Small ensemble project

Mátyás Szandai has been listening to and studying classical music since his childhood. Because of his classical studies, he has had many opportunities to play in symphonic and string orchestras, as well as smaller classical ensembles. Besides, throughout his career as a jazz musician, he has played in jazz trios and quartets alongside symphonic orchestras or string quartets.

Consequently, it isn’t surprising that early on, he felt the need to broaden his compositions to fit larger ensembles, chamber ensembles, or to write specifically for such ensembles.

A graduate from the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, he studied composition with Iván Madarász and Jean-Michel Bardez at the Conservatoire Hector Berlioz during his ten year stay in Paris. He then studied arranging and jazz composition at the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris under Emil Spanyi, with whom he later continued studying at the Lausanne Conservatory (HEMU) within the school’s Master’s Degree program in performance specializing in composition.

It is in Lausanne that he had the opportunity to write for a chamber ensemble for the first time. The Mátyás Szandai Ensemble, born within the school, first adapted older pieces, originally written for smaller ensembles (trios or quartets), for the nine piece ensemble. Afterwards, Szandai continued his activity as a composer specifically writing for his orchestra and musicians.

These musicians’ common interests and the creative atmosphere within the school were also inspiring for Szandai, as were the rehearsal and performance dates.

The style of the compositions is strongly determined by Szandai’s multidimensional and tolerant approach towards music.

Aside from his love of classical music spanning from Palestrina to Bartók, Szandai always listened to various types of traditional music – such as Central and Eastern European folk music, African percussion ensembles, or Indian classical music – with considerable interest.

Given the fact that he has been playing jazz since the age of sixteen and that he has had the opportunity to play with international stars such as Archie Sheep and Chris Potter, improvisation is an integral part of his compositions. In his opinion, improvisation means the continuation of the work’s point of departure with the addition of the soloist’s personal story. Consequently, the work must have an inspiring effect on the musicians and soloists who are improvising.


A few compositions in detail:

One of Szandai’s first compositions for orchestra, “Le Frontalier,” uses the principal motive of an older work, “GO,” written for a quartet. Both compositions can be found on Szandai’s new CD “Sadhana,” published in 2019 by the Budapest Music Center. The work combines
contemporary classical music and modern rhythmic modulations.

“Dig Da Mud” is another piece that is characteristic of the repertoire of Szandai’s ensemble. Its title refers to the universality of traditional lifestyles, in the sense that regardless of one’s place of birth, from Hungary to Morocco or from Japan to Chile, activities such as building
houses made of clay, playing music that is close to the earth, working the land, burying the dead, and so on… are present in nearly every culture around the world. The initial motive from “Dig Da Mud” is a variation on the melody of a traditional Hungarian ballad played with
a phrasing akin to that found in spiritual music of the Gnawas. The introduction is followed by sounds inspired by twentieth century classical music and combinations of African rhythms.

The return of the harmonized theme is followed by an elaborated section that reaches its climax at the point of the composition’s golden ratio, during a percussion solo. After the return and modulation of the theme, the introductory motives frame the structure of the piece.

“Gyimesi Zene” (music of Gyimes) was of course written in tribute to Transylvanian violinist János Zerkula. It is a composition that uses a melody played by him. Szandai writes the “limping” rhythm of the music of Gyimes in 11/8 time, integrating numerous ritardandos and accelerandos into the work.

“Structures” works with sounds built on scales used by Olivier Messiaen, spiced up with a fast tempo provided by the rhythm section.

The Mátyás Szandai Ensemble is an experimental group that gives great value to musical traditions, and that is at ease with different musical styles, playfully handling them with creativity.

The orchestra’s repertoire offers a unique musical journey to aficionados of quality music, on forums dedicated to both classical and improvised music.