Modern Themes in Classic Budapest • Part II

Cynthia Albers

May 17, 2016

Budapest Spring Festival • April 2016

I stepped away from the clattering yellow tram into a labyrinth of shadowy backstreets. After nightfall, the Neo-Renaissance university buildings and historic Great Market Hall appeared to rise from the pavement like dark fortresses. Passing anxiously between them, I felt watched by stone statues that gazed down from high perches. Budapest is steeped in history that is beheld at the turn of every street corner. Architectural testaments of a glorious belle epoch stand across from Soviet-era remains, the dust of which is still being swept from the path of new prosperity. A few streets later a brightly lit (and very modern) doorway confirmed my arrival at the Opus Jazz Club, in the newly emerging Budapest arts district.

BMC • Opus Jazz Club

Comfortable Digs

Nestled inside the 21stcentury Budapest Music Center (BMC), on its ground and subterranean floors, the Opus Jazz Club could easily blend with trendy locales in San Francisco or Paris. Two levels of table seating and a progressive menu for dining make this a comfortable and stylish haven for nightlife. Among a variety of programs offered at various venues (from comedy to modern dance) on this second night of the Budapest Spring Festival, listeners gathered at Opus Jazz, at the starting hour of 9:00 pm, to witness an international debut.


Andreas Schaerer • Vincent Peirani • Émile Parisien • Michael Wollny

Out of Land

Jazz Impressions

Representing the new generation of jazz, four young but distinguished European musicians performed together, for the first time, under the name Out of Land. The polish of their musicianship was made all the more fascinating by their sources of inspiration. Sharing a similar classical music background, they succeeded in blending moments of classical Expressionism with the free jazz and avant-garde styles of John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk.

Traditional jazz strains were interrupted by harmonies direct from the late-Romantic writing of Richard Wagner and Hector Berlioz. An impressionistic style evoking Claude Debussy flowed periodically between energetic statements of modern hip-hop. Calculated dissonance made way for satisfying grooves. Each performer brought his uniquely individual approach to a sophisticated display of improvised artistry.


A Whole Expression of One’s Being

A truth that these musicians shared: There is common ground between the free and expressionistic style of mid-century jazz legends, like John Coltrane, and the free atonal expressionism of Second Viennese School composers, like Arnold Schoenberg. It was said that the classical Expressionists sought to eliminate all of traditional music’s conventional elements, everything formulaically rigid[1] in order to convey powerful feelings. Coltrane likewise embraced tonal dissonance and emancipation from the predictable, determined to convey powerful feelings by making each performance a “whole expression of one’s being.”[2]

“The only cats worth anything are the cats that take chances.” – Thelonious Monk

Émile Parisien

Émile Parisien (soprano saxophone) reveals that the horn is simply the voice of the true instrument; the body. His music is shaped by ecstatic energy and gesture, and a mastery of musical form allows him to move fluently between structure and spontaneity. Parisien refined his composition skills at the Toulouse Conservatory, where he also studied classical and contemporary music. He continues to find inspiration in the music of Berlioz, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Wagner, and operates from a persistent curiosity, remaining open to “all kinds of good music”. He lives in Paris and performs regularly with accordionist and French compatriot Victor Peirani. Audio: Parisien and Peirani: Modern Jazz of Paris and Song of Medina

Andreas Schaerer

Vocalist Andreas Schaerer, of Bern, Switzerland, appeared to be the force behind this collaboration. He sings in a free style that favors hip-hop and beat box techniques while also incorporating Sprechgesang, scat, and something akin to operatic coloratura. His vocal range is impressive, and he can imitate any wind instrument. Among other notable collaborations, Shaerer was invited by superstar Bobby McFerrin to contribute to the improvised, wordless opera, ‘Bobble’ in 2009-2010. Audio: McFerrin and Schaerer: Live at Cully Jazz


Accordion wizard Victor Peirani, who prefers to perform barefoot, is a superlative talent. Born in Nice, he says he cried as a child when his father gave him an accordion rather than the requested drum set. He ultimately fell in love with the accordion and, as a young teen, became a celebrated classical virtuoso. At age 16 he discovered jazz. Now one of the leading jazz musicians in Paris, he is a musician without borders, saying, “my specialty is that I’m not a specialist.” Audio: Victor Peirani

Michael Wollny

From Leipzig, Germany, pianist Michael Wollny does not overlook any part of the instrument when seeking a means of expression. His mastery of the keyboard is awe-inspiring but not limiting. In this performance he reached inside the soundboard to make use of both wood and string, to great effect. A highly disciplined musician and considered to be the only current German jazz musician with star appeal, he has adopted the trademark Das Unberechenbar – The Unpredictable. Audio: Michael Wollny and  Wollny: Der Wanderer


A Dream Realized

The Budapest Music Center was founded in 1996 for the purpose of archiving and presenting classical, jazz, and contemporary music. The BMC oversees diverse tasks such as the Hungarian Music Information Database and Library, the new BMC record label, and event promotion and production.

László Götz • Founder of BMC

BMC founder and trombonist László Götz considered it important that performers should feel their “dream as a musician has been realized” inside the 120 year old renovated structure, “not the wish of a billionaire investor … or the result of a government decision.”

During the construction, many musicians who visited the site walked around the half-finished building, imagining themselves playing on stage, exchanging ideas, looking up a score in the library, or listening to a CD. On occasion, tears were shed – and there were some who came late at night to become the first to play between the half-finished walls. They all felt that this building is about them, for them. In this building, the musician is all-important, as anyone can tell who comes to listen to a concert, visits the library, or drops in for a cup of tea for no particular reason.[3]

Something to keep in mind when visiting the Opus Jazz Club is that a festival ticket is only valid if you also have a table reservation, and I did not. Lucky for me, my early arrival allowed the manager to seat me at one of the best tables in the house, as they operate on a first-come first-served basis. And although this venue could charge tourist prices for their drinks and food, I was served a very reasonable and delicious bistro meal for the exchange rate of about $9.00.

© Cynthia Albers, 2016, all rights reserved

Peirani and Parisien

[1] Essays on Music, Theodor W. Adorno, University of California Press, 2002.

[2] John Coltrane, New World Encyclopedia, 2013.

[3] Budapest Music Center/Art1st Design Studio, ArchDaily, September 2013.

Next: Modern themes in classic Budapest • Part III

Memories, Connections, Food



  1. Hi, Cindy—

    Sarah passed along the link your blog. I enjoyed reading about the fertile fusion of midcentury jazz with music from the contemporary classical music and contemporary popular music. The work you describe in Budapest reminds me of the Kronos Quartet which decades ago Sarah and I bought season tickets for.

    Thanks for taking your readers along on this visit overseas.



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