Sándor Szabó

acoustic guitar artist, composer

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Sándor Szabó - guitar artist, improviser, composer

Born in 1956 in Törökszentmiklós, Hungary, he started his studies with a private teacher of classical guitar. After trying different styles in the mid-seventies, he began to focus on jazz and improvisation. In the beginning of the eighties, he continued his studies as a guest student in Budapest at the Jazz Faculty of Béla Bartók Music Conservatory. At that time he already felt that he should approach improvisation not by one certain style, but rather by utilizing his sensitivity and openness, and making a synthesis of all the musical influences he had ever experienced. Immersing himself in Far Eastern music was an ideal breeding-ground to achieve this.
His career started in 1980. He was the first to play solo acoustic guitar music in Hungary. Since the acoustic guitar does not belong to the traditional Hungarian music culture, playing guitar and composing for it was not an acknowledged and respected art. That is why his playing techniques of different stringed instruments, his modern pieces, and deep spirituality earned him credits mainly abroad. His records have been released in Hungary,England, Italy, Germany Venezuela, and in the USA.
"If you hear the Hungarian guitarist Sándor Szabó for the first time, you will think that you are discovering the guitar completely anew during every listening minute. You will be fascinated as you discover that Szabó does not simply let us have a glimpse of foreign tonal worlds and cultures through some tiny windows. Instead, he draws us into his own musical macrocosmos in a gentle but all the more compelling manner. And there is truly much to be discovered here: inspiration from the Near East and Far East, a new awareness of his own Hungarian traditions of folk music, classical concepts of form, as well as much, much space for the free flow of thoughts and ideas- improvisation. Not only is Szabó's musical vocabulary unusual: in addition to the 'conventional' guitar, the Hungarian also plays instruments with 8, 13, even 16 strings and frequently relies on custom-made designs with special 'Eastern' sound. Szabó succeeds in something that is a rare feat in music: he astonishes the listener, he is the seducer who every listener with a slight penchant for what is special is only all too willing to follow."
1997 Winter Catalog, Acoustic Music Records


In 1980, a talented drummer and percussion player joined Sándor to form the Sándor Szabó/ Balázs Major duo. Within a few years, they performed in almost all the clubs and venues in Hungary. In 1988, the English Leo Records company released their first album.
In the eighties, Sándor Szabó often invited musicians from other countries to tour and record. In the early nineties, Sándor met Massimo De Mattia, the Italian flutist. They performed several tours in Italy and in Hungary. Their collaboration can be heard on the first SzaMaBa album called Hypnos.
In the mid-eighties, Sándor Szabó co-founded two groups which played different styles of music. One trio featured another guitarist, group leader László Bagi and percussionist Balázs Major. The other was a guitar trio called Great-Plain Workshop featuring the afore mentioned László Bagi and András Bakondi. The Great-Plain Workshop can be heard in some tunes on the Sanctified Land and Anima albums. A year later, the guitarists joined forces with Balázs Major, and the two trios became a quartet. However, after two successful years, András Bakondi left the group. The remaining guitarists and percussionist named their trio SzaMaBa. By 1993, they had become one of the most successful groups in Hungary performing in almost every music festival in the country. Together with guest musicians, they produced three albums on the Tandem Records label. A historic live recording of the trio was released by Pannon Jazz as recently as 2005. The period with the SzaMaBa trio was the most significant one in Sándor Szabó's artistic life. Since then he has proceeded with his solo career.


Sándor's music has deeply changed since the SzaMaBa trio. It has become freer and more experimental, but at the same time more composed and structured. He tries to make use of the full potential of solo guitar playing. This can be heard on his solo albums. Since 1998 he has played on many international festivals and tours in Australia, Japan, India, Central-Asia, Korea, USA, Venezuela, and almost everywhere in Europe. Apart from his solo concerts he often plays in different duo, trio and quartet. He often performs workshops and seminars to introduce his special harmony concept and method for developing improvisation and creativity. He is a master of playing 12-16 string guitars, baritone guitars, double neck fretless guitar, esraj and guzheng. Szabo is not only an acoustic guitar player, he plays processed electric guitars and composes modern electronic music. (Echolocation I-II-III. albums). Since 2008 Sándor works for the American Greydisc label as a sound engineer and sound designer. During the last decades maybe Sándor made 22 duo Cds in various acoustic guitar players like Kevin Kastning (US), Balázs Major (Hungary), Veronique Gillet (Belgium), Roland Heidrich (Hungary), Claus Boesser Ferrari (Germany), Edoardo Bignozzi (Italy), Dean Magraw (US), Michael Manring (US), Claus Boesser Ferrari (Germany), Ralf Gauck (Germany) Fernando Freitez (Venezuela), Alf Wilhelm Lundberg (Norway). With Kevin Kastning he made 10 albums in duo at the Greydisc Records. Sándor played on tours also with András Tüske (Au), Juan Gaspar (Mexico), and Alex De Grassi (US).


He defines himself as a composer who plays his own pieces. His idols are composers like Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály. He was influenced by modern composers like György Ligeti, Arnold Schönberg, John Cage, Morton Feldman, Arvo Part, Edgard Varese, Bo Hanson. He considered György Szabados as his intellectual master. The works and the spiritual heritage of Béla Hamvas, the great Hungarian writer, have had also a deep influence on Sándor Szabo's thinking. Sándor's favourite focus is on mystical intuition, and he believes that creation by intuition and meditation is an important level of world perception. The hidden depths of the world can brought to light by intuition. His music is an acoustic project of this invisible yet perceivable world.This is why he considers improvisation as the deepest form of creation. All his compositions are based on improvisation. In his pieces, he blends western classical forms with the meditative mood of eastern music, and blends Hungarian folk music elements with the improvisational technique he has inherited from jazz. The atmosphere of his concerts is intimate and personal. He approaches each concert with a sense of mission. In his musical texture, the ancient and the modern appear as one. His ideal is a complex musicality feeding on ancient sources beyond all time, the message hidden in the common nature of sound and silence. He seeks eternal passages between the precipices of different cultures. Sándor Szabó is a committed composer of modern Oriental contemporary music. He produced two significant albums in this style: Modern Hungarian Maqam (2010), Curse Ousting Music (2016). One of his significant work is the Art of the 16-String Guitar I-II-III serial. He composed and recorded a special contemporary album called 21st Century Lute. From 2008 his works are released on the US based label Greydisc Records. One of his latest work made together with Kevin Kastning got Grammy nomination as the best Contemporary Instrumental Music. On this album he features as composer, guitar player, and sound engineer. His music can be heard on near 70 albums.


Szabo's custom made instruments are born in collaboration with a talented, brilliant Hungarian luthier, Tihamer Romanek. Among these masterpieces is a twin neck 24-string instrument created specially for the Hungarian Oriental Music project. In his concerts Szabó uses many kinds of acoustic guitars. Beside the differently tuned and stringed 16-string guitars, he uses an 8-string fretless guitar, 6- and 8-string classical guitars, and 6- and 12-string baritone guitars.
Apart from his acoustic projects, Sándor Szabó composes and plays contemporary experimental music using processed electric guitar sounds in a radically different way. (Echolocation I-II-III. albums). In 2008 he introduced a multimedia project called Fractal Strings, where the visuals were based on fractals, and the music was performed live in a six-channel surround sound field. The musicians were Michael Manring on bass, Claus Boesser Ferrari on guitar, Balazs Major on drums and percussion, and Sándor Szabó on AmbiMorph guitar, guzheng, and 24-string koboz. The visuals were created by László Megyeri.


Apart from playing guitar, composing music, and travelling to play concerts around the world, Sándor has created an impeccably equipped high-end recording studio. In the last 15 years, he has learned how to capture the best possible acoustic guitar sound. In addition to his own music recorded in his studio, he also hosts musicians from abroad. Several of the albums Sandor Szabo has crafted as a sound engineer, e.g. the recordings for Acoustic Music Records, can be considered as a reference point of recorded acoustic guitar sound. Beside the recordings and mastering work, sound restoration work is also done in his studio. Since 2008 Sándor works for the American Greydisc label as a sound engineer and sound designer.


In the last decade, Sándor Szabo has regularly collected music and written articles about the Far Eastern instrumental music to study its similarities, as well as historical and geographical connection with Hungarian folk music. As a result of this long-term research, he launched a new website devoted to the Modern Hungarian Oriental Music to recall and recreate a possible form of that ancient Hungarian classical instrumental music. www.hunmaqam.hu The website offers some articles and essays about the history and structure of the Hungarian Oriental Music; as well as some musical samples. As an acknowledged musicologist he is regularly invited to Oriental Music Conferences and seminars to make lectures of his researches, in Samarkand, and Shakrishabz/Uzbekistan, and in Baku/Azerbajan. In 2012 he has published his first book in Hungary titled Metaphysics of Music. In 2010 he finished his monumental composition called Hungarian Guitar Raphsody. This the very first and only Hungarian guitar music so far which based on Hungarian traditional songs and dances. With his exotic Hungarian repertoare he became an important figure of the international guitar scene. In 2015 he published his second book called The Musicmaker Ancient East. In 2017 his third book was published called Phylosophic Contemplations About Music.


Since 2002, Sandor is one of the organizers of the International Acoustic Guitarmusic Festivals. More detailes of this activity at www.acoustic-guitar.hu

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