Meet Kornél Magyar, Musical Director of the Aria Hotel Budapest

A very special and unique position demands a very special person to fill the role. For guests at the Aria Hotel, our Musical Director, Kornél Magyar, is an ambassador of music and culture, and all things Hungarian. A perfect fit for the position, even Kornél’s last name means “Hungarian.” As a performing artist and music critic from Hungary, Kornél studies mainly traditional and classical music of India and Indonesia. Since 2001, he has been performing and teaching ethnic music genres, but now as Musical Director, he oversees all musical programming and guest experiences at the hotel. He curates the hotel’s music library collection, uses his relationships throughout the city to liaison partnerships with music venues in the neighboring area and coordinates musical experiences for our guests.

So that you may get to know him better, we asked Kornél some questions about his music career and about music in Budapest.

  1. How did you become interested in music and start your musical career?

Both of my parents are professional musicians and I was taking lessons regularly on the piano at the tender age of 6 to 14. After that, I gradually turned my attention to percussion instruments, specifically with different music types that are composed right on stage, inspired by the beauty of the moment, or improvised music with words. Many of these can be found in jazz but also in classical genres outside Europe, mainly in Africa and Asia. Soon enough I became obsessed by these non-European traditions, and after a firm basis of my classical music tutelage, I won a scholarship and moved to Indonesia and later to South India for the explicit goal of studying music there.

  1. What instruments do you play and which is your main one?

I play piano, but I need to polish my skills since I stopped taking piano lessons when I was 14. I still use keyboards, though, when I compose my music. My main instruments are two special percussions from South India – the mridangam – and the island of Jawa in Indonesia – that is the kendang. I also play blues harp, depending on my mood, with the skills of the accompanying pianist or guitar player right next to me.

Which instrument that you play is your favorite?

My favorite instrument is the Indian percussion (pictured below) as it provides such a wide range of variations in terms of rhythmical combinations and it gives the illusion of freedom, which is one of the ultimate levels of playing for one destined to play a musical instrument. It also is somewhat melodic being tuned to a constant musical pitch, which is quite an odd phenomenon for a drum.


  1. What genres of music do you play and which is your favorite?

I mostly play a variety of traditional music types or crossover music with traditional roots. I had a nice time in 2014 when I participated the concerts of Hungary’s world famous percussion ensemble, Amadinda Percussion Group, during their 30th anniversary concert series. Recently I joined a gig by Márta Sebestyén, Hungary’s folk singer pride, who sang the famous song in the award-winning motion picture, The English Patient (starring Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas).

  1. What is your favorite genre of music?

I love all kinds of non-composed music because I feel that those types of music are the most fascinating and spiritual since they are born on stage in front of the audience. Other than that I like most types of music. For me, knowledge of different music genres and musicians is also important. I am eager to absorb all kinds of musical inspiration from the early periods of history to the latest happenings that are going on in the nearest venues or clubs.

  1. Of all the wonderful musicians represented in the Aria Hotel Budapest, who is your favorite?

It is hard to find my all-time favorite, and there also loads of musicians I adore who have not earned their ticket to Aria pantheon of musicians…yet. I can never get enough of Johann Sebastian Bach’s inspiration, though, and through his inevitable impact I can value most of our musicians from Handel through Miles Davis, Satchmo and Jimi Hendrix to Ennio Morricone – for whom I had the privilege to take part in organizing his last concert in Budapest in January 2014.


  1. What has been your best musical experience thus far in Budapest?

Sometimes music can make such a huge impact on one’s entire entity that you can only value it really when thinking back on years of time. One of my best early memories is when I heard pianist Keith Jarrett live for the first time in Franz Liszt Music Academy (pictured above) when I was ten. I remember the venue being so overloaded with audience that there were people sitting even under the piano on stage. This solo piano concert was something of a mythic initiation to me – it was magical, spiritual, orgiastic and classic all at the same time.

Another memorable occasion, also as a child, was listening to Sviatoslav Richter, Rossia’s best ever classic pianist, playing his last recital also in the Music Academy.

I have had the privilege of seeing great artists like legendary sitar player Ravi Shankar in his Budapest concert, and also arranging a concert for my own music guru, Maestro Trichy Sankaran, professor of York University in Toronto.

  1. What is the musical culture like in Budapest?

We have our own music life for classics, opera and even jazz. What makes it unique is opera being politically involved since its romantic period in Italy and also in Hungary. Freedom movements in the 19th century used famous opera arias as their symbol of freedom, and opera has had that flavor ever since for Hungarians.

You cannot help noticing the gypsy subculture and how it is represented not only in folk but also as a unique flavor of the jazz scene in Budapest. It is important to notice meanwhile that gypsy heritage is only a color of our wide range of folk styles: the rich Hungarian folk traditions are best caught when participating a live Táncház (dance house) event where borders between regular artist and audience roles are gone.


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  1. If someone is coming to Budapest and really wants to see an Opera, what would you suggest?

The Hungarian State Opera (pictured above) is the centre of theatrical music with its affiliate chamber venue, the Erkel Theatre. Hungary is somewhat conservative in terms of opera productions, but there are some exciting new concept makers like Balázs Kovalik, a young director who is a regular guest artist also in the Bayreuth Opera Festival in Germany and the Salzburg Festspiele in Austria. I think if you are in Hungary, it is your golden opportunity to watch operas or ballets by Béla Bartók like Bluebeard’s Castle or The Miraculous Mandarine in their most authentic concept.


  1. If someone wanted to experience classical music in Budapest, where would you suggest they go?

Besides the grand auditorium of the Music Academy, I would suggest the ultramodern venue of the Palace of Arts (pictured above). It has been welcoming fans of all music genres for 10 years.

  1. If someone wanted to experience jazz music in Budapest, where would you suggest they go?

Budapest Jazz Club is one of the best venues for jazz, maintaining a constant program roll of local jazz artists as well as international stars. BJC is also a melting pot of young jazz talents who usually gather around for the regular jam session hours on Fridays and Saturdays.

Budapest Music Center is also an emerging point of focus for those going for contemporary composed and improvised music.

Smaller gems like Café Jedermann or If Café not far from the downtown centre are also providing a stage for ambitious talents of jazz and world music.

  1. If someone wanted to experience contemporary music in Budapest, where would you suggest they go or what would you suggest they see?

Besides the earlier mentioned BMC, Trafó house of Contemporary Art is a renowned artistic workshop for contemporary dance events and also for the accompanying musical experiments.

For club music, a growing number of ruin pubs are located in the Jewish district just a couple of blocks from the Aria Hotel. A unique place in Budapest is the A38, a ship docked on the Danube in South Buda, where some of the best and most promising DJs and indie rock and pop bands are rendezvousing with the audience.


  1. What other musical experiences would you advise guests to see/do?

We are striving to organize our own musical happenings within the walls of Aria Hotel so that we can make our guests’ stay a truly musical experience. We run cinema shows of different music events (opera broadcast, documentary, concert movies) in our Teatro Aria (pictured above). In the Music Garden (pictured below), there are various pianists playing every Friday and Saturday afternoon during our Wine & Cheese reception. We fine tune Aria to be one of the hot spots of the Budapest music scene where musician celebrities or brave revolutionary instrumentalists are showing up every now and then, where there are live radio broadcasts going on from the Skybar, or young lions are jamming in the Satchmo’s Lounge, so that guests may come across something special whenever they decide to stay with us. I look forward to welcoming travelers from around the world and introducing them to a variety of cultural experiences they will always remember. 


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