross there, Who knows? Pleased to know you’re enjoying Denk. I just missed (again) hearing him live in NYC–he had a concert the day before I arrived. Ah, well. Just received some great news about Dávid, BTW: he’s been accepted at Juilliard for grad school!

  6. Britta

    Dear Susan,
    thank you for this fine interview! I listened to the music in a break from my project – so good to experience something else! Isn’t it interesting to meet bloggers – or, in this case – people who met a blogger like the Hattats – that you know through their written words?

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Britta: Thanks for coming by! Agreed, it’s tremendously interesting to meet in real life those we only know through written words. In that regard, I hope for the chance to meet you one day on your home ground of Berlin!

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