“I will show your music to the young Almásy, a son of my old friend. He is an excellent organ player,” said the Hungarian pianist and composer Kálmán Dobos when he received some compositions for organ from his Danish colleague Leif Martinussen. This happened in the Czech Republic in 1997. Both composers participated as members of the jury at an international music competition in the spa town of Mariánské Láznê in Bohemia.
3 years later, in July 2000, Leif received a letter from the organist László Attila Almásy, accompanied by a program of a concert that he had given in a church in Makkosmária, near Budapest. Among other music Almásy had played Martinussen’s Toccata no. 2, and he wanted to congratulate the composer with the joyful composition that he liked a lot. In the letter he also told about his educational background as a pianist and organist from the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, about his daily work as an organist, church musician and teacher at the conservatory and about his many concert trips to 20 different countries in Europe, Asia, America and Australia. He had not yet been in Denmark, but he had heard many good things about the country and its organs, and he was interested in giving concerts here.
In April 2002, Leif Martinussen went to Budapest to visit Dobos , who had become his good friend. In the Big concert hall at the Music Academy the two friends heard Max Bruch ‘s oratorio ” Moses” with László Attila Almásy at the organ through two full clock hours – the duration of the monumental work. Leif realized that he had to introduce this phenomenal Hungarian musician to the Danish audience. In the subsequent reception in László ‘s parents’ home, it was agreed that László should go to Denmark to be the soloist attraction in All Saints Church in the autumn at the annual event Amager Music Festival.
As expected the festival concert was a great success. László Attila Almásy played works by Kodály , Bach, Buxtehude and Liszt – in addition to a work of Kálmán Dobos and a total of 10 pieces of Leif Martinussen. The concert took the breath away from the audience. No wonder that László Attila Almásy was a sought organ soloist throughout the world, for he played a piece with effortless ease, whether it was a simple and heartfelt chorale or the most daring virtuoso masterpiece. His musical expression was elegant , brilliantly and with a compelling sense of pulse and form that left his listeners deeply affected and musically enriched.
Leif and take a trip to Budapest in May 2005. We are going to see Leif’s Hungarian friends, one by one. After check-in at our hotel we go to László’s church, St. Anne, at a mass at 5pm and afterwards a concert with Oslo Chamber Orchestra.
It is Saturday and the traffic is calm. Before the visit to the church we go for a walk in the magnificent Hungarian capital , where the spring is blooming. We eat some fruit and pizza and then take a cab to the church. From the church square, we enjoy for a moment the unique view to the Parliament Building, which spreads powerfully on the opposite side of the river.
After the concert we inspect the organ of the church and then we find a restaurant to relax, talk and have some food. Leif asks László some questions:
- You were born and raised in a musical family and your first introduction to music must have been in your home? Did you get your first piano lessons from your parents/your father? At which age did you start to play?
“At home I always heard my father, László Almásy (1933-2005) practising. He is a pianist, composer and professor at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest. It was a great experience. But he did not want to be my teacher. As a child at nursery I could already sing clearly, and at school we learnt to play the block flute. I first began to study the violin when I was 8, and I changed to piano when I was 9. Sometimes the opinion of my father did not accord with that of my piano teacher, Mrs. Leila Gáspár, but he did not want to contradict her.”
- When and how did you realize that the church organ was supposed to be your instrument? Leif wants to know.
“I do not remember exactly when, but I began to study the organ when I was 14. I had been a regular church goer and when I assisted one of the priests at mass I enjoyed the sound of the organ very much. The organist was also a priest himself, György Szomor. Around that time I also often ran up to the Buda Castle District after school where in the Lutheran church at Bécsikapu tér I listened to organ recitals. My first organ teacher was József Kárpáti and for one year István Baróti; at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, Gábor Lehotka.”
Now I also want to ask a question , because I’m fascinated by the Cold War, when Hungary was indeed a part of the Eastern Bloc:
- I understand you’re a Catholic and from a religious family. How did you experience the time when Hungary was a communist regime – in relation to religious life and the church?
“It was allowed to go to church but the Christian churches were persecuted. At school I often heard speeches against religion and the Church from the head master and the teachers. They wanted to find out who was religious. The deputy Headmistress did not want me to study organ because it was a clerical instrument. My mother, Lily would have liked to become a teacher but she could not go to University because of her Catholic Christian Faith.”
The next day, Sunday, there is another concert. At 4pm we are going to hear László play, and as the last 3 program points 3 of Leif ‘s compositions for trumpet and organ will be performed. But we have plenty of time for a little sightseeing, so we jump on the tram down to the river, where we ascend on the high plateau with the ” Old Town “, the Matthias Church and the Fishermans Bastion.
We are shooting movies, taking pictures , buying gifts for family back home and relaxing at last in a refined, old-fashioned coffee restaurant where we are entertained by a pianist at a grand piano . In a nostalgic mood we take a taxi to the church Farkasréti Mindenszentek Plébánia, a beautiful modern church with stained glass on the facade.
There is a large turnout for the concert. The excellent trumpet soloist is called Csaba Puskás. Before the concert starts, Leif is being introduced to the audience, and after the concert he has to stand up 2 times to receive tributes. After the concert, he receives CD recordings from the church and writes in 2 guest books, while I perpetuate everything with photo and video cameras. And so we head to László ‘s parents , who invited us to dinner.
A very smiley and welcoming couple are receiving us. We give them our host gifts: CDs with Carl Nielsen’s symphonies for father and son and a box of chocolates for the Lady. László ‘s father is a prominent pianist, composer and retired professor from the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. Mrs. Lily Almásy has previously worked in the health sector. László was born in 1962 and he has two twin sisters, born in 1968. We see the family photo albums and admire a picture of a little grandchild. Meanwhile László serves us welcome drinks – the Hungarian herbal liqueur, Unicum . He grabs himself an extra – certainly after the successful concert. Then we are having chicken. The atmosphere is cordial and the talk is lively. Leif gives László a piece for organ and two trumpets, which he composed for his son’s wedding this summer – and gives the permission to a first concert performance of the piece, if László might want to use it.
There are many interesting relics in the Almásy ‘s home. László shows us rarities and pictures and tells about each object’s history.
Then he gently takes a framed photo off the wall. It is an image of the world-famous composer Béla Bartók when he was young, dressed in a special Hungarian costume. Bartók has even put his signature on the photo. László says that translated from Hungarian it reads: ” In memory of my first concert, July 1903, Bartók Béla “.
Leif and I see the picture with interest and recognition . It seems to us that we have seen it before. László smiles: “Perhaps. But – this is the original picture”, he says. So – if you saw it elsewhere, it was a copy of this”. He stretches the image to Leif, who takes it and looks at it with awe.
Late at night, we say goodbye to the family. László gives us an image of Christ, which he has previously shown us and told about. The image should protect us on our journey, he says, and his parents agree. The image with the text “Jézusom , bízom Benned!” (Jesus , I trust in you!) is painted by Sister Faustina , a Polish nun who is said to have met Jesus in this figure.
Jesus asked her to write a diary, and the book she wrote was a dialogue between Faustina and Jesus , but also with the Father and the Holy Spirit. In between are her own, deeply inspired insights of faith and the world of spiritual life. She lived an intense mystical life in and with God. But Christ had called her to a prophetic ministry, namely to spread awareness of God’s infinite mercy and get people to take refuge for this mercy in all circumstances.
This gesture touches us deeply. It is rare to meet such a strong and uncomplicated faith combined with deep human care. And still today the picture has it’s place in Leif’s office as a symbol of charity as the main driver of life.
The festive prelude which had its first performance to the wedding of Leif ‘s son , gets its concert performance in November 2006 in the Szent László templom in Budapest with László Attila Almásy at the organ , and with the two trumpeters László Borsódy and György Kovács.
Leif ‘s Toccata no. 2, introduced by László in Budapest in 2000, is now a frequently used part of the repertoire when he goes on concert tours around the world. As well the flying, energetic character of the piece and its new life living in the soloist’s suitcase is the reason why it has got a nickname used by the composer and the soloist every time they mention it: “The Flying Toccata .”
Less than 2 weeks later László has rehearsed it all and travels to Denmark, ready to shoot. Before recording, he gives a concert in Nakskov before going to Copenhagen. Producer Viggo Mangor has set up his equipment in the church. The 10 organ chorales and 5 major organ pieces are recorded on a Friday in June. Two days later, Sunday, the festive prelude with László at the organ and the trumpet duo, Dorthe Zielke and Oscar Fransson is recorded. And we must believe that László is tired after all of this. But no, 2 days later he will give another concert – in All Saints Church, where the recording took place .
The following year, in July 2009, Lászlo makes a stay in Copenhagen on his way to Kalmar in Sweden to attend the reception at the CD release.
Much has happened since these days. László’s father lives no longer. Leif is retired from his employment as an organist and works at full time as a composer. László is an even more busy soloist and has visited more than 30 countries for concerts. He has lost count of how many concerts he has given, but apart from most countries in Europe, he has also given concerts in the United States, Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina , South Africa , Singapore, Russia, Australia and New Zealand.
Leif Martinussen now makes him some questions:
- Even if you have given concerts around the world, are there still places that you feel you need to see?
“A lot of Hungarian musicians go to Japan and South Korea. And perhaps I might travel there as well.”
- Hungary’s capital, the marvelous metropolis Budapest is your home. How has it affected you being surrounded by such great architectural beauty and art in your daily life?
“Yes, it is true, I enjoy the many beautiful monuments, especially the Baroque Saint Anne’s Roman Catholic Church in Felsö-Viziváros and the modern Városmajori Jézus Szíve (Heart of Jesus) Roman Catholic church. From St. Anne’s church it is possible to see the magnificent Houses of Parliament. I also very much like the famous Budavári Nagyboldogasszony (Mátyás)-templom (Our Lady of Buda Castle) Matthias R.C. church where my parents were married in 1960.”
- I know that you have a passion for photography and a great sense of choosing subjects. Do you have other interests or hobbies outside the musical world?
“I am interested in Catholicism and I like to go on trips.”
- And finally: If I ask you to express your desire for the development of the world in one single word – what word would you choose?