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Published: Thursday, 5/3/2001

Gypsy musicians ready to share a little emotion


Laughter and tears. That, says Hungarian Gypsy violinist Sandor Deki Lakatos, Sr., is the way his people greet life. "The Hungarians celebrate with tears. There is so much emotion in our music that when you are having a good time, the tears are coming down from your eye."

In the midst of a six-week tour across the United States, the spirited Budapest-based Sandor Deki Lakatos Gypsy Orchestra will perform at 8 tonight in the St. Stephens School Hall. Dancing will follow a more formal concert.

Music, says Sandor Deki Lakatos, is in his blood. It's a part of his birthright. The son of Sandor Lakatos, who was considered by many to have been perhaps the 20th century's greatest Gypsy violinist, the 56-year-old Lakatos has been playing since childhood when his father gave him his first lessons. By 14, he was playing second violin in his father's band. He has had his own orchestra since 1964. His own son, 34-year-old Sandor Deki Lakatos, Jr., currently plays in this group as well.

Speaking through interpreter Andy Pangratz by phone from the Washington area, Lakatos, Sr., said his family's music heritage can be traced back to 17th century Hungary. In modern times, he is the sixth generation to lead a Lakatos orchestra.

Of his Gypsy music, Lakatos says it is a great and deep heritage, always the same but also always changing. "The strength of the tradition stays the same, but in terms of interpretation, the music itself always conforms to the times. The sound is always different."

Like American jazz, improvisation is the core feature of Gypsy music. "None of the traditional numbers are ever played exactly the same way twice. Everything is improvisation. That is all-important."

This is even so, says Lakatos, when the band plays a Hungarian-inspired classical work by Liszt or Brahms. Liszt's musical themes will be there all right, but once they have been outlined, as long as it is playable, just about anything goes.

Interestingly, these musicians would be comfortable with the classics even if they were shackled to playing only the notes on the page. Showing their dual heritage, every member of this Gypsy orchestra is also a classically trained graduate of Budapest's Liszt Academy of Music.

The problem with being confined to the notes on the page, however, is that by being so restrained, tears and laughter might not flow so easily. That comes with boldly grabbing and running with the emotions of the inspired musical moment. And without that, Hungarian music might not be, well, quite so Hungarian.

Sandor Deki Lakatos Gypsy Orchestra will perform music of Liszt, Brahms, Rossini, and others at 8 tonight in the St. Stephens School Hall, 1880 Genesee St. Informal dancing to traditional music will follow the concert. Tickets are $15, $8 for children under 12. Information: 874-7596.

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