From Rain to Shine: Dávid Szesztay’s Concert

When you’ve waited months and months for a concert like this to happen, and then it gets scheduled and cancelled because of the rain, and then gets rescheduled and takes place, on a sunny evening in Buda, and when you find yourself enjoying it with an audience that is fully involved in the music, swaying to it, thrilling in the songs, well, then, you (I) go home a bit richer.

This was only the second time that I had heard Dávid Szesztay play in concert, and the first time I had heard him play solo. The other concert was in Szeged, in February 2020, just before the coronavirus restrictions set in. His subsequent concert, which I had hoped to attend, was cancelled, and there were many months of no concerts for anyone. This must have been his first Budapest concert since early 2020 (solo or with his own band, that is; he also plays in Santa Diver and Kiscsillag).

For those unfamiliar with Budapest, there’s a big difference between Buda and Pest. Buda is older, hilly in parts, more elegant, more residential; Pest is flat, buzzing, touristy. You can love both parts of the city, but you don’t know Budapest until you have spent time in Buda: on its terraces (like this concert), in its side streets, up in its hills. And for all its beauty, it’s remarkably untouristy on this side of the Danube; wherever you go, people are leading their everyday lives.

On May 19th I had come out here, to Széntlélek tér in Buda, for the concert, but as I mentioned, it was rained out. Last night it took place right here, at the same venue where the other one was to be, at the Esernyős terrace of the Obuda cultural center. Here’s how Szentlélek tér looked on the two days:

This somehow related to the music too. Dávid Szesztay’s music is dreamy, subtle, turbulent: the songs take you through many different colors and moods. It was great to hear him play solo, to hear the bare versions of the songs. He played songs from the new album, Iderejtem a ház kulcsát (I am Hiding the House Key Here) and several others (from Dalok Bentre and Határtalan). One of my favorites was “Gyertyaláng” (“Candle Flame”), from the new album; it was amazing to hear it right there in the moment.

Another favorite, one of my favorites of all his songs, was “Késő,” which I have mentioned here before. There were others too, too many to mention here.

There was a dog in the audience who got excited and started barking along during two of the songs.

At the end of the concert, we gave him a hearty ovation, and he played an encore. (I think it was “Szabadon”; I’m not sure now.) Then I lingered on the square for a little bit, and then headed home with songs in my head.

The Concert Conundrum

Live concerts in person are starting to take place again in Hungary, and they can happen in one of two ways. If they are outdoors—for instance, on a terrace—then a vaccination certificate might not be required. (This depends on the size and nature of the event.) On the other hand, if it rains, the concert will probably be cancelled. If they are indoors, then they can happen rain or shine, but only those with official vaccination certificates (in the form of a plastic card) will be allowed in, unless the venue decides to risk breaking the law. So actually attending one of these concerts can be a challenge.

This afternoon, immediately after my last class, I took the train to Budapest for a concert by Dávid Szesztay. I had a feeling that it would be cancelled because of the rain, but I was willing to take the risk. It was indeed cancelled, unfortunately (and I didn’t realize this until I was close to the venue), but the trip was not in vain. It was nice to see parts of Buda that I haven’t explored yet, particularly the Szentlélek tér area (shown in the picture above). I hope to return there soon.

The next concert I hope to attend will be on Friday, June 28. Cz.K. Sebő will be playing at the TRIP Hajó nightclub (a stationary ship on the Danube). It will be on the open-air terrace, and the vaccination card is required. Any regular reader of this blog knows that I want to attend. The only catch is that I have had both vaccinations but have not received the plastic card yet. I have done everything I need to do to receive it, and even received an official electronic letter stating that it will be mailed soon. In addition, I have paper documentation of the two shots. Will that be enough, if the card does not arrive on time? I will contact the TRIP Hajó to try to find out in advance. It’s a strange position to be in: to have had the shots and still not to know whether I can attend a concert. I am hoping that it will work out. (Update: they will let me in.)

So, in hopes of a rescheduled Dávid Szesztay concert, and anticipation of the Cz.K. Sebő concert, I will leave off with a few of their songs. (I included two different songs of theirs in my latest post on my Hungarian-language blog, Megfogalmazások.) “Késő” (“Late”) is from Szesztay’s 2021 album Iderejtem a ház kulcsát.

For a Sebő selection, here’s one I love but have not mentioned yet: “Fear from passing” (from his EP The masked undressed), at the start of a wonderful live performance at the A38 Hajó in 2018. You can then listen onward and hear seven more of his songs.

I enjoy listening to these songs individually, and even more as part of albums (or concerts, which are albums of a different kind), and even more as part of something that is continually finding form and meaning. It was exciting to discover, for instance, that the song “Opening” (from Sebő’s very first release, his home-recorded Fugitive Feelings) became the basis for the Platon Karataev song “Orange Nights.” You can listen to both songs below. I love the official “Orange Nights” video, which is why I include it here, but as for recordings, I also love the one on their Orange Nights EP. So listen to both, a doubling upon doubling!

Here’s to the concerts! May they happen, may there be many, and may those who want to attend be admitted!

I made a few corrections to this piece after posting it. The Covid regulations are loosening, but the new rules have ambiguities. In any case, vaccination cards are still required for many outdoor as well as indoor events.

Song Series #8: Different Exiles

 

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Exile: by its usual definition, the state of being banned from your own country. But exile can be internal too. Or even a fact of life, a condition of the things you need to do. Music demands a kind of exile; while it brings people together (intensely), it also demands truth, and truth gets you in trouble, whether obviously or not.

It’s a little more complicated than that. Musical truth is different from what we know as “telling the truth.” The stories in music don’t have to match point for point with the facts of your own life, but the shape will be true, the rhythm will be true, and the words will speak to you even if you don’t know what they mean. When this happens, you’re already cast out–in the best of ways, since exile can be joyous too–and you can’t take it back. You go about your life like everyone else, but as soon as a certain song starts playing in your head, you suddenly unbelong to your surroundings. The world will not bend to the music or vice versa.

Every good song, in that sense, is a song of exile. But a few stand out for me in this way. I’ll leave out the obvious exile ballads, such as Radiohead’s “Daydreaming,” Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty” or Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat.” They are among my favorite songs, but their place in the “exile canon” is already clear. Instead, I’ll include Nick Drake’s “River Man,” Ferron’s “Shadows on a Dime,” Dávid Szesztay’s “2120,” Joni Mitchell’s “Hejira,” and Sonic Youth’s “The Diamond Sea.” (I had included “The Diamond Sea” in my previous post in this series, but I switched it over here.)

Nick Drake’s songs come back to me over the years; they are bare and raw and so perfectly formed and played. “River Man” seems to have to do with a world that has come to be too much, and a “river man” who knows a different way, but a way that may not be open.  The music creates a picture of it: the lingering vocals, the synthesizer against the acoustic guitar. As the song progresses, you sense the river more and more.

In the 1980s I listened to Ferron’s “Shadows on a Dime” endlessly (and heard her play it once in concert); I loved and love its syncopations, the lovely raspy vocals, the guitar sound, and the connecting stories, all leading up to the last verse:

And now a tired conductor passes by
He takes my ticket with a sigh
I don’t think he meant to catch my eye
But he doesn’t turn away.
He says “I have a daughter as old as you
And there’s really nothing anyone else can do
Do you play guitar…well good for you
Me I play the violin”
I imagine him with his hair jet black
Does he hide his fiddle in the back?
He gauged his words as the train went slack:
The New York train stops here

But I don’t forget the factory
I don’t expect this ride to always be
Can I give them what they want to see
Let me do it twice —
The second time for me.

‘Cause these windows make a perfect frame
For New York buildings like upright trains
They hold me as I hold the rain
Fleeting shadows on a dime.

It is a song of exile because the narrator, the musician, is always on the road, as are others, like the train conductor who maybe “hides his fiddle in the back.”

Now for Dávid Szesztay‘s “2120,” one of my favorite songs on his album Dalok bentre. (I heard him play on Saturday night in Szeged; you can read my review here.) The video, directed by Pater Sparrow and starring Szesztay and his family, is brilliant, eerie, beautiful and sad, but I recommend listening to the song on its own first, since there are so many ways to hear and understand it. The refrain does so much and rhythmically with the simple words “Kinn meg fagy, kinn hagytak” (“Outside and freezing, they left you outside.”) And then, at the end, the repeated “mozogjál” (“get a move on,” “hurry up”) contains its opposite; it stays instead of moving on, or it does both at the same time; the word turns into something else, something beyond leaving and staying. I have been listening to this song and the whole album over and over.

I have included Joni Mitchell in this song series before–“Coyote,” from the same album as this–but it’s impossible to leave out “Hejira” here.

I know, no one’s going to show me everything
We all come and go unknown
Each so deep and superficial
Between the forceps and the stone

Now for Sonic Youth’s “The Diamond Sea.” I love the changes it goes through, the way the music creates the diamond sea. I also love the matter-of-factness of the main melody, and the way the lyrics build. As for its exile, it’s the passage of time and the sight of the diamond sea that make you unable to come back. “Time takes its crazy toll.” The two go together; not only will you eventually see the diamond sea, over the course of time, but over time it will also have its effect on you. The music takes you through this.

And that concludes the eighth installment of the song series.

I took the photo on Saturday night in Szeged.

Dávid Szesztay in Szeged

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This is one of the easiest concert reviews I have ever written. At one level, it’s obvious why Dávid Szesztay’s show last night at the Grand Café in Szeged was so good. First, it was beautiful from start to finish. Second, he speaks the language of music like someone born to it. Third, he has something to say, through music. Fourth, he has wonderful bandmates. Fifth, there’s an integrity to his performance. He doesn’t show off, doesn’t put on a pose, doesn’t do anything except convey this music as he hears it–singing, fingerpicking the guitar, dropping chords and rhythms onto the keyboard with ease. The songs are his (except for a couple of collaborations with András Lovasi from Kiscsillag), but he seems like a messenger who brings you the music from somewhere inside you. As though it were already there, and he were translating it for you, and you were listening with recognition and surprise at once.

Maybe that’s part of the meaning of the album title, Dalok bentre (possibly translatable as Songs for Indoors, though I sense several meanings). But these songs also open up and build, without your even noticing it; they carry you along, and then you suddenly wonder, how did I get here? That happened with several of my favorite songs so far: “Szólj,” “2120,” “Jóbarát,” and “Beleszédültem.” There were a few times when the audience wouldn’t clap until the last note had faded away. From what I felt around me, the audience loved the show; there was no sense that we had to hold back our enthusiasm, and no point in doing so either. The cheers and applause built up as the show progressed, leading up to an encore.

 

I began by saying “at one level,” since there’s much more to the music than I could describe right away, or ever. The rhythms, chords, lyrics, and tones come from years of composing and playing. But you can feel them without understanding exactly what’s going on. And even if you don’t understand all the lyrics, it’s as if you did, because they too speak the language of music.

From “Szólj”:

és táncol a szemeteszsák
ordítja gyere világ itt vagyok
érted dagadok fel
érted szakadok fel hogy

Szólj!
hogy végre szólj!

A rough translation:

and it dances, the garbage bag,
come, world, it screams, I’m here,
for your sake, I puff myself up,
for your sake, I break myself up so you’ll

Speak!
Finally speak!

After the show, I bought a copy of Dalok bentre from Mr. Szesztay himself–a beautifully crafted box CD with a postcard for each song: a photo of the natural outdoors–trees, fields–on one side, and the lyrics on the other. (The photos on the postcard were taken by his wife, the acclaimed violinist Luca Kézdy, with whom he plays in their band Santa Diver.)

I learned about Szesztay through Kiscsillag. When I went to the 1LIFE/Kiscsillag show in Törökszentmiklós, I was especially taken by the song “Ott ahol akarod” (music by Szesztay, lyrics by Lovasi). I later found the video, listened to it over and over, and then looked for Szesztay’s solo work. (I am just beginning to discover it; he has been composing for many years.) I am also eager to hear more of the Szesztay/Lovasi songs. They are a great combination. Dalok bentre has two songs that they wrote together, “Téli nap” and “Elindul.”

There is no need to say more. Listen to these songs if you can. Go hear him and his band if you can. I hope to hear them again soon. And it was great to return to Szeged (my seventh time there). After the concert I walked to the bridge to look at the water. I then went to the hotel and looked at the album (which I played after returning to Szolnok today). The sights and thoughts mixed with memories of sounds. A good end.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

     

    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In February 2022, Deep Vellum will publish her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.

  • INTERVIEWS AND TALKS

    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.
     

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.

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    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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