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University of Iowa News Release


Oct. 23, 2008

Takács Quartet, Muzsikás and Márta Sebestyén explore Bartók's roots Nov. 12

Hungary's Takács Quartet, joined by the popular folk ensemble Muzsikás and singer Márta Sebestyén, will explore the musical roots of Béla Bartók in a concert at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 12, in the Opstad Auditorium of City High School in Iowa City.

This Hancher Auditorium event was moved to City High after the University of Iowa facility was closed indefinitely as a result of the June flood.

The program will intersperse Bartók's compositions performed by members of the quartet -- including the String Quartet No. 4, the Four Violin Duos, the Sonatina from 1915 and the Rumanian Folk Dances -- with traditional music performed by Muzsikás and Sebestyén, Hungary's most famous traditional artists.

The concept originated in 2001 at the Aspen Music Festival, where musicologist Joseph Horowitz suggested programs that would celebrate the connections between the compositions of Bartók and Kodály and the traditional music of Hungary. This led to a highly successful 2005-06 tour that culminated in New York's Carnegie Hall and the collaboration has continued and evolved.

Some connections are obvious, like in the movements of Sonatina, the Violin Duos or in the Rumanian Folk Dances. But the two groups also reveal the influence of the folk music in the most abstract compositions of Bartók, as represented by the 4th String Quartet.

Founded in Budapest's Franz Liszt Academy in 1975 and now based in Boulder, Co., the Takács Quartet is recognized as one of the world's premier chamber music ensembles. A review in Gramophone magazine asserted, "The Takács have the ability to make you believe that there's no other possible way the music should go, and the strength to overturn preconceptions that comes only with the greatest performers."

The ensemble's recording of the six Bartók String Quartets received the 1998 Gramophone Award for chamber music and, in 1999, was nominated for a Grammy Award.

The quartet's ongoing collaboration with Muzsikás and Sebestyén is just one example of its innovative programming. In 2007 it performed, with Academy Award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Everyman" in Carnegie Hall, inspired by the Philip Roth novel. And the Takács has performed a music and poetry program on a 14-city U.S. tour with poet Robert Pinsky.

The quartet's other multi-award winning recordings include the Late Quartets by Beethoven, which in 2005 won Disc of the Year and Chamber Award from BBC Music Magazine, a Gramophone Award and a Japanese Record Academy Award. Their recordings of the early and middle Beethoven quartets collected a Grammy, another Gramophone Award, a Chamber Music of America Award and two further awards from the Japanese Recording Academy.

Muzsikás is the name given to musicians playing traditional folk music in Hungary in villages. The formation of the Muzsikás Ensemble coincided with the European revivalist movement of the '70s, when there was renewed interest the folk roots of recent and contemporary cultures. Their work has been recognized with the Kossuth Prize, Hungary's highest state honor to artists.

The members of the group play and improvise in the style of old traditional Hungarian folk bands in which the solo violin and the song typically were accompanied with the three-stringed viola and contrabass. The musicians also play a variety of other instruments, which enables them to produce an extensive range of tonal coloration while performing the music that Bartók considered to be the equal to any of the world's great works of music.

While Bartók created a new musical language of the 20th century, he used melodies, melodic shapes, harmonies and rhythms he encountered on his own collecting trips and during his subsequent work transcribing and categorizing the material.

On their "Bartók Album," Muzsikás performed many of the traditional folk melodies in the style that Bartók would have heard them on his field trips to Hungarian villages. Bartók wrote of his often physically arduous activities as a folk-song collector: "People are mistaken who believe it is horribly tiring, despairing work, demanding great sacrifices. As far as I'm concerned, I can only say that the time I spent on this work was the happiest of part of my life. I would not relinquish it for anything on earth."

Several of the many Muzsikás recordings have been collaborations with Sebestyén (left), another Kossuth Award winner who came to broad popular attention when her music was featured in the Oscar-winning movie "The English Patient." She has adapted not only the folk songs of Hungary, but also songs of Hindi, Yiddish, Bulgarian, Slovak and other ethnic traditions into the Hungarian folk style. She has recorded with Peter Gabriel, and her collaboration with the French group Deep Forest resulted a Grammy Award in 1996.

The Nov. 12 concert is supported by Doug and Linda Paul, through the University of Iowa Foundation.

Tickets are $47; UI student $15; senior citizen $42.30; youth $32.90. Tickets may be ordered online at

The Hancher box office, also displaced by the June flood, is open for phone or walk-up business in Suite 107 in the south building of the Lindquist Center, at the corner of Madison and Burlington Streets, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays. Parking is available in the metered lot by the UI Main Library on Madison St., or in the Old Capitol Town Center parking ramp at the corner of Clinton and Burlington Streets.

From the local calling area, dial 319-335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial 319-335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail at

Any remaining tickets will be available for sale one hour before show time at the City High auditorium box office.

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to and click the link "Join or Leave ACR News," then follow the instructions.


STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073,