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Marta Sebestyen and the Muzsikas Hungarian Folk Ensemble

A demonstration and discussion

Friday, November 21, 2008
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM
1325 Schoenberg Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095


Márta Sebestyén has long been known in her native land as the greatest interpreter of Hungarian folk music. Sebestyén has been introducing the wealth of Hungarian culture to the world for several decades. There is no other artist who could better represent the authenticity of Hungarian folk music.

Born in Budapest in 1957, Sebestyén grew up surrounded with music. Her mother, a music teacher, studied with the great composer, scholar and ethnomusicologist Zoltan Kodály. At age 12, she already knew that her life would be bound to music.

She has toured all over the world with Hungarian bands and recorded many albums. Sebestyén has slowly but surely made her way to the very top as an international folk performer. Her collaboration with the French group Deep Forest won a Grammy Award in 1996 for Boheme. She recently recorded Big Blue Ball with Peter Gabriel and has been discovered by other genres as well, such as film. She was the singer in the film The English Patient, which won nine Oscars (including Best Music) in 1997. She recorded three songs with Muzsikás, which appeared in the Japanese animated movie Only Yesterday by critically acclaimed director Isao Takahata. She also sang in and contributed material to the album Kaddish by Towering Inferno (Richard Wolfson and Andy Saunders, 1993).

Muzsikás is the most popular and renowned Hungarian folk ensemble in Hungary and worldwide, playing traditional Hungarian music for almost three and a half decades. Their performance is an exciting musical experience, transporting the audience back to the remote Hungarian village atmosphere where traditions survived the centuries.

Muzsikás is the name given to musicians playing traditional folk music in Hungarian villages. The formation of the Muzikás ensemble coincided with the European revivalist movement of the 1970s, whereby interest lay not only in the traditions, but also the roots of culture.

The members of the group play and improvise in the style of traditional Hungarian folk bands, in which the solo violin and the song typically were accompanied with the three-stringed viola and contrabass. The musicians also play other instruments, which enables them to produce an extensive range of exciting and unusual color tones. The music of Muzsikás can be characterized as the traditional arrangements of authentic Hungarian folk music, featuring a playing style typical of the best village musicians. They play genuine folk music, the most beautiful melodies of which were considered by Béla Bartók to be equal to the greatest works of classical music.

Muzsikás has toured all over the world, appearing in the greatest festivals and most renowned concert halls such as the Barbican Center and the Royal Festival Hall in London, the Cité de la Music and the Théater de la Ville in Paris, Carnegie Hall and Town Hall in New York.

Muzsikás is the first Hungarian folk ensemble to be accepted by the classical music world. Its special music program combines traditional music with the classical compositions of Bartók, Kodály, Kurtág, Ligeti. Renowned classical soloists (Alexander Balanescu, Roel Dieltiens, Jenô Jandó), string quartets (Takács, Keller, Bartók quartets), choirs and symphonic orchestras (Danubia Orchestra, BBC-SSO, Orchestra of Radio France) are partners in these collaborations. Recently Muzsikás appeared in the BBC Proms Festival in the Royal Albert Hall, London, collaborating with the London Sinfonietta.

The ensemble’s music appears in the film of the Oscar-winning director Costa Gavras, Music Box, having received the first prize in the Berlin film festival in 1989. It has provided the music for a contemporary dance piece titled “Dancing Room,” which was performed in several theaters in England and filmed by the BBC. Muzsikás was awarded the most respected Hungarian state award for artists, the Kossuth Prize.

Sponsor(s): Center for European and Eurasian Studies, Ethnomusicology, UCLA Live

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