A Minute With: Hungarian violinist Kelemen - proud of Roma roots

Sat Sep 21, 2013 5:45am EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - Hungarian violinist Barnabas Kelemen has studied with the late virtuoso Isaac Stern and won Gramophone magazine's award for best chamber music CD of 2013, but what he is really proud of is his Roma heritage.

Kelemen, who was in London this week to accept the prestigious Gramophone award for his disc of Bartok violin sonatas and to appear with his wife Katalin Kokas in the Kelemen Quartet at Wigmore Hall on Sunday, credits his late Roma violinist grandfather as an inspirational figure in his life.

"I can play in the gypsy style and I love it," Kelemen, 35, told Reuters in an interview.

"It's very important artistically," he said, while noting that because of discrimination against the Roma community in Hungary and elsewhere in central Europe, "there are many examples of parents not talking about their background".

Kelemen, on the other hand, is proud that his grandfather Pali Pertis may well have been the model for French composer Maurice Ravel when he wrote his famous Roma-inspired, if not Roma-authentic, "Tzigane". It was commissioned by Hungarian violinist Jelly d'Aranyi and first performed by her in 1924.

"My grandfather was born in 1903 and as a very young prodigy, as a teenager, he travelled to Europe and it is not impossible that Ravel himself heard my grandfather in Paris."

Kokas, seated at the table during the interview, interjects to suggest that everyone knows this to be the case, but Kelemen, while not disagreeing, says: "It's not proven."

Here's what else he had to say about why the music of major Hungarian composers like Bartok and Kodaly is being played better than ever, why Hungarians may have an edge but aren't the only musicians who can play the pieces, and where his career is going from here.   Continued...