Written by Márton Szives
The first solo album of Gergely Lukács, Fifty Shades of Tuba is now available at Saker Music. Gergely, the winner of numerous international competitions did not hesitate to answer a few of our eager questions. He shared his thoughts and experiences about the making of his debut album and his life as a tuba player.
Márton Szives: Reading your bio, we can imagine that you must be a motivated, ambitious and incredibly talented young tubist. Since your childhood you set a goal to make the tuba become more accepted as a solo instrument and to wash off the ‘oompah-pah cliché’ that most people associate the tuba with. Do you think that you have succeeded with this dream? Can you recall any stories that re-enforced that dream?
Gergely Lukács: It is hard to pinpoint one specific event, but I keep receiving an enormous amount of positive comments from great musicians, from which I can always draw energy from to continue towards my goal. Although, you know, the greatest critic is always the audience. And they seem to enjoy my solo recitals.
I have a fun story to share: Last year, I had the chance to play with the fantastic Szolnok Air-force Band in Debrecen. My mother was sitting in the audience, so I asked her to record the whole concert. When I finished performing the Carmen Fantasy, a virtuoso composition by Roland Szentpáli, an elderly woman who was sitting in front of my mother burst out: „Well, who would even want to listen to the violin anymore when a tuba can play just as virtuosic?” No offense to violin players, but I guess it is one small step towards making my dream come true.
After your studies, you have continued to perform with the top players of today’s music scene. Everyone in the international brass community knows the name Roland Szentpáli, your former teacher. He is one of the most famous tuba soloists of our time. How do you feel about regularly performing and hanging around such a ‘super star’?
G.L.: A few months ago I played a double concerto by Vivaldi with Roland accompanied by the Miskolc Symphonic Orchestra. While hanging out in the town of Miskolc, I told him about the times when I was in high school. My friends and me would often gather around a laptop listening to Roland’s incredible recordings. And now, I am standing on stage beside him! My childhood hero! It is an inexplicable feeling to have him as my teacher, my colleague and most importantly, my friend. He would never make me feel that he is superior to me. He is always helpful and friendly. Roland has been a pioneer to make the tuba a solo instrument and I aspire to carry on that legacy. I think both of us made very positive impacts on the image of our instrument, but on a longer term it is going to be up to the audience.
Besides playing your solo recitals, you also emphasized your goals by releasing your first CD. Let’s begin with the title: Fifty Shades of Tuba. Why? Is it suppose to be just a catchy title, reflecting on a recent movie or is there more behind those ‘shades’?
It is quiet difficult these days to grasp the attention of the audience in this impulsive world. I wanted to give a catchy title, but with a reasonable thought behind it. I am sure that many people know the movie. And I am certain that a few people got interested about my album just by having a similar title to the movie. Especially after looking at the cover. It suggests something mysterious. Something unusual, that you just want to unwrap. (laughs)
Anyway, I aimed to select pieces of a great variety, with various characters, big contrasts, so the listener could pick their favorite 'shade'.
The first track has definitely fulfilled this wish: Telemann’s B major canon sonata is recorded with Roland Szentpáli by your side. Who was the leader in this recording, who determined the style and characters that you played with, or was it collaborative?
For me, working with Roland is always a huge eye-opener. He is more experienced in baroque music than I am, so I was constantly picking up on his musical interpretations, but we did not name a leader. We understood each other pretty well without one of us being the leader. The recording session was more like having fun and making music together. Hence I would like to quote the tuba artist Dr. László Szabó here, whose thoughts sum up some of my feelings perfectly: „The Telemann is simply perfect. A great example of sharing the same feelings, matching ideas and clear, articulate playing. It seems like you two were just sitting in a practice room for a bit and having fun together. The audience will feel that you created something special together. It is a great idea starting the CD this way.”
You also recorded the Mozart B flat major bassoon concerto with the Danubia Orchestra of Óbuda. Was there anything in the music that you had to modify to make it more suitable for the tuba?
I did not make a ‘tuba edition’ for myself. I played from the original bassoon score note-by-note as Mozart wrote it. I wanted to play this piece for a long time, although I did not feel that I was mature enough technically, nor musically, until I decided to record it. So I set a goal that I would record this piece on my first album. As far as I know, I am the first tuba player to have recorded this piece.
And how did you feel about being in front of the Danubia Orchestra?
As an orchestra tuba player, I play with the Danubia Orchestra all the time, but as a soloist this was my first time. I ought to list every member of the orchestra, for their artistry and professional approach, but I must highlight Máté Hámori, the music director and conductor of the Danubia Orchestra. Máté was very supportive during the whole recording process. His understanding of the piece and organizing the recording was unmatched. Without him this would not have happened at all. I really appreciate his professionalism in the making of this recording.
The next on the album is Cherubini’s Second Horn Sonata with the Óbuda String Quartet. Is there any technical difference in playing a bassoon or a horn piece on the tuba? Or for you the technical difficulties of the instrumentation don’t matter anymore because you will play it anyways?
It does not matter if it is horn, bassoon, flute, violin, or tuba. My first priority is always to make the transcription similar to the original score as accurately as possible. It was the same case with the Cherubini too. I played it once with the Liszt Ferenc Chamber Orchestra in the semi-final round of the Virtuoso competition, [editor: a classical music TV show in Hungary] so I have really good memories of it. Nevertheless, it is a fantastic piece. I could not exclude it from the CD.
We are nearly at the end of the list and you have got a delicacy for us: A co-production with Ágnes Szelcsányi. You have been working with Szelcsányi on many projects. How do you see her: a personal accompanist, a teacher, a partner?
If I could choose an accompanist for life, I am totally sure she would be the one. May I say, she is my musical soulmate. Every moment spent playing together with her is a treasure. Her sensitivity and professionalism know no bounderies, so working on this beautiful Rachmaninoff-piece was really uplifting. Every musicians have they burdens and playing this piece always brings up those memories. This is why it is a masterpiece; It has incredible emotional influence and I could hardly contain them. For me this is agony, bitterness, hopelessness. Although these are parts of life therefore parts of my album as well.
At the end of the album you treat us with a recoding with the Concert Band of Győr. Why the Concert Band of Győr? What are the differences between playing with a concert band and a symphonic orchestra?
Roland Szentpáli recorded his album „i3” with the Concert Band of Győr previously, so he recommended working with them. The concert Band of Győr was a great choice! I was very happy to play with the fantastic musicians of the band! I must recall the conductor Ferenc Szabó’s professional work with admiration. He conducted Juraj Filas’ extremely complicated concerto with devotion and was full of energy. Mr. Filas, with whom I keep a good relationship with and who was helping us during the recording, wrote to me: „Fantastic! You did a thrilling work! Huge congratulations!!! And many thanks … you perfectly understood my work.”
You mentioned that your favorite piece of music was once Mozart’s B flat major bassoon concerto. Do your favorites change often?
As I grow as a musician, I get to learn more about the great repertoire of classical music. It is a wonderful process. Currently I am in love with Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. It is a masterpiece from the beginning to the end.
Are you planning to make a tuba version of it?
(laughs) I am not sure, maybe one day it will be possible.
It was fantastic having you at Saker Music. We would also like to congratulate you on your album and we wish you all the best for your upcoming concerts!
Thank you guys. It has been my pleasure!
Order the CD now 🤜 https://sakermusic.eu/product/gergely-lukacs-fifty-shades-of-tuba/