Lakatos lets loose

If your idea of chamber music is a tidy ensemble playing pleasant airs, you’d be well advised to go for a change of mindset.

roby lakatos 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
roby lakatos 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If your idea of chamber music is something along the lines of a tidy ensemble playing pleasant airs that conjure up sublimely pastoral vibes, you’d be well advised to go for a change of mindset if you’re planning to attend the Roby Lakatos Ensemble concert at the Eilat Chamber Music Festival a week from Wednesday (9 p.m.). While the overall ambience of the festival is of a suitable ilk, lilt and energy level, violinist Lakatos and his merry bunch of Hungarian Gypsies are more likely to blow their audience away than lull them into a state of tranquility.
44-year-old Lakatos has been wowing them into the aisles across the globe for over two decades with his unique firebrand approach to his instrument and a wide body of work, ranging from classical pieces to Gypsy numbers designed to get toes tapping and hips swinging. While the music is the most important element in his offering, Lakatos makes no apologies for keeping the visual aspect front and center. “I love to play for the people,” he says. “For me it is important that people enjoy themselves at my concerts. I prefer to see them dance and have a fun atmosphere. For me playing live is more interesting than doing studio work.”
Still, the man has paid his dues. Born into a legendary family of Romani violinists descended from late 18th-century musician János Bihari, the so-called “King of Gypsy violinists,” Lakatos was introduced to music as a child and made his public debut as first violin in a Romani band at the age of nine. He gained a good grounding in the classical sphere, too, attending the prestigious Béla Bartók Conservatory of Budapest, where he won the first prize for classical violin in 1984.
Since then he has branched out into so many areas of music that it is hard to place him in any definable category. His discography, for example, includes a selection of works by Prokofiev, a klezmer outing with the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra, a jazz album with trumpeter Randy Brecker and even a synergy with Yiddish singer Myriam Fuks.
So how does Lakatos manage to keep his nimble fingers in so many musical pies? “I have lived in Belgium for 25 years, since I was 18,” he says. “I have been exposed to lots of different kinds of music in that. But basically there are three elements in our music – Gypsy, classical and jazz. I have been playing all three since I was very young, so it’s natural for me by now.”
Lakatos stretched his oeuvre to the farthest eastern edges of the globe when he teamed up with Japanese shamisen – string instrument – player Shinichi Kinoshita. Even for a player of such flexible musical proportions as Lakatos, that was something of a challenge. “Japanese music is totally different from the music I was brought up with,” he declares. “The problem was that Shinichi’s instrument is limited in tonality, and for me harmony and chords are important, so I had to adapt and change my harmonic approach. It was a challenge but I think it worked well.”
Lakatos says he is looking forward to his first visit here. “I am happyto come to Israel. Lots of people have told me they are the bestaudiences, and I really want to get them involved in my music. We mayplay some klezmer in Eilat, and I have also done some Oriental thingsin the past, so maybe I’ll put some of those elements in too.”
Even so, with a program entitled A Gypsy Feast, one presumes that most of the Lakatos Ensemble’s Eilat offering will come from closer to home.
Elsewhere in the 10-day program (February 18-27), there is an abundanceof classical and ethnic-oriented music on offer, as well as workshopsand master classes, and some stellar slots courtesy of octogenarianactor Roger Moore and author Amos Oz, who will read excerpts from hisbook Scenes from a Village Life.
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