New Year’s concert with Katica Illényi – review

On January 4th we had the chance to see and hear Katica on the stage along with several guests and great musicians. Now, the time of year after Christmas is packed with concerts and social events. This is the period when people buy tickets as gifts or just have dedicated time to loved ones. Organizing a concert on the first few days of January requires courage. Organizing a concert in a big concert hall like the main room of the Palace of Arts in Budapest even more so. Knowing weeks or even months ahead that the event is sold out is encouraging, yet raises the expectations for the show. Katica Illényi had to face the challenge, knowing that her previous show featuring all three of her siblings on stage at the same concert hall filled the house twice. Outstanding performance, unforgettable experience for the audience and also for the Illényi family.


There is one question that I always try to answer: how is possible, that Katica can reach people regardless of their age, gender, and their musical interest? Over the last few years I had the privilege to see her on big stages, in small concert rooms, in theaters and at afternoon concerts in the parks. She always adapted her show to the environment and filled the stage and room with her presence.

Today’s performers are challenged by the virtual world, where fans are always around, where the social networks enable them to keep in touch with the artist, yet expecting the continuous updates and feedback from their idol. Katica was able to adapt to these expectation both on stage and in the virtual worlds. BUT stop here, go to one of her concerts, visit backstage and see that here top fans are known by name, are appreciated by a smile, a hug, a thank you! Showing them clearly that a good performance, a great show requires good audience. For me as well, meeting Katica in person, helped to see her real values.

So after all, do I really know her secret? I am not sure. Katica is more than just an outstanding violin player. She is more than a singer or a dancer. She is performer who connects people with different interest and musical taste through her shows. She connects worlds of different musical styles and rephrases modern music by using traditional instruments.


Building a show that entertains requires a lot of preparation, thoughts and imagination but above all needs to take the audience on a journey. In January over 1.000 people were invited to this journey, guiding us from classical pieces to pop music, involving guests with unique skills and perfect presence on the stage. Mr. György Czigány, well-known Hungarian music expert, opened the concert by sharing his personal stories of the Illényi family and shown respect to the young and talented violin player. Mr István Silló conducted the Philharmonic Orchestra of Győr. Mr. István Bundzik, teacher at the Musical Conservatoire of Miskolc, an excellent pianist be it jazz, classical or pop music, provided accompaniment for the solos of Katica. One could tell that they had been working together for a while. As a special gift, Mr. Silló orchestrated the signal of “Ki nyer ma?” or, “The Winner Is…” – a famous Hungarian radio quiz program that aired at 12:20PM every weekday on Hungarian public radio for four decades. During the concert history came alive as following the famous jingle, Mr. Czigány came on stage and asked the musicians to play three pieces, asking volunteers from the audience for each, to guess the name of the piece and the composer.

How can a musician transform a concert or performance into a personal experience? They need to have direct communication with the audience and involve them in the program. The episode with the radio program was an excellent tool. I am convinced that the concert was also a lifetime experience for a young girl who volunteered to play on the theremin to prove that the “box with an antenna” is really capable of generating sound and being a part of a musical piece. Katica brought the theremin to Hungary and presented it to such a large audience for the first time.

The theremin /ˈθɛrəmɪn/, originally known as the ætherphone/etherphonethereminophone or termenvox/thereminvox is an early electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact by the thereminist (performer). It is named after the westernized name of its Russian inventor, Léon Theremin, who patented the device in 1928.

The instrument’s controlling section usually consists of two metal antennas which sense the relative position of the thereminist’s hands and control oscillators for frequency with one hand, and amplitude (volume) with the other. The electric signals from the theremin are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker.

Source: Wikipedia

The whole show had a unique rhythm through the step dance, the strings and the variety of musical pieces. The dynamics of these arts made the performers and the listener move. As Katica has explained, playing the theremin is a challenge for her – not only because there are no strings or markers, nor because the artist is playing by deflecting invisible radio waves but because a musician, whose life and show is based on the constant enjoyment of action, had to stop, stand still and “make some noise” by making very subtle movements with her hand. Hearing the title song of Once Upon a Time in the West (by Ennio Morricone) took us to the movie screen and teleported us to the Wild West where we met Henry Fonda, Charles Bronson, Jason Robards and Claudia Cardinale.

Have you ever considered why the big hype around 3D and 4D movies? I personally never really liked them… I wonder if it is better to be inspired by music and let your thought and your dreams come alive. As a child, we had a black and white TV and as I look back, all of those movies have colors… why? Because my imagination was the best color film. Katica took me there and I could enjoy the music and be part of the movie.

Communication with an audience is crucial and Katica is amazing as she talks to each and every person. Whether it is announcing the next song, introducing the person that helped her investigate the life and work of Leon Theremin or introducing a high-school teacher that can be proud of her students … students in plural as Andras De Laszlo was Katica’s classmate in high school. Andras De Laszlo, famous piccolo trumpet player, who moved to Germany and became well-known there. In January finally he stood on Hungarian stage. They played and sang together and by recapping the childhood memories they ended up dancing on stage. All shows can be organized but excellent musicians improvise – they carried on a conversation that was very likely carefully written and planned in advance, but it still felt spontaneous, natural, authentic and helped the audience feel engaged. Just like a talk show.

Two years ago, when the four Illényis stood on the same stage, Ferenc shared that he had not have the chance to step on a Hungarian stage and play for a Hungarian audience for several years… his play was rewarded by burst of applause. I still consider that concert as one of my best concert experiences ever and maybe due to this I can’t wait to hear them again.

This year we “only” had three of the four Illényis. Anikó is an outstanding chello player, lovely young lady, great person to have a discussion with… Csaba, the younger brother is excellent on the violin and he is a very talented composer. I really enjoy as he rephrases famous musical pieces and plays it along with his siblings. Hearing him play Michael Jackson tunes, the Mission Impossible movie theme song and other popular music on his violin through effect processors and distortion units is fascinating. He is also part of all the gags: demonstrating how violin players start in their steep learning curve, driving all neighbors nuts or simply being part of a play where he plays the part of the junior music academy student assisting the professional musician by turning pages on the music stand.

The concert was like a revolving stage, with instrumental parts, singing and dancing alternating in rapid succession. As for me, I probably would have loved to hear more of the the Illényi siblings, and listen to Katica play the violin more. And while I am sure playing the violin and dancing at the same time is an incredibly difficult task that must have taken an incredible amount of preparation, I found it somewhat distracting. Sure, coming up with new ideas is always a challenge for any artists, and showing something new after a series of sold-out concerts in previous years is probably especially difficult. Still, I would like to suggest that maybe sometimes less is indeed more. The simple, uncluttered and clean stage design created by Andrea Bencsik was a great example of this, seamlessly blending with the modern, subtle decoration of the concert hall and harmonizing with Katica’s beautifully crafted dresses, also the work of her hands. The skillful use of stage lighting, and the brilliant way individual, matching color schemes were designed to accentuate each piece and help create the right mood by Miklós Marczell further enhanced the experience visually.

The secret to communication with your audience: make them laugh and let them forget what is around them.

How do you measure the success of a concert? Everyone thinks that the best KPI (Key Performance Indicator) is the volume and length of the applause. I guess I disagree, as a well educated audience will applaud as long as the house lights are off and the doors are closed. I rather think the best indicator is when at the end of the event you still wish the performance wasn’t over yet. Katica Illényi’s concert was over 2 hours long (excluding intermission) and most of the remarks I heard from people leaving was this: I wish it was longer!

Since I have started my blog again, I have been facing the challenge of writing in a way that entertains and easy to read. I have had many friends helping proofreading and fine tuning my posts and I am very thankful for them. I had the privilege to work with my best friend Sándor Bálint as we were taking the pictures during the concert and he was also the one helping me by proof-reading my English post.


Ha magyarul szeretne olvasni a koncertről akkor kattintson ide: Újévi koncertélmény Illényi Katicával és vendégeivel



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