When you go to a Roby Lakatos show, you know you are going to be entertained –
big time! The Gypsy violinist and his ensemble will be one of the headliners at
next week’s seventh annual Eilat Chamber Music Festival, which will take place
down south March 11- 17.
The Hungarian-born, Belgium-resident fiddler
was born in 1965 into a renowned family of Romani violinists descended from late
18th-century fiddler Janos Bihari.
Known as “the King of Gypsy
Violinists,” Bihari was one of the founders of the verbunkos Hungarian dance and
music genre. Lakatos imbibed a heady musical diet from the word go and made his
public performance as first violin in a Gypsy band at the age of nine.
his teens he spread his artistic wings and got a good grounding in the classical
side of the business, attending the Bela Bartok Conservatory of Budapest and
winning first prize for classical violin at 19.
In 1986, Lakatos
relocated to Brussels and enjoyed a 13-year stint at the Les Ateliers de la
Grande Ille restaurant there, making the venue a popular spot for locals and
tourists alike. Legendary classical violinist Sir Yehudi Menuhin was among the
Lakatos devotees and made a point of dropping by to catch the Hungarian’s show
whenever he was in town. Lakatos even got a chance to jam and play concerts with
Menuhin. “Yehudi was very important for my career at that stage,” notes
“Music has always been in my blood,” said Lakatos in a recent
telephone conversation from Budapest, where he said it was 12 degrees below zero
at the time. Naturally, the violinist was looking forward to coming somewhere a
bit warmer, on a return visit to the Red Sea resort.
Lakatos will offer
the Eilat audience the benefit of his instrumental skills and captivating
personality, as well as the priceless added value of breeding. “All my family
played music, and I am the seventh generation of violin players,” he said. “I
knew I was going to be a professional musician from a very young
Despite the strong traditional strand that ran through Lakatos’s
ancestry, the young violinist was keen to get as broad a musical education as
possible. Besides classical music, he also got into jazz and later enjoyed a
formative artistic confluence with renowned French Gypsy-jazz fiddler Stéphane
Grappelli, and played on Grappelli’s last album in 1988.
“It was a
wonderful experience playing with Stephane. He was a legend,” declared
Lakatos, adding that it was also the realization of a long-held
“He was the most important jazz violin player in the world, and
when I was young I used to listen to all his records. I never imagine that one
day I would play with him.” The musical encounter also spawned a close
off-stage relationship. “We became friends, and we played together many
Lakatos’s synergies with Menuhin and Grappelli also gave him a
firsthand handle on an earlier phase of the evolution of 20th-century
“It was great to play with artists from an earlier generation and
to understand better where it all came from,” he said.
branched out into other areas of Eastern European music and has played with
preeminent Argentinean-born Israeli klezmer clarinetist Giora
There have also been collaborations with Yiddish singer Miriam
Fuks, the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra and acclaimed Jewish American jazz
trumpeter Randy Brecker.
A Lakatos show is always an intimate affair and
harks back to a previous era.
“It is sort of Gypsy fusion music and a
kind of coffee house style, like the music they used to play in Hungary before
the Second World War,” he explained. It was basically entertainment provided in
an unstarched environment.
“People would drink tea and coffee in cafés
and restaurants, and that was the music I learned with my father when I was
young. After that, the music was taken to the stage.”
The relocation also
impacted on the musical fare delivered to the audience. “The music had to be
changed a bit to adapt to playing it in halls, so I made changes in the rhythms
and styles and turned it into a show.”
Above all, Lakatos is an
entertainer and likes to get his audience going.
“I don’t like it when
people sleep in my concerts,” said Lakatos with plenty of tongue in cheek. “I
prefer people to dance at my concerts.”
He said he also tends to feed off
his audiences’ energies and to get a sense of what they want from him.
have played in Eilat before, and there is always a great audience there. The
people in Eilat are always very enthusiastic and very energized. I like that.
There are always a lot of Russians in the audience, so I play Russian music in
my program for them. It is always great fun in Eilat.”
If you’re looking
to catch up on some sleep, you’d be best advised to give the Roby Lakatos
Ensemble gig in Eilat a miss. If, on the other hand, you’re looking to do some
serious toe topping or even some aisle moves, the March 16 A Gypsy Celebration
show in Eilat (9 p.m.) is for you.
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