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Top Composer Web Site: Classical Music Interviews and Feature Articles


Chamber Music Northwest Reviews: Independent Women

By Matthew Neil Andrews
August 14, 2017

Agócs’s trio was considerably more modern, with roots in and nods to the musical heritage that comes with writing for piano trio. If the 20th-century classical world was about carving up the last of the dissonance and starting radical new schools of composition, the 21st-century classical world seems to be all about synthesis and syncretism, taking up the messy mantle of competing traditions and making something new and personal and beautiful out of it.

Kati Agócs fits right in there: her polystylism has been making waves all over the world for the last decade or so, from 2005’s Hymn for saxophone quartet and 2008’s Requiem Fragments to 2011’s Vessel, 2015’s Debrecen Passion, and last year’s Tantric Variations for string quartet. It would be easy enough to pigeonhole Agócs as yet another post-modern more-is-more composer, but what I hear is an artist with ravenous taste and the skills to match. Compared to her other work, which often includes texts in multiple languages, quotations from earlier composers, grand gestures for percussion, and so on, Queen of Hearts, performed at Chamber Music Northwest, seems positively conservative in its simple neo-Romantic splendour.


Chamber Music Northwest Preview: Women's Work

By Angela Allen
June 26, 2017

“It will take another generation or two before we establish something analogous to literary women’s canon in music composition,” Agócs emailed from Boston where she lives and teaches composition at New England Conservatory of Music. “There are many fierce women working now, but it will be a long road. Commissioning new works and mentoring young women are ways to bring about a female canon in music.”

Agócs collaborated in 2010 with Shifrin and the Chamber Music Society at New York’s Lincoln Center. Drawing on such composers as Olivier Messiaen, Igor Stravinsky and J.S. Bach in her work, she wowed Shifrin with her Immutable Dreams.

“She has a voice of her own,” he said earlier this summer. “She is able to create dreamlike soundscapes, exciting tonal development, and clear architectural structure in her music.”

So Shifrin commissioned Agócs to write a piece for this summer’s festival, and insisted that she orchestrate it any way she wished Her 14-minute Queen of Hearts, which debuts July 13 at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium, is based on a chaconne (a repeating chord pattern as an underpinning — think of J.S. Bach’s famous Partita for Violin No. 2). “Everything that Bach does is so deeply spiritual, even when he is not trying to write religious music,” Agócs said. “It is awe-inspiring and deeply humbling to wake up every day and to have that as a model.”


Mentor, Me: Sustained Musical Mentorship

 by Katherine Balch
10 July 2017

Dr. Kati Agócs’s office was a small, narrow room on the third floor of NEC’s Jordan Hall. It was a modest space with a large rectangular desk at one end and a clanky upright piano perpendicular to it. The desk’s surface was almost entirely clear, welcoming the mess of papers that would often accumulate during my lessons. This unremarkable room, which I saw once a week for four years, was like a magic wardrobe for me. I recall this room as the space where worlds of sonic possibility opened, and where I gathered fundamental artistic values and musical techniques. Agócs was a patient and thorough teacher who guided me like the complete beginner I was but treated me like a professional. She encouraged me to write by hand and ditch the notation software for a while, so for my first few lessons, I brought in some haphazard pages of meandering scribbles on bleached white notebook manuscript paper.


THE BOSTON GLOBE: Top 10 classical albums
By Zoë Madonna Globe Staff
December 23, 2016

Boston Modern Orchestra Project with Lorelei Ensemble, Lisa Bielawa and others; Gil Rose, conductor
The first recording of assorted works by NEC faculty composer Kati Ágocs. The record’s core is “The Debrecen Passion,” a mystical confluence of the sacred and secular illuminated by the superb Lorelei Ensemble and BMOP. Also sublime is “Vessel,” which utilises the medieval technique of multiple simultaneous texts to create something unmistakably modern.


MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL Recordings of the Year 2016
by Stephen Greenbank
December, 2016

Kati AGÓCS The Debrecen Passion - Lorelei Ens, Boston Modern Orchestra Project/Gil Rose rec. 2010-15 BMOP SOUND 1046 SACD

This is my first encounter with the music of composer Kati Agócs. All of these highly imaginative and compelling scores are beautifully recorded and superbly engineered. The Debrecen Passion is the centerpiece, and delivers a moving, spiritual experience, both powerful and uplifting. The BMOP acquit themselves with distinction under Gil Rose’s charismatic direction. An amazing discovery for me, and music I will return to often.


Cecilia String Quartet find harmony in disorder at Stradivari Anniversary Concert

Music Review by Joe Banno
18 December 2016

The U.S. premiere of Kati Agócs’s 2015 “Tantric Variations” sounded, in a way, like the mirror-image of Gubaidulina’s quartet. Here the musicians begin the work with toneless scraping that gradually coalesces into musical form. Troubled, searching conversations take shape among the four instruments. At times, they are jagged and confrontational, at others blossoming into the kind of unashamedly soaring, tonal melodies that would not be out of place in the Mozart or Mendelssohn quartets on the program. They conclude in euphonious concord. It was as if the very string-quartet structure that Gubaidulina had dismantled in her piece were being reconstituted here and given a sense of hope by Agócs. The Cecilia, which commissioned “Tantric Variations,” played it gorgeously. The concert marked the 60th anniversary of the gift of the first of five Stradivari to the Library of Congress.


By Stephen Greenbank
September 2016

The genesis of this project makes for an interesting read. Gil Rose and the composer decided to assemble this CD over a period, recording the works as they were written and on the back of concert performances at Jordan Hall, Boston and Distler Performance Hall, Somerville MA. The venture took five years to complete, the culmination being the premiere performance and recording of The Debrecen Passion in 2015, the only work here specifically commissioned by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project....


THE BOSTON GLOBE: Hub New Music Transports with All-Agócs Program
By Zoë Madonna Globe Staff
January 27, 2016

Ursula K. Le Guin writes that after having read a good novel, “we may find that we have been changed a little, as if by having met a new face, crossed a street we never crossed before. But it’s very hard to say just what we learned, how we were changed.” The same can be said for having heard Hub New Music’s sampler of NEC faculty member Kati Agócs’s evocative works at Jordan Hall on Sunday night. The concert was one of firsts: the first evening solely dedicated to Agócs’s chamber music; Hub New Music’s first appearance at Jordan. (The group, which formed at NEC in 2013, debuted in a classroom.) Notes on the page and young musicians onstage meshed, enfolding innumerable stories and images into the sounds.


THE BOSTON MUSICAL INTELLIGENCER: Hub New Music Debuts With “Strength in Fragility”
By Brian Schuth
January 28, 2016

Hub New Music debuted at Jordan Hall Sunday night with a concert dedicated to one composer, Kati Agócs. For someone who was new to Agócs, the evening was nearly ideal: short enough (about an hour, without intermission) that fatigue never set in, and consisting of stunningly varied works that clearly from a single personality. [BMint’s introductory article is here.]

Agócs has been on the NEC Composition faculty since 2008, and Hub New Music is in its second full year of concertizing. The concert carried a paradoxical title, “Strength in Fragility”, which was misleading: “fragility” is not a term I think applied to this music, which even in its quietest moments displayed an unshakeable emotional core. It is often delicate and hushed, but never brittle or unstable.


THE BOSTON GLOBE Classical Notes: Looking Ahead to Bounty of 2016 Concerts
By David Weininger Globe Correspondent
December 24, 2015

The end of a year invariably has a retrospective feel, awash as it is in lists of the best and most notable. Backward glances are all well and good, but this is also the right time for looking forward, anticipating the pleasures and new vistas promised by the new year. So for its final iteration of 2015, Classical Notes anticipates some notable musical offerings of 2016, listed in chronological order...

HUB NEW MUSIC (Jan. 24) This inventive ensemble, which earlier in the season gave dynamic performances of music by Andrew Norman, makes its Jordan Hall debut with an evening of works by Kati Agócs, a composer on the faculty of New England Conservatory. The program will include the premiere of a work for two sopranos and percussion. (Agócs’s music will also appear on a new CD by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project this month.)


KATI AGÓCS: The Debrecen Passion & other works
Review by Audiophile Audition/ March 12, 2016/
Daniel Coombs

More outstanding vocal work from this emerging contemporary voice.

The more I hear of Kati Agócs’ music, the more I like it. She has an amazing way of setting texts, both and sacred and other inspirational, and giving them a “modern” but captivating context.

Agócs typically assimilates several different cultural influences and multiple languages into her powerful and attention getting style. A perfect example is the amazing Debrecen Passion. Thematically centered on the work of contemporary Hungarian poet Szilárd Borbély and influenced by the particular qualities of the Hungarian language and culture, The Debrecen Passion takes Christian and humanist texts and utilizes them in a unique read of the Passion story but without the usual voices in roles. In many ways I found this approach both refreshingly different and quite moving. This is a strong, dramatic and, occasionally unsettling work.


Q2 Album of the Week: Kati Agócs's high-drama setting of love and devotion
January 25, 2016
By Hannis Brown : Q2 Music

The latest in the Boston Modern Orchestra Project's composer portrait series focuses on Kati Agócs, a Guggenheim-winning Boston-based, Canadian-born composer of Hungarian and American descent. The cross-cultural angle plays strongly into her latest project for the omnivorous Boston Modern Orchestra Project, which hurtles themes of love and devotion through a particularly intense prism of influences and language.

The album's main course and most recent composition is The Debrecen Passion, a spiraling work for 12 female voices and chamber orchestra. A glimpse of any given moment exposes waves of Krzysztof Penderecki-like vocal clusters, pulsing chant, flurries of Baroque trumpet and sumptuous Late-Romantic orchestration.

It's an overwhelming plate of emotion and color – the music's subject matter is, after all, the Passion of Christ.  Agócs filters and rearranges the story through lenses of Hungarian poet Szilárd Borbély, Kabbalistic prayer and ancient Latin, Hungarian and Georgian religious texts. But it's more than a sum of disparate influences. The Debrecen Passion is high-craft, high-drama music that, in certain ways, goes down like an old-school Hollywood score cut to fit the fast, ADD-inspired edits of modern television: think chase-scene drums against big-band orchestral statements, intensely unsettling a cappella drops and religious fervor at its most intense, all within a few bars... or at the same time.


A Tribute to Borbély, a Poet of Our Time (Interview with Kati Agócs)
by Samuel Kjellberg
January 21, 2015

Kati Agócs, whose The Debrecen Passion comes to Boston Modern Orchestra Project this Saturday night, has been making quite an impression on the global music community. But beyond her extensive curriculum vitae and skill as a composer, Kati is also a warm and compassionate person, extremely self-actualized with a fluid ability to describe her experience.

This past weekend I was able to speak with Kati over the phone shortly after she had arrived from Minneapolis where she worked with Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra. After speaking very highly of the compositional and rehearsal process with BMOP and Lorelei, her Guggenheim Fellowship and the commissioning group The Jebediah Foundation (with the help of Robert Amory), and applauding the incredible musicians involved (BMOP and the Lorelei Ensemble) she answered a few questions about her upcoming premiere.

SK: I have never heard of Szilárd Borbély before. Who is this poet?

KA: Ah yes, most people have not heard of Borbély yet in the West. He is well known in literary circles within Hungary, but his work hasn’t been translated that much yet, so he isn’t as well known here. I am sure he will be soon. Unfortunately, we did lose him in 2014, so he is something of a canonized contemporary within Hungary.

Would you be willing to explain your personal relationship with this poet? How did you discover his work and what effect has it had on your life?

Yes, so I found out about him through friends inside Hungarian literary circles. I was looking for a contemporary poet....  I just found it so hypnotic and so elusive; it just captured my imagination. I lived for months with his words and they suggested this sound world to me and it just hypnotized me both day and night. Of course I was working with it in the Hungarian language so the sound of the language had a lot to do with it. I found that by writing it, by setting it, I could really apprehend the poetry.


Composer-Performer Kati Agócs Intermingles Sacred And Secular In First Recording
by Keith Powers
January 21, 2016

Kati Agócs can best be described with hyphens. Plenty of them. As in Canadian-Hungarian, composer-performer, sacred-secular. Poly-interested perhaps as well, across the arts. And every hyphen is relevant to her music.

Which seemingly is everywhere. Like the just-out CD release of her works on BMOP/sound, “The Debrecen Passion.” Like the Hub New Music appraisal of her chamber music, Sunday, Jan. 24 at Jordan Hall. And, further afield, the two concerts featuring her work in Toronto in April, including the premiere of her first string quartet.


New York-based Third Sound ensemble debuts in Old Havana
By Larry and Arlene Dunne
December 15, 2015

When American Composers Forum was invited by festival director  Guido López-Gavilán to bring an artists delegation to the 28th Havana Contemporary Music Festival, it coalesced perfectly with ACF board vice-chair Patrick Castillo’s recent efforts to form a new performing ensemble with his wife, violinist Karen Kim. “We wanted to assemble a group of musicians whom we could trust with the broad sweep of chamber repertoire,” Castillo reports, “to take everything from Mozart to Schoenberg to stuff with the ink still wet equally seriously, with total curiosity, and absolutely kill it, no matter what the program.”


Music Review: From BMOP, New Music with a Hungarian Accent
by Jeremy Eichler
January 25, 2016

Hungarian music, Liszt once wrote, “is divided naturally into melody destined for song or melody for the dance.” Saturday’s ambitious “Magyar Madness” program, presented by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, had representatives of both. It also had two alluring world premieres.


Boston Classical Review
BMOP’s “Magyar Madness” delivers rewarding range of music with two premieres
By David Wright
January 25, 2015

Effective writing for women’s voices–solo, and in trios and choruses—also characterized the evening’s other premiere, The Debrecen Passion by the Hungarian-American-Canadian composer Kati Agócs.  Commissioned by the Jebediah Foundation for BMOP and the Lorelei Ensemble (a Boston-based group of nine female singers, increased to twelve for this performance), this ambitious, wide-ranging piece bore the date 2015 in the program, making it the newest of new music, maybe even a wet-pixel premiere.

The word “passion” in the title might lead one to expect a retelling of Christ’s Crucifixion.  While not attempting that, the new work did aim for emotional and spiritual ties to the great choral works of that name by Schütz, Handel, Bach, and many others, as it set poems on love and lamentation from ancient sources and by the poet Szilárd Borbély, who lived in Debrecen, Hungary’s second largest city, until his death last year.


The Boston Musical Intelligencer
Rock-solid But Not Maniacal
by Vance R. Koven
January 26, 2015

Last came the other premiere, The Debrecen Passion by Kati Agócs, a Canadian of half-Hungarian-extraction who now teaches at New England Conservatory and has garnered a good deal of attention. Her work is not a passion in the sense of the oratorio-sized works of Bach and other Baroque composers, or in the revived style of Penderecki’s, but is a setting of seven lyric-sized texts, three by Hungarian poet, novelist and literary historian Szilárd Borbély (1964-2014; he committed suicide in Debrecen, where he had lived and worked), two contemplations of Mary, one Latin the other Hungarian, one Kabbalistic prayer and one medieval Georgian hymn. In these settings Agócs examines passions of several sorts, the fragility of love, the greatness of God, and, oh yes, the death of Jesus. In the panel discussion, Agócs said that her funding source, the Jebediah Foundation, had given her carte blanche to create as big and as long a work as she felt like, and this 20-plus-minute piece (her longest to date) is fitted out with impressive orchestral forces, plus the Lorelei singers. While far from inaccessible, her writing is intricate and layered. Much of the choral treatment draws on earlier Ligeti techniques of “micro-polyphony,” densely packed, close dissonant harmony that, in the vocal writing, sounded ravishingly beautiful.