Conducting Huntsville – Meet Gregory Vajda of Huntsville Symphony Orchestra

By Bob Druckman
South Huntsville Neighbors

Gregory Vajda is the sixth Conductor and Musical Director of the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra (HSO). A native of Budapest Hungary, music came naturally as his mother is retired operatic soprano, Veronika Kincses, and his father, the late Jozsef Vajda, was principal bassoonist for the Hungarian Symphony Orchestra. He is the father of Vince, a classical pianist in his own right, who has performed here with the Huntsville Symphony, and Balazs, who is studying to become a sports psychologist.

At the age of 14, Maestro Vajda, needed to decide if music was going to be his career. He was accepted into the prestigious Franz Liszt Academy and soon decided to study the clarinet. As he said, “I knew early on that I was going to follow my musical instincts. My parents were very supportive as I started out doing some acting and writing essays in Hungary on musical subjects. As time went on I got my first conducting position at the Academy conducting my own compositions and that put me on the conducting track.”

His first conducting position in the U.S. was with the Milwaukee Symphony as Assistant Conductor. From there he became the conductor with the Oregon Symphony Orchestra. He has conducted countless symphony orchestras in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

I had the honor and pleasure of interviewing Maestro Vajda at the offices of the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra.

Let’s discuss your mentors. Who were they and what did you learn from them?

I was very fortunate to attend the Franz Liszt Academy. It was there that I became a part of an international chamber music group that revived the Austro-Hungarian cultural connection of Hayden and Mahler. Along the way I met Peter Eötvös, who is a well known conductor and composer. He was instrumental in helping me understand that conducting is so much more than what the public sees.

Conducting is not getting to the podium and waving your arms. It is very complex and really a business. He taught me how to succeed musically and how to understand the financial part of conducting. A conductor should know where their dollars are going. We need to know how many rehearsals are needed, what programming is happening, how many musicians are needed for the part. Besides the artistic decisions there are financial decisions that go into the job as well. These are the behind the scenes areas that the public doesn’t see.

What is your favorite classical piece to conduct?

Oh, about 3000 of them (Laughs). In 10 years with the HSO I have only repeated 3 pieces. There are so many genius pieces. The HSO serves as a performance arts museum. We serve every segment of the population so we always rotate our music; that also keeps the orchestra fresh.

What is it about the Huntsville Symphony that impresses you the most?

The Symphony has been operating for 65 years, which signals to me that the organization is embedded in the community and is vital to Huntsville’s quality of life. I feel that it’s one of a kind in the nation, in that the community will not let it fail. It could have happened during COVID but it didn’t.

In North America, unlike Europe, symphonies have to prove their worth to the community, have to demonstrate their importance and provide added value. Symphonies, musicians and artistic directors have to redefine themselves several times over the course of time.

Outreach is way of life as a basic function of the HSO, through our string classes, youth concerts, free family concerts, music explorers club and the violin summer camp all showing that classical music brings added value to the community. We have to emphasize this or it goes away. This is how an organization thrives.

Looking ahead, what are your plans for the Huntsville Symphony?

Huntsville is the largest city in Alabama and also rated the number one city to live in the United States. This kind of growth is always an opportunity for the arts. Keeping the budget in mind, slowly and carefully we look at how far the market is growing and how far we can branch out. Every season is an opportunity to go to different parts of Huntsville and the greater county. We still need to let the community know that the HSO is here and thriving. The music is a proven product (200 years or more and counting). It’s the people who say yes to the product. We need to continue to show the product and also sprinkle in new composers to show that the Huntsville Symphony is worth the effort.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s