Trumpet virtuoso Gábor Boldoczki is a very versatile musician. His repertoire includes baroque Vivaldi as well as contemporary works by Widmann. He has given solo performances in Europe’s biggest concert halls; he has toured South America, China and Japan. For his CD releases, he arranges classical pieces and plays more than eight different trumpets. He also commissions new works and enjoys advising composers about the possibilities of his instrument.

Gábor Boldoczki holds a degree of Doctor Liberalium Artium at Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, where he is chair of trumpet. He was also given the Franz Liszt Prize, the highest honour for music awarded by the Hungarian Ministry of Culture, and made Musician of the Year by the Hungarian Academy of Arts. He recently was also awarded the Franz Liszt Academy of Music’s Béla Bartók-Ditta Pásztory prize. In addition to that, he has been part of the programme Rhapsody in School, which campaigns for excellent music education for every child.

Gábor Boldoczki
© Szilvia Csibi | Müpa Budapest

For our short-notice interview, he speaks to me via Zoom from his holiday home at Lake Balaton. “It’s a big honour to be Müpa’s Artist of the Season 2022/23,” he says right at the start – even more so as the request came during that very difficult time during Covid which was so very difficult for all artists. “There were no concerts, but you practised a lot anyway,” he says, which is why he was even happier “to receive such news”. He will be performing four concerts, three of which focus on contemporary music, while the programme on 24 February will consist exclusively of baroque works.

The first concert is all about composer Judit Varga, who is Müpa’s Composer of the Season. She has just written a concerto grosso for me called Bending Space and Time. The concert takes place on 6 October, that’s in two months’ time, and I only received the score two days ago,” he mentions with a cheerful laugh as if to say “that’s how it goes sometimes”. “Judit had asked me if I liked improvising. I replied that I’m open for new things, but for me it’s better when it’s written down. But if she really wants something spontaneous, I’ll do it like that. I’ve now seen in the score that she did write everything into the music. She is very precise when it comes to tempo indications, so I can prepare the piece well in the short time I have, and we’ll see after that,” he says.

“I think it’s an important responsibility for me to motivate composers to write new works for trumpet. That’s why my first wish for my Müpa residence was to be able to commission a work. We approached Fazıl Say, who has already composed a concerto for me. And because I always enjoy performing with Sergei Nakariakov, and because there isn’t really a concerto for two trumpets and large symphony orchestra, we asked Fazıl how he felt about writing one. He was very, very motivated, and the première is now going to take place at my fourth Müpa concert in spring. It's fantastic to have a new work, and we’re all very curious about it. I very much appreciate Fazıl, both as a composer and as a pianist. We performed Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto together a few times in the past, and I‘m excited to see how he has changed as a composer over the past 12 years.”

Gábor Boldoczki
© Szilvia Csibi | Müpa Budapest
When asked about his instrument, Boldoczki tells me that he has been having a friendly relationship with his company for 22 years. Its owner Gerhard Meinl is a seventh-generation instrument maker. Boldoczki loves the piccolo trumpet for its bright sound but is equally fascinated by the flugelhorn’s soft timbre. “My flugelhorn also has four valves. The fourth valve is for playing lower notes; it adds a fourth below the usual range. I asked for this modification to have more options when I play cello music.

„I always find it fascinating to be able to play bel canto on a brass instrument. Many composers see the traditional trumpet as a fanfare instrument with its shine and its volume. The flugelhorn has a unique colour. We know the instrument from jazz music, but it’s now being used increasingly often in classical music. Once, after a concert, I played a second encore on the flugelhorn, and the audience’s reaction was “That was such a beautiful piece!” That’s when I thought, I just have to play the flugelhorn more when it moves the audience, and myself, with its soft, dark tone.”

Gábor Boldoczki grew up in Kiskőrös; his father began to teach him when he was nine. “My father taught all brass instruments, and I began with trumpet. It was never forced; I just had a lot of fun. But he also told me that it was even more fun when you practise regularly.“ When he was 14, the young musician won first prize at the National Trumpet Competition in Zalaegerszeg.

He attended the Leó Weiner Conservatoire and Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, where he lives today with his wife and his three-year-old son. “The final decision to become a professional musician came quite late. In 1996, I took part in the International Competition ICES in Geneva. On my birthday I won third prize there and thought: I’d like to continue that. Becoming a soloist wasn’t a given for me either. I just practised and did what my teachers told me to, and I was willing to play in an orchestra as well.”

After his music diploma, Boldoczki studied in Reinhold Friedrich’s masterclass at the Conservatoire in Karlsruhe. Then came first prizes at the ARD Music Competition and the International Third Maurice André Competition, the most significant trumpet competition. They facilitated his final breakthrough and the beginning of his international career as a soloist: “Then came the concerts, and they just kept coming.”

Maurice André and Reinhold Friedrich are mentioned as his idols, alongside Albrecht Mayer, Emmanual Pahud and many other great musicians whose music helps Boldoczki recharge his batteries. That’s why he recommends that his students also listen to many different soloists.

„Interestingly, my career began abroad. Only when I’d performed at the Vienna Musikverein a few times was I invited to perform in Budapest. It’s always a particular pleasure for me to perform in my home country where all my friends, family and students can attend.” He also admits with a laugh that performing at home isn’t necessarily easy, “because you’re emotionally involved”. He is proud of the country’s fantastic concert halls, especially the Palace of Arts in Budapest, which opened its doors by the Danube in 2005.

Boldoczki regrets, however, that the trumpet repertoire is so limited. He envies young pianists for being able to play music by the great composers early. To restore the balance, he arranges many well-known pieces for trumpet himself. Numerous CD productions with a series of those arrangements were released in recent years on Sony Classical. His album Tromba Veneziana, for instance, is dedicated entirely to works by Antonio Vivaldi.

Gábor Boldoczki
© Szilvia Csibi | Müpa Budapest

It wasn’t the shrinking number of listeners in relation to Covid that convinced Boldoczki that as a musician you have to speak about the importance of music outside concert halls as well. He used to visit many schools and says: “Every child must know something about classical music, even if and especially when they don’t get any education about it from their parents. I like playing something for the children; I tell them about the music and different trumpets and it makes me happy to see their eyes light up,” he tells me.

„We all have to do something for the next generations, so people continue to come to concert halls.” This is one of the reasons why Boldoczki is very happy that Müpa programmes several children’s concerts. The biggest compliment with regards to bringing classical music to new ears was made by his carpenter, who had never experienced classical music before. Since Boldoczki gave him one of his CDs, he has been to all his concerts.

“I like to curate a concert programme in a way that I myself would enjoy if it I were sitting in the audience. That’s why a programme must be varied, and contemporary works need to be embedded with a logical connection to the other works.”

This approach also applies to his CD recordings such as Bohemian Rhapsody, Bach and Italian Concerts as well as his current release Versailles. His exciting album Oriental Trumpet Concertos received the ICM award for Best Contemporary Recording and an ECHO Klassik award for Instrumentalist of the Year.

When I ask Boldoczki about his dreams, he says he’s looking forward to collaborations with contemporary composers and mentions a première of a work by fellow Hungarian Péter Eötvös in September next year at the Philharmonie in Cologne. Another dream of Boldoczki’s appears to be moving within the bounds of possibility: His son has started learning to play the trumpet. “I’m not expecting him to become a musician, but it makes us happy to see him play it with such joy.”

This article was sponsored by Wavemaker Hungary, on behalf of MÜPA.

Translated from German by Hedy Muehleck.