Gergely Kuklis

As editors of the Académia Publishing House, my parents often worked at home, and while they were working, they would listen to classical music in the background. By the way, the houseplants standing on the loudspeakers must have also loved it because they brightened the room succulently and vividly.

That I have a talent for music was already revealed in kindergarten because the kindergarten teacher told my parents that I could sing in tune and I should learn a musical instrument. First, I was enrolled in a singing-playing course, then I started playing the violin at the age of six. When I was 9 years old, a small children's orchestra started at the 1st District Music School, where Uncle Frici Róna, an elderly Opera House conductor, worked with us affectionately. I met many of my later colleagues there, including Attila Lezsák and Péter Tfirst.

Of course, like most children, I wasn't particularly keen on practising. In our family, there is an established whistle signal – an excerpt from an overture by Rossini, which, during the war, also saved lives because it was with its help that our relatives found each other – and whenever I heard it while playing four-square ball or riding a bike, I knew that the game was over, I had to go to practice. And then my mum, seeing my sorrowful face, would say: "Don't regret to practise now, because later the world will open up for you". This came true already in the conservatory...

But that's not all I got from music! I suddenly noticed that I could time-travel because I could experience events and feelings through the eyes and senses of composers living hundreds of years ago – their love, devotion, or even their participation in a battle.

Later, I realised that it was the poetic side of music that really captivated me. First of all, I am trying to find a way to polish a sound into a tone and work with the sound as if it was an empty capsule, which I can fill with emotions, feelings and thoughts through my interpretation.

At the conservatory, I was under the tutelage of István Bodonyi, who was exactly 50 years my senior and had no family, and he considered his students as such. The great gift of my life is the five years spent under his guidance. After our final lesson, he wrote down all the scales, exercises, etudes and performance pieces that I had ever played with him. Then he took his violin out of its case, put his hand on my shoulder, and said: "Now, little lad, this will be your instrument; you will play this violin, which I also received from my master years ago". I was completely in awe when I saw the nearly 300-year-old master instrument built in Verona, and with all that, I got wings. I've been playing this violin ever since.

At the Liszt Academy, I was in Béla Bánfalvi's class, and I started helping out in the Budapest Festival Orchestra in the last years of the university; then, I was admitted as a regular member and spent three and a half seasons there. After playing the solo part in Thus Spoke Zarathustra twice, I thought it would be nice to work as a concertmaster. After a little detour in Spain, I acted as such with the MAV Symphony Orchestra and then with the National Philharmonic – I played for the former for 3 years and the latter 18 years. It was a beautiful period of hard work – I knew every detail of the symphonic repertoire, but I could also play some grand solos.

Óbudai Társaskör (the headquarters of the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra) became my good "friend" during these years. I was busy with family life, and I had to prepare for challenging programmes at the National Philharmonic, so I asked the then-director of the Társaskör if I could come to practise there in the evenings. I would arrive at around ten o'clock in the evening and practice until two or half past three in the morning. In the meantime, I helped out with the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra on several occasions so I could always follow the life and work of the ensemble from both far and close.

Then, I made several detours in my life. I acted as concertmaster in Szombathely, Pécs, the Danubia Orchestra, the Hungarian Radio Orchestra. I also worked in Qatar, Cyprus, Malaysia, and finally, Ireland, where I lived and taught for almost three years. During COVID-19, it was film music that "saved" me, so I had the chance to work with Eric Serra or Danny Elfman, for example.

Peti Tfirst once said to me, "Kukliska (my nickname), you are a great tourist!", and then I realised how much I loved this kind of variety. I've recently turned 50, and I made some reckoning. I concluded that even if I had to die now, I had a life full of colours, interesting, at times, challenging, sometimes uplifting and fantastic experiences that are enough for two lifetimes.

"Tourism" has always been thrilling for me, not only in space but also between genres! I have played the violin in orchestras specialising in contemporary music and accompanied Al Di Meola's concerts several times as a member of a string quartet, but I also performed as a member of various historical ensembles, worked as a concertmaster and soloist in Hungary and abroad –, while I also taught at the Bartók Conservatory for two years.

I became a permanent Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra member in March this year. I was helping out when I asked if they should perhaps need another violinist, and Péter Tfirst asked back with astonishment: " Why, would you come?" and I replied: "Of course, I would." From one moment to the next, it became completely obvious that I was here, and I had such a long-standing and close relationship with the ensemble that my employment made me very happy.

I used to love coming to work with the orchestra because I felt that the tensions here remained in the zone below the pain threshold, and the joint music sessions would always take place in a community of people fond of each other. I love that my colleagues come from all walks of life; they are all colourful personalities, and most importantly, they have a good sense of humour. Thanks to this, we can laugh in the face of adversity or even at ourselves, and I think this adds a lot to everyday life and working together. 

I played chamber music from my adolescence to my young adult years, and only then did I join symphony orchestras. It is lovely to come back to this world because here, we need different skills and a higher-quality timbre when only five or six of us are playing a part. Chamber music opens our ears more, and we have to pay attention to each other more intensely. Recently, I've discovered that there are a lot of things that I could learn a lot from my colleagues' playing. Not just professionally. Personalities and characters emerge, and it can even be exemplary in how they resolve a situation or overcome certain obstacles.

It is now a good school, and also a challenge how I can fit into an already well-functioning ensemble so that I can also be of use to them.

(Notes by Sarolta Gálfi /