Viktor Tóth

Clarinet

Hometown: Szank, Hungary

Alma maters: István Vántus Conservatory of Music; Bard College Conservatory of Music, B.M. in Clarinet Performance and B.A. in Italian Studies, Advanced Performance Studies 2016–18

Photos by Matt Dine

Profile

Awards/Competitions: Winner, 2016 Bard Conservatory Concerto Competition; 2012–16 Bitó Scholarship for studies at Bard College Conservatory of Music; 2010 Vántus Award, István Vántus Conservatory of Music

Appearances: The Orchestra Now, soloist, 2016; Arad State Philharmonic, Arad, Romania, soloist, 2009; Bard College Conservatory Orchestra European Tour, performances in Warsaw, Saint Petersburg, Moscow, Budapest, Bratislava, Wien, Prague, and Berlin; Bard College Conservatory Orchestra Cuba Tour, performances in Cienfuegos, Santa Clara, and Havana; Budapest Festival Orchestra, David Geffen Hall, NYC; Zoltán Kodály World Youth Orchestra, Debrecen, Hungary

Festivals: Bard Music Festival; Young Musicians’ International Summer Academy, Debrecen, Hungary; International Music Festival of Balassagyarmat, Balassagyarmat, Hungary

What is your earliest memory of classical music? I think my earliest memory of classical music is listening to one of the New Year’s Concerts of the Vienna Philharmonic. I remember I was so amazed by the waltzes they played and, most importantly, the way they played those dances. My first thought was who is that guy on the podium and what is he doing? He is definitely not together with the orchestra; it seemed he was just dancing up there. Of course, later on I realized that an orchestra such as the Vienna Philharmonic does not need a conductor to give any tempo changes since an orchestra like that is on another level in terms of ensemble playing. In addition, there were ballet dancers dancing in different castles and mansions around Vienna while the broadcast was happening. It was a really inspiring multi-sensational experience that shifted my interest to classical music.

When did you realize you wanted to pursue music as a career? I was in 7th grade (13 years old) when I decided to pursue a career in classical music. I was encouraged by one of my childhood friends with whom I had started taking private music and theory lessons when we were 10 years old. I remember she rang the doorbell, I went outside, and we were having a nice conversation when this topic came up. She said, “Viktor, would you like to become a classical musician? I am taking private theory lessons, focusing on my instrumental playing even more in order to prepare myself for high school auditions.” (In Hungary, there are secondary schools of music that are responsible for educating young musicians) And I said YES! Honestly, I still cannot tell why I did that exactly, but I am so glad I did.

How did you hear about TŌN? What inspired you to apply? I heard a lot about the program from my friends, two Hungarians who were in the orchestra at that time. I also went to their debut concert at the Fisher Center at Bard in 2015. I remember the vibrant and vivid atmosphere that this young orchestra created playing Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11. Their energy was incredibly captivating and I knew this was something I would gladly be a part of, so I auditioned and here I am!

Who is your biggest inspiration? Artistically, definitely Martin Frost, a Swedish clarinet player, who is not only a world-renowned soloist but also an ambassador for innovative projects that include acting, choreography, choirs, lighting, and other special effects paired with extremely fascinating curated programming such as Genesis or Retrotopia. These projects, instead of following the traditional concert experience, break and step out of the boundaries in many aspects. Sitting in the audience, you feel like you are being educated without even noticing it. Frost is a must-see pioneer of today’s classical music.

Which composer or genre of music do you feel you connect with the most? Brahms and Mahler for sure! Their music helped me go through tough times in my life.

What is your favorite piece of music, and why do you love it? My favorite piece of music is Kodály’s Dances of Galánta. Every single time I listen to it, it feels like home. He wonderfully captures the essence of Hungarianness combined with folk tunes and dances capturing the Hungarian landscape and lifestyle of the countryside. It has one of the most magical clarinet solos in the orchestral repertoire using the elements of verbunkos (which used to be military recruiting music). While listening to the music, you can also hear and imagine what the Hungarian language sounds like. These dances sometimes sound melancholic and dreamy, but other times it is exciting and furious as well.

What has been your favorite experience as a musician? I actually have two favorite musical experiences for very different reasons. The first one is when I had the honor of playing Copland’s Clarinet Concerto as a soloist with TŌN. Working on the piece with these musicians was so much fun, and what I especially liked during the rehearsals and concerts was the energy and concentration that this orchestra had. They were so responsive to my playing and I felt this was a very special opportunity for me. Playing with an orchestra that likes thinking out of the box and is capable of taking risks truly convinces you that there is still hope for creativeness in orchestral playing. I thought the rehearsals went great, but when we played the concerts I was surprised. We as a team were able to add something special to the performances. I felt like we all forgot about the concert situation and we were just playing and having a good time! Copland’s concerto is such a sensitive, crazy, funny, jazzy piece that there was no other choice for us but to just enjoy the moment.

My other favorite musical memory is playing the Brahms Clarinet Quintet with four of my very good friends. Performing that piece with those specific people five times in five weeks was an incredible experience right before my undergrad graduation. The first performance was on the day that Brahms died. After leaving the stage we could not talk for about five minutes. We were under the influence of the piece, which is sometimes angry and passionate or melancholic and tragic. It was a journey of deep emotions and astonishing color changes.

Do you have any embarrassing performance stories? When I was in 7th grade, I had a performance in my hometown’s library. I forgot to soak the clarinet reed in water before I played and when I went to start the piece, my reed did not work and there was no sound coming out of the clarinet. So I just sat down without bowing. My face must have been so red because I felt so embarrassed.

What is some advice you would give to your younger self? Be patient and know that everything happens for a reason (both success and rejection). Your time will come! Do not worry about the things that you cannot control at all.

Favorite non-classical musician or band: Snarky Puppy

If you could play another instrument, what would it be? It would probably be the horn. I just love its majestic sound.

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing? I would be an architect

What is your favorite place you’ve traveled to and why? For classical music, it is definitely Vienna! Such a culturally rich city! Classical music (and arts generally) is flourishing there. Oh, and the chocolate and cakes they make in Vienna are phenomenal! For nature, I would choose Moose Pond in Maine. I went there last May and it was so gorgeous. I also tried kayaking there for the first time in my life and went hiking a lot. The panorama from the top of the mountains is marvelous.

Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to have dinner with and why? Definitely Mozart (that would probably be the funniest and most ridiculous dinner I have ever had); then Swedish clarinetist and conductor Martin Frost, who is one of the most influential innovators of clarinet playing of the 21st century); and finally Queen Elizabeth II (I mean, who doesn’t want to have dinner with a royal family member?).

Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us: I think I can cook pretty well. 🙂

Piece of advice for a young classical musician: Be patient while you practice and do not give up your own personality, even if people want you to.