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“I have remained an eternal child” – An interview with József Bazsinka


“I have remained an eternal child” – An interview with József Bazsinka

It is always a pleasure to speak with him, as he always has a twinkle in his eye. He exudes joy and constant happiness about being the owner of the “world’s most beautiful” instrument, his shiny tuba. József Bazsinka has been with the Festival Orchestra for thirty years, and he has just turned 60: the BFO will mark the double anniversary on January 14 with a concert at our rehearsal hall.

BFO: Where does all your joy about music and, really, about life come from?

József Bazsinka: I had a terrific childhood, which actually continues to this day. I think I have remained an eternal child my whole life. I continue to learn, and I look for feedback to see if what I am doing is good. It is important to know what others think if you are making music with them. And this is not something that stems from fear, but from the desire to give it my very best. Thankfully, I do have a tendency to find joy in everything I do, be it playing the tuba, playing sports, raising kids or grandparenting – anything, really. I feel my whole life is a wonderful game.

BFO: You must be grateful to your parents for your childhood and for the roles they played in making you such a happy and cheerful person. What can you tell us about them?

J.B.: On my mother’s side, I am from Pécs, and on my father’s side, I am from the area of Vásárosdombó and Csikóstőttős in Baranya County. My mother came from the Sárdy family: her uncle was the prominent opera singer and well-known bon vivant János Sárdy. He would visit my mother’s family quite often way back when. And it is no coincidence that my mother spent her entire childhood singing. My father started university in Pécs, at the faculty of medicine, which is where he met my mother. He ended up finishing his degree in Budapest. He did not become a doctor, but a paramedic. We lived in a service apartment next to the ambulance station.

BFO: You must have seen some terrible tragedies while living there.

J.B.: I actually tend to remember the joyful moments, when my father would tell us about how happy he was when he helped a woman give birth after suddenly going into labor. Quite a few such events actually happened right in our home. There were a number of Roma residents in our village, and they tended to wait until the last moment before seeking help. My younger sister and I sometimes helped, especially when we had to quickly hold the baby because the next one was about to emerge. My father was a funny, good-humored man, who saw the bright side of everything. And my mother would sit with us for hours, singing, for each major holiday. We were a happy family.

BFO: When did you decide that you wanted music to be your profession?

J.B.: My parents both loved music. They bought a piano, even though neither of them could play; they figured the kids would surely learn to play. And my sister did, in fact. We listened to a lot of music. Classical music, mainly, but we also had records by Demis Roussos, Rhoda Scott, Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong, along with some of the best classical recordings. We listened to these over and over, but my parents never told us to become musicians.

BFO: Your sister also ended up choosing the same profession, didn’t she?

J.B.: Yes, indeed, she eventually became an opera singer. My first encounter with music up close and personal, was when I was 12, in my pioneer group. At that time, a pioneer band was formed in our little village, Bicske, which may have become a town since then. My sister played the clarinet at the time, and I played the tuba.

BFO: So this was a coincidence? It was not your choice?

J.B.: It was thanks to my teacher, László Sződy, who played first trumpet at the Opera. When he looked at me and saw how straight my teeth were, and how plump I was, he said, “you’re going to play the tuba!”

BFO: So you’re saying it takes straight teeth and a strong build to play the tuba?

J.B.: That’s right. There is a lot of breath and lung work involved in blowing the tuba, so it really is not ideal for slim or slight kids.

BFO: What happened next in your story with the tuba?

J.B.: The next chapter was also something of a coincidence: the Szabós, who lived next door to us, had a son who played the tuba at the Opera. He also worked as a tuba teacher at the military musician vocational high school of the Hungarian People’s Army, the “foot soldiers’ conservatory,” as it was referred to at the time. He would hear me practicing with the window open, and he would whistle over sometimes when I was off here and there. My father invited him over once, he listened to me play, and he said I was talented and good. He invited me to join his class.

BFO: But you were just a little boy, far from being a foot soldier, right?

J.B.: I was no foot soldier: I was 12 or 13 at the time, but at least I could visit the school. Then, when I turned 14, I ended up enrolling there properly, at the Music NCO Vocational Secondary School in Budapest, which was a local chapter of the Bartók Conservatory. This meant that their well-known teachers would come to teach us, including people like Barnabás Dukay, László Tihanyi, Gyula Csapó and others.

BFO: Did this mean leaving your parents’ home at the age of 14? That must have been difficult.

J.B.: That’s right, I lived in a dormitory in Budapest. But it was not so tough. Sure, we had no mobile phones then, and my mother would worry a lot. She asked me to send her a line every once in a while, which I did. But there were no problems with me. One thing that was not so easy was that in addition to musical instruction, we also received military training, and we had to meet some pretty strict requirements; this was back in the late seventies and early eighties.

BFO: Were you able to identify with the objectives that the military at the time expected of you during your training?

J.B.: I tried to keep myself as far away as possible from such things. Displays of power, weapons and combat were all very foreign to me. I’m not saying it was easy, but I viewed it as a task. I did what was expected of me, because I had a definite goal, and this was the way to reach it. I wanted to become a musician. And because Hungary’s best tuba teacher was teaching at this school, and because the other music teachers also taught to the highest standards, it was worth doing what I had to in exchange. I never felt like a real soldier. But it was at least very funny that at the age of 14, I already had to wear a uniform, and the foot soldiers in the city, who were not much older, would salute me, since I wore the epaulets of the NCO training school. Not to mention the girls, who loved the military uniform!

BFO: So when did you become a “real, grown-up” musician?

J.B.: After five years, I finally managed to get discharged from the military. Remember that the Defense Forces were training us to become army musicians, but I felt that this was not enough for me. As a fifth-year student, I was already on the stage at the Erkel Theater; I had an audition or two at the Liszt Academy, and – fortunately for me – the rector and the tuba teacher of the Liszt Academy both helped me leave the military and become admitted to the Academy. So I was admitted, and went straight into the second year. Well, it was the second year for the tuba program. In the theory classes, I had to start at the beginning.

BFO: How did you come across and fall in love with the Festival Orchestra?

J.B.: I played the tuba in the Hungarian National Opera for ten years. At the same time, I was a student at the Liszt Academy, so it was not easy, but I enjoyed this period very much. And by 1992, I had three children, too. With a large family, working at the Opera was a lot, and I came across an audition announcement for the Festival Orchestra. They were looking for something which I really wanted to do: the kind of on-stage role which was far more in line with my needs both in terms of music as well as an activity. For the tuba, playing in the BFO meant a far more important role.

BFO: How did the Festival Orchestra and Iván Fischer react to your application? Did they take you right away?

J.B.: The audition was held in the summer of 1991, and then three of us were hired for a trial year. I received my final job a year later. I was incredibly happy, and of course to this day, being a part of this wonderful orchestra fills me with happiness. This also brings tremendous freedom, leaving plenty of time for solo music. Iván Fischer places great emphasis on ensuring that everyone is able to excel at their solo career, too. This means that we don’t get tired of our jobs, and don’t feel that playing in the orchestra is just a routine. The Festival Orchestra’s unique repertoire is also very important for all of us. And if we play a piece which we have already performed perhaps several times before, Iván Fischer always has new ideas for realizing that particular performance.

BFO: Looking back on your thirty years here, what would you highlight as the most important thing about the orchestra?

J.B.: Since its inception, the Festival Orchestra has been a unique orchestra. Just the fact that from the very beginning, it was able to recruit highly skilled, active and open musicians – the cream of the country, really – is amazing in and of itself. To this day I am proud of the fact that I have sat on the same stage as them, and continue to do so today. Iván Fischer’s dedication plays a defining role in the life of the orchestra. His perfectionism and his eternal drive to discover new things is a key source of inspiration for all of us. His line, that “our rehearsals as an orchestra begin at the point where others are already performing,” is very true. And all members of the orchestra find great motivation in knowing exactly what the conductor thinks of a particular piece, and that the role of each instrument has been clearly defined. This makes participating in concerts very enjoyable.

BFO: It cannot be a coincidence that a number of BFO musicians have infected their children with their dedication to music. Your sons are also musicians.

J.B.: I have three sons and one daughter. My two older sons have had a close relationship with music since they were very little: they would sit on my lap while I was practicing the tuba. They learned then what a joy it is to make music. Of course, they also came to our performances; initially, we brought them to our Cocoa Concerts, and then we gradually introduced them to our symphony concerts. This made it pretty obvious that they would be pursuing careers in music. I talked them out of the conservatory, because I was afraid that if they are not talented enough, they will not become happy musicians, and they won’t be able to fulfill their love for music. But in the end, they were able to do just that. My oldest son, who is now 37, is a tuba player. Having completed the doctoral school of the Liszt Academy, he is now a senior lecturer in Szeged. He is also very successful with his own quintet, and he is an acclaimed radio host on Bartók Rádió. He is the father of three children, who are already playing music themselves, and have even won some competitions. My second son is a jazz musician. He plays the saxophone, and lives and teaches in the Netherlands. My two youngest children also took music lessons, but ultimately, both became dancers, having been swept up by folk dancing.

The Festival Orchestra will soon hold a concert marking your 60th birthday. Your colleagues must love you very much!

J.B.: Yes, I think that is actually the case. We’re also soulmates. If someone has a problem, they often come to me. Sometimes, all it takes is a touch or a quick neck massage; but I do feel that I’m able to help them get back on their feet if that’s what they need. My doors are always open, at any time, whether they are happy or sad. And I can’t wait for the concert: I’m sure it will be unforgettable!