Mariusz Smolij Interview

The following reflections by Mariusz Smolij are excerpted from an interview he gave on June 12, 2016, on “The Lost Chord” radio program, on WWFM.

Through the process of visiting Budapest on several occasions and recording Hungarian music (first by Miklos Rózsa with the Budapest Symphony Orchestra), I met many interesting people in the Budapest musical scene. One of them was a musicologist who approached me one day and said, “Well, since you know Rózsa, you must also know Zádor.” That was the first time I heard this name, but he explained to me, “You know, Zádor is a famous Hollywood composer also, with a lot of wonderful symphonic music. You should know him.” Then he introduced me to Zádor’s family, who helped me discover the person behind the scores, giving me some old archival recordings, tapes of interviews, and photographs. Of course, what drove me passionately toward promoting his music was the quality of the output itself.

Zádor is a very interesting figure who bridges the Eastern and Western musical traditions – in that way very close to myself. I was born and educated in Poland, came to this country as a violinist, and then started a career as a conductor. I have always felt that I still belong to the old European traditions, but I’m very much immersed in the American way of performing and promoting music. This was exactly what Zádor faced 50 years before me. He came as a highly educated, prolific composer and teacher, rooted in the traditional European style and form and entire musical culture, and he had to adapt to a new musical culture in the United States. He needed to make money doing “commercial work” for the Hollywood studios, which today many great composers wouldn’t mind. Fifty years ago that was not the case. Those European immigrants were very proud of their traditions, and I think they did the commercial work quite unwillingly. Many of them, including Zádor, just saw it as a way of putting bread on the table for their families. It wasn’t the real thing. The real thing was writing symphonies and concertos and overtures.

On the one hand, Zádor had to adapt to all that. On the other hand, living here and breathing the musical culture, his style changed and evolved, and he absorbed the influences of the new world into his compositions. And I think that by the end of his life he found a beautiful balance between keeping the roots and traditions and all the passion he grew up with, and mixing it with new influences and showing how one’s style can change and develop without losing the authenticity and the person behind it. I think he is one of the most successful composers in that way, being able to combine two different worlds and evolve in his art.

Both composers, Rózsa and Zádor, couldn’t stop being Hungarians – in almost every bar. We know, by studying Bartók’s music, how strongly the way Hungarians speak influences the way they write music. Hungarian is a very unusual language. I travel all over the world (I’ve been to 50 countries), and everywhere I go I am able to pick up little phrases and to communicate basic things in the native language – except for Hungarian. It is a language unlike any other, extremely complicated, extremely unique. The way Hungarians construct sentences – the terminology, the accentuation – is different. 95% of Hungarian words have the accent on the very first syllable, never on the last or next to the last, and the length of words ranges from extremely short to extremely long. So the accents are very unpredictable, which leads to the pulse and pacing of the music and the basic narration being very different, having the same pace of accentuation as the language. And this is in addition to the very rich folk music culture that Hungary has.

This is a very small nation, in the middle of Europe, that has produced more composers, more soloists, more violinists, more conductors than any other nation on earth, per capita. It is a phenomenal thing. I am a violinist, and I know intimately the history, the school of violin teaching, the most important violinists, and the teachers who changed the way we play violin. So many are from Hungary, it’s mind-boggling.

Going back to Rózsa and Zádor: They couldn’t stop being Hungarian. And when they were given the opportunity to write something big for big orchestra, I think they were the best at that time.

Maestro Smolij has conducted almost 100 different orchestras in some of the most prestigious concert halls throughout the world. He is currently in his sixth season as music director of the Arcadiana Symphony Orchestra in Lafayette, Louisiana, and his thirteenth season as music director of the Riverside Symphony in New Jersey. Maestro Smolij has led the Budapest Symphony Orchestra MÁV in four recordings of Eugene Zàdor’s music.