Humpty Dumpty Sat on Wall, Humpty Dumpty Had a Great Fall by Balázs Pándi

Hooray, the decision’s been made: Yvette Bozsik will be Trafó’s new director. Since the whole circus has been amply documented on the web, including many contradicting statements from the new management, I spare you a summary.

But no one has yet discussed the utter dilettantism permeating the proposal’s chapter on music. As a former programmer of several downtown clubs when I realised what we can expect in Trafó I cried out loud like Klaus Kinski in the opening scene of Cobra Verde. If a proposal with mispelled names and a very weak musical programme, several of whose proposed performers would ask for 150% of Trafó’s present annual music budget in fees, makes it through the expert committee, a fair question to ask is what are these committee members experts of. My guess would be in baking.
Of course I understand the noble principle that a baker is also an expert, but he at least can eat his own botched pastry, whereas we are the ones being force fed what’s been botched up here and we aren’t even allowed to think this might have been a political decision.

Some quotes from the music program of Bozsik’s proposal: “Jazz, world-music, contemporary music, drum and bass, ambient. All performed by the best.”

While in 2010 the only serious jazz blog in Hungarian announces four presenters for the end of the year 2010 alone, in this proposal we only find two names for the next five years. And both are based in Hungary and have been performing in Trafó regularly. Of course there is another possible solution, to quote the classic Hungarian stand-up comedian, Géza Hofi, “big money, big game, small money, small game” (an anecdote about the legendary Hungarian “Golden” soccer-team). “We would like to cooperate with the Academy of Music and present the thesis concerts of graduating contemporary music and jazz students to the Trafó audience.” The committee of experts must have been swept away by this line, but there are a few facts to consider: it isn’t the same whether you have living legends like Jim Hall on the stage, or a guitar-player, who plays standards in restaurants making businessmen doze off into their Wellington steaks. It might be an interesting piece of information that there is no contempirary music faculty at the Academy of Music, and there are no thesis concerts in what might be the closest guess at the faculty of composition. It’s a shame the committe of experts missed these little details, but no worries, for all of that will at least “be performed by the best”.
Drum and Bass are real cute, too, but I have some bad news. Their remaining audiences, who haven’t fallen in love with the since then more current and/or trendy electronnic music genres, don’t usually leave their homes before one a.m and they like their music loud. Let me just note that opposite Trafó there is a children’s clinic, which the otherwise socially sensitive applicants seem to have missed.

"What would be a novelty compared to what has been is the more dominant presence of Hungarian artists and Eastern European bands.” Let’s not fool ourselves, let’s accept the fact that from the above mentioned genres it is world and contemporary music we have the most in common with here in Eastern Europe, as for the rest, let’s accept that almost all important names come from the West.

"We’d encourage improvisation nights, jam sessions and experiments to think together and transcend styles.” The very thought of a jam session creeps me out, since I have attended some music schools and have worked as barmen in some places where this sneaky little blight has taken root. Let me explain it to those who go to bed early. When music school graduates play with a stubborn “I can do it!” face, meant for an LP cover, improvising, each on his own, often reverting to adaptations. Thanks to which most people will run a mile if they here music based on improvisation. Not to mention the fact that these will never fill Trafó’s main auditorium.

The List:

Most of the list seem like the love child of a shunned bluestocking’s iPod and Petőfi Radio’s (a conservative public music station no one listens to) 2009 top-ten list conceived on the work-desk scattered with flyers of the Palace of Arts, Trafó and many Hungarian clubs and festivals. As far as wording and content are concerned this chapter seems to have been written by a naiv twenty-year old fresh out of event-programming school before actually organising his first concert. So let’s not beat around the bush and see the names mentioned in the proposal with some added information.

Ákos Szelevényi. A strong beginning I thought. Although he has performed in Trafó as Joseph Nadj’s composer and this past September in a duo with Joëlle Léandre, Ákos does deserve an solo evening, if that is the applicant’s goal. So here at the top of the list we have one of the few performers, who we should have nothing against.

Mátyás Premetz. To start from the beginning, I think Mátyás would appreciate if they left his last name in peace and called him Premecz, especially in a proposal submitted to a committee of experts. He is a great musician, here I agree with the applicant, but I think the main auditorium would be too big for a solo evening, his chances further dwindling through his weekly gig at the Lámpás Club every Wednesday.

Bori Rutkai. She had her first big concert in Trafó, as well as her two album debuts. Here you can read what Bori has to say about her positive experiences with Trafó.

Péterfy Bori & Love Band. They have been featuring in Trafó’s programme so far and Bori is one of the few performers, for whom people are ready to fill clubs beyond the Blaha-Deák-Jászai triangle (the heart of downtown Budapest).
Yonderboi. Said no to the Palace of Arts, Trafó would be too small for his comeback in Hungary.

Balkan Fanatic. One letter is no letter might become a motto of this proposal, but if what they mean is the band I know as Balkan Fanatik, I don’t get how they would fit into Trafó’s programme.

Veronika Harcsa. A solo? Quartet? Bin-Jip? This is not clarified, but in order to demonstrate what great ideas the management-to-be-replaced have had: their concert is coming up on 11th of February in Trafó.

Bea Palya. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d be for spending taxpayers’ monies on artists, who don’t feature on every morning and cooking show of every commercial TV-station and don’t smile at us from every crossword-puzzle and women’s magazine. But all of that aside, she has had three concerts at the end of the year on Trafó.

Félix Lajkó. Plays regularly on different stages in Budapest.

The Durgas. They are promoted as a US band everywhere, but there is a Hungarian connection, even if not as strong as Zoli Téglás and Ignite. This of course doesn’t stop them from playing in small clubs or Gödör. As I watch their videos on youtube, their audiences vary between 100 and 3000, which means that the music programmer probably won’t get murderous looks from the top international programmers at Womex for stealing the jackpot.

Dj Krush. Three more gigs and he’ll be made an honorary citizen of Budapest.

Michael Nyman: Let me make a small detour here. About a healthy and proportionate dividing of resources. By paying someone a horrendously high fee I take the money from another show, which makes keeping the quality even. You don’t have to be an economist to know that. If I invite a big name, I’ll have to solve the rest of the concerts under more modest circumstances. Michael Nyman belongs in the category of people who can be payed with such a solution, but 1. He’s performed at the Palace of Arts. 2. He was a guest in György Szabó’s Pecsa in the nineties. 3. Like I said, other concerts would suffer. 4. More than half of the audience would not fit in, which in addition to promoting profiteering and potential tragedies, raises the question why they won’t organise a concert where all those interested can fit in.

Philippe Heritier. I found a name I hadn’t know, I thought, an unavoidable musician I haven’t discovered. But Google disappointed me quickly. What I found in any of the three languages I speak fluently were all linked to Yvette Bozsik’s projects.

Boban and Marko Markovic Orchestra, Emir Kusturica & The No Smoking Orchestra. Regardless of the fact that they share a rental on the Grand Boulevard of Pest with Pat Metheny and Al Di Meola, it would be an exaggaration to claim that a real, fresh Balkan music is what the House of Contemporary Arts needs like a breath of fresh air.

Portishead. They were the headliners of Balaton Sound’s main stage last year. To try and program them in Trafó is the very definition of dilettantism.

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. Their fee is about 150% of Trafó’s annual budget for music programs. Sziget Main Stage is the proper category.

Tom Waits. I am beginning to think they picked three random names from three consecutive days from among a big festival’s headliners, or that the applicants thought only their friends listen to Portishead, and only a handful of people want to hear Nick Cave or Tom Waits live.

The Lounge Lizards. In the nineties Lounge Lizards performed in Pecsa. Accidentally it was Trafó’s present managing director, György Szabó who programmed them, the same man, who was among the first to discover Yvette Bozsik’s talent round the same time and whom she now wants to replace. You can figure out the rest of the story. It is of little consequence that while walking on Petőfi Bridge after a Trafó Sex Mob Concert with Steven Bernstein, Lounge Lizards’ trumpeter around 2005, we discussed that the head of the band, John Lurie is so sick that he can’t stand on stage and has turned to the fine arts instead, so there is no chance Lounge Lizards will play anywhere.

Diamanda Galas. Like Michael Nyman, only even more expensive.

Gavin Bryars. Oh, the good old nineties in Szabó’s Pecsa - they seemed to have left their mark on some.

Boris Kovac & Ladaaba Orchest. They played at Sziget in 2009 and performed in a club concert in Budapest.

Autechre. I organised both Hungarian concerts of Autechre. For the first we thought of Trafó rightaway, but after clarifying the most basic conditions we had to realize that this venue cannot handle this concert for a very simple reason. Members of Autechre are known for their legendary autonomy. If they feel like it, they start playing at 4 in the morning with with a much higher volume than usual. This features as a separate point in their contract. We thought in unethical to expose those in the children’s clinic mentioned above to such an experience. The applicants seem to think the opposite.

The Residents. Based on the principle of all’s well that ends well here stands a name who have never been to Hungary, so in five years there would be at least one concert, the multiple of which have up until now made Trafó’s music programme so special.

After analysing the list we have three categories, which the new management of the so far always renewing and very frequented Trafó see as the venue’s future in music. Performers whom Trafó has invited before, others who Trafó cannot afford and/or whom the venue cannot service, and yet others with regular guest performances in Budapest. I hope the rest of the proposal does not reflect the same kind of so ardent zeal for openness and that the bashful artists and experts, whose presence has been more mysterious than that of Columbo’s wife, will finally come forward after the result has been announced.

The author is an active musician, who has toured from Europe through Japan to the US and who also works as a concert organiser. In the past 11 years he has presented more than 250 performers from punk bands to 12-member contemporary chamber orchestras.