The Musical Director

DSC 0059Richárd Sólyom has been the Musical Director of the Gabrieli Choir since he refounded it in 2005. Widely versed in British musical culture, Richárd is passionately enthusiastic about introducing Hungarian singers to this “wonderful, untapped repertoire,” and is delighted by the interest and commitment his members show. He is equally excited about the challenge of devising ambitious concert programmes and performing them in front of discerning audiences in some of Budapest’s most beautiful churches.

Richárd was born of Hungarian and British parents in England in 1965, and has loved music since he was a boy. He started learning to play the piano when he was six, followed soon after by the cello and later the organ. His first taste of choral singing was as a boy chorister at St. James’s Church, Whitehaven in his native Northwest of England, but his real love for it only developed as an adult twenty years later. In the 1990s he was already singing with a number of  choirs in the area (both chamber and larger sized choirs) when he was invited to join the choir of Carlisle Cathedral. This is a professional choir of boys and men, with an unbroken history stretching back several hundreds of years. The experience – “one of the most profound and rewarding in my whole life” – proved seminal, and it was with a decidedly heavy heart he later gave up his post there to be able to spend more time in Hungary.

In addition to directing the Gabrieli Choir Richárd has led tenor section rehearsals for the Budapest Academic Choral Society (Artistic Director: Gábor Hollerung), and has performed in the A:N:S Chorus (Director: János Bali) and in chamber choirs under the direction of Soma Dinyés. In 2003 he appeared with Budapest Chamber Opera under its Artistic Director Domonkos Moldován, and in 2007 he sang Scottish songs by Haydn and Weber in the Kiscell Museum with soprano Edit Károly and the baroque ensemble Hortus Musicus 99. For ten years, he sang with the Gentlemen’s Choir of St. Stephen’s Basilica, often deputizing for its director Zoltán Mizsei. At the latest count he has worked with over 60 different choral conductors! He remains in close touch with musical life in England, and still manages to sing with his former colleagues at Carlisle Cathedral on special occasions. As time and energies permit he also enjoys taking part in choral workshops in different countries in Europe. He is a member of both the Association of British Choral Directors and Friends of Cathedral Music.
Aims for the Choir

Richárd Sólyom knew when he re-formed the Gabrieli Choir he was embarking on a venture that would have its pitfalls. He set out some ambitious aims for the Choir right from the beginning, namely: to recruit good, enthusiastic singers; to study demanding yet interesting pieces; and to perform ambitious concerts to discerning audiences in conspicuous venues. Happily, over the years, the Choir has developed from its extremely modest beginnings into a coherent body of between twenty-four and thirty singers which gives six to ten roughly hour-long concerts annually. Richárd has been much encouraged by the favourable reaction he has received following the Choir’s concerts. “Our audiences have been very appreciative and supportive,” he says. “I am well aware they are hearing the majority of our repertoire for the first time; so that’s why I set so much store by the programme booklet we make available free at every concert.” This is no hastily produced photocopy of just the concert poster: rather an attractive twenty- or 24-page booklet containing comprehensive programme notes, full texts and translations, biographical details about the performers, calendar of future events, etc., all in both Hungarian and English. “I feel it is important to explain something of the background of the composers whose works we are performing, and the context in which their compositions are most usually heard in the Anglican Church. I am aiming to create something wholly new here; a choir, yes, but I am also trying to build up a new and informed audience.”

Richárd would be the first to acknowledge the impossibility of replicating exactly a style of performance that has evolved over several centuries, but he does aim to remain faithful to as much of the essence of English Cathedral singing as he can. His overarching artistic aim for the Choir is to raise its performance standard so that it ranks alongside the best in its field. As part of this he hopes to be able to take the choir on tour, especially to England, where there is a well established tradition of Cathedrals welcoming guest choirs to sing services when the choristers are on holiday. He also believes there is much to be gained from making recordings, and is continually on the lookout for like-minded conductors and sponsors with whom he can collaborate on exciting new ventures. However, Richárd is also keen to point out that the long-term success of a body like the Gabrieli Choir doesn’t depend solely on its artistic standards. “Of course this is the most important factor,” he explains, “but a professional, dare I say it? more Anglo-Saxon approach to planning, communication, finances and administration is also absolutely vital. These are areas which are too often neglected, as they are seen as time-consuming and not productive. I believe attention paid to them will be more than repaid in the longer term.”

Fortunately, Richárd is someone who is not easily put off by setbacks. He recalls a particular low-point in the early days of the Choir when on a couple of occasions there were only three people at rehearsal: he carried on because he was determined to give the enterprise his best shot. Now, having won the hearts and minds of so many (both singers and audience), of course he is glad he did. He recognizes there will almost certainly be obstacles in the future as well, but he feels with such a talented and enthusiastic group of people around him the Gabrieli Choir has many years’ good singing ahead of it yet.


September 2018
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