Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Boka Bence, Lute Player

Boka Bence, Accademia Bridge, night

I have been hearing him for the last four years, always in surprising places. I didn't know his name, and dubbed him The Lute Player. I always asked other people who live here if they have heard him; everyone had seen him somewhere at one time or another. Often on summer warm autumn nights I would hear him at the apex of the Rialto Bridge, elegantly bent over his lute, playing renaissance dances to an obliggato of boat wake and heels on the grey stone stairs. For one season he played frequently in Campo San Aponal and I would see him there often.

Usually I was going from one place to another and suddenly there he would be, tucked in a niche around a corner behind San Salvador or in the shade of Ca' Franchetti's wall crowned with fragrant bushes in the spring.

One day last week he was playing near my apartment, and I bought his CDs. His name is Boka Bence, he is Hungarian, and in addition to playing music from the Hungarian renaissance he plays his own dances, composed in the style of the Hungarian renaissance. It is a unique and enchanting sound.

What struck me most was how deeply he had mastered the renaissance style, and yet his own dances were not slavish imitations; they were subtle variations filtered through a modern sensibility, traditional and not.

First and foremost, they are dances. They lilt and leap and glide and sway and if you have a soul, they make you want to dance.

"You have so thoroughly mastered the style and idiom of the renaissance," I commented to him, and he spontaneously burst into a big grin. He appreciated the compliment.

"I have heard a lot renaissance music," I said, "but never Hungarian."

"They are..." He struggled to find the words in English, his Italian being on a par with mine. "Not so..." He touched the air and paused. "Not so far. Is that right? Far."

Different but identifiable, sharing common genes with the rest of the renaissance, which was already mature in Italy by the time it reached Hungary, but with a flavor all their own. Far not only in distance but in time. Far, but not so far. They still speak to the modern mind.

He started to play. The music echoed nicely on the brick and stucco walls of the tiny campiello just beyond the Guggenheim. Tourists walked by clutching maps and barely heard a note. Wheeled luggage clattered across the paving stones. Strollers stopped to listen and throw money in the lute case. He wore wool gloves with the fingers cut off so that he could play in the autumn chill.

He has two CDs. One is with a small instrumental and vocal ensemble devoted entirely to songs and dances of the Hungarian Renaissance. It is a piece of vanished time and Bence's solos are exquisite. But his own music on the CD entitled Dances is individual and poetic.

These renaissance tunes were the popular music of their time. From the streets to the royal courts and back to the streets again, they were defined and refined and transformed, driven by the rhythms of complex dance steps. They can be joyous, carefree, melancholy, sensual, simple, complex, sublime.

Between two of the dances I said, "I guess my question is this: do you think you were born in the wrong century?"

He laughed and nodded enthusiastically. "Yes. Very much."

"Me too," I said, "I just haven't found my century."

I asked how long he has been playing the lute. He said he played guitar for a long time first, and about ten years ago he switched to this lute which a friend had made for him.

There is a lot of music on the streets of Venice, especially when the weather is fine. It ranges from accordion players to rockabilly to gypsy fiddle jazz to the virtuoso of the water glasses to the man who plays the violin so badly that it is hard to believe he does not do so intentionally, because it is impossible to play an instrument that much and still be so bad.

Bence is at the head of the class. He offers something fresh and historic at the same time. Relativity soup, the renaissance channeled through a twenty-first century talent. It is rare and original, something you never find often enough.

36 comments:

  1. Nice piece!
    I like hearing about people.
    Love,
    Raphael

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  2. My dear Larry,

    I can't tell you how thrilled I am to read this piece.

    I ran into Bence Boka in Klagenfurt, Austria, in December 1999. It was bitter cold and I was drawn by the sound of his guitar. He played a piece by a Brazilian composer (I can't remember the name) that latched onto my soul. I sat next to him and listened. Around us, people went about their business. Bence may as well not have existed. I asked him to play that piece twice or more. He neither spoke German nor English. I understood that he was trying to get to Venice. I felt very sorry for him, somehow there was great sorrow in his eyes. I gave him as much money as I could spare and took a CD to remember him by. I bought some Gluewein for him. I wished him well on his journey and I remembered him often.

    If you meet him, please ask if he remembers the Indian guy who spoke to him in Klagenfurt. If he doesn't, no problem; please tell him that I haven't forgotten the magic in his music.

    Thank you very much,
    Stanley

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  3. I was just listening to one of his CD's that I purchased from him when I was in Venice in 2007 and decided to google his name to see what would come up and here i am. While wandering the streets of Venice over my 4 day stay I seemed to run in to him several times a day and always in different places. Several times I stopped to listen to a song or two and threw some money in his case. On my last day there I happened to see him on the rialto bridge as I was walking back to my hotel and decided I needed to purchase a CD. He was very happy to talk to me about his music and understanding of the language barrier. My chat with him is one of my more memorable experiences of an amazing trip to Italy.

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  4. i remember listening to him a lot of years ago. fortunately i bought his enchanting cd which remembers me of his wonderful music!

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  5. Siesta on a piazzetta, resting under the shade from a long walking weeken - what a pleasure to wander between sleep and Hungarian music with him playing his lute. Of course I bought the CD when finally I had to leave.

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  6. It is now November 2011 and I made exactly the same experience like everyone else who wrote here. I was completely entranced by his music which he started playing from 10 pm in late November(!) onwards on a thoroughfare to St Mark's Square. He was located in front of our hotel Bel Sito which I can only recommend. I came down from my room to find the source of this beautiful music. Why is he not on TV? He should be. He could make a very good living, and I don't understand why he is still working out there in the cold. Of course, I bought both of his CD's.

    Gerlinde

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  7. Thank you for the information, it brings back memories. :-) Just googled Bence Bóka after ripping the CDs I bought from him in July 2011. Don't recall exactly where my family & I crossed paths with him, perhaps it was near the Accademia bridge (we stayed near there in the Residenza Art Deco, a delightful place).

    Also saw/heard the bad violin player in the same area. Knew exactly who you meant, there _can't_ be more than one! Perhaps he is deaf?

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  8. I heard Bence play behind the Centurian Palace Hotel in Venice in May 2010 and loved the music so bought the CD. The tracks seem to be used to provide the background music for the audiobook of Philippa Gregory's The White Queen. Superb!

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  9. I heard Bence play behind the Centurian Palace Hotel in Venice in May 2010. I bought the CD. It seems to be used as the music on the audiobook of Philippa Gregory's The White Queen. Superbly beautiful!

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  10. April 2012 - Saw him in a small square near the back of the Guggenheim and just had to get his CDs. Like everyone else Googled and found these comments.
    Has he been to Brugge I wonder? I think I might have seen him there.

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  11. Yes, he seems to posses a special charm. Has he been released from another century into ours for some reason ? I saw him twice in a five year strech of time, both in la Academia bridge and his music filled the air with something magic. I am glad internet lets us all coment on this man from other time and his lute.

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  12. I saw him near the Accademia bridge in June 2012, and the event was as you described---many people passing by, but a few listening. Thanks for posting this.

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  13. I was in Venice not two weeks ago and I saw him on the Academia bridge...
    I threw in some money as well and my family and me bought the CDs. Thank you for posting this.

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  14. I am currently listening to his CD 'Dances - Tarok' - and the same as you, was entranced crossing the Rialto, hearing his peaceful, calm, measured and beautiful playing. Bought both CDs, have listened to them God alone knows how often since. Delighted other people have had the same experience and remember him with such joy.

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  15. My husband and I saw him in Venice two weeks ago and purchased two of his CDs. It was wonderful to see him play and was equally astounded that most people just walked on by.

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  16. I found him at Accademia bridge in early October 2012. We chatted and I purchased his cd's. What a delightful man. Good luck to him.

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  17. I've wondered about this lute player since visiting Venice in May. How I regret I didn't buy his CDs! Does anyone know if they are available online?

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  18. I came across Bence in Feb 2012 near the Accademia bridge, and then again just recently on 1 December; this time it was evening, and he was playing in the little Campiello Barbaro in Dorsoduro. The music was haunting and I made my own little recording in the dark before we chatted about busking and I bought Bence's two CDs. Unfortunately the link to his website doesn't seem to work, but we seem to be quite a fan club and I'm sure someone could buy the CDs and send them to you clehmann. Just a question of being in Venice - and coming across him.

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  19. I too came across him in Venice in May 2013 and was so transported by his music I bought both his CDs and love them - my only purchased memento of Venice - a Hungarian lute player's Cds for this New Zealander.

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  20. Wife and I just came home from Italy trip and also met Bence in Venice on one of the bridge. It was his playing that filled the scene with harmony and we had to pause our tour and let his music fill us in. When he took a rest, we chatted him a little and learned a bit more about him and his music. Both wife and I are not musically trained had no idea about style and so of music, but that matters not, we both loved his music and we hope to bump into him again somewhere in the world :) Until then, we shall enjoy his music at home and on the road :) Tanks for putting up a place where ppl lucky enough to have known Bence and his music can meet and share with each other electronically.

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  21. We just returned from two weeks honeymoon in Venice, and were pleased to encounter Bika Bence on the Academia Bridge, under dark skies and over inky waters. Hollywood could contrive nothing so romantic. We had fabulous time in spite of two weeks of rain. How such weather must dent the income of street musicians! On that second night, near the end of our visit, we found him just setting up, and chatted with him, purchased his two CDs, and reluctantly pulled ourselves away to the whispering sound of his music. We have not taken his CDs off the platter since we returned. If we wear them out, we'll just have to return to Venice.

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  22. Hier , à la tombée de la nuit , un passage sur le pont de l'Académie, et ce moment magique quand je me suis arrêté quelques instants pour regarder la vue sur le Grand Canal et les lumières vers la Salute. Cette musique merveilleuse , envoutante m'a aussitôt transporté. J'ai aussitôt acheté les deux CD et me les passe en boucle depuis mon retour.....
    Merci Boka Bence pour ce beau moment.

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  23. I met "Bence Bika" in Venice and he totally stirred my heart. My husband is a professional musik Teacher and he instantly recognised his talent. He is a really great and humble individual. May his work continue to stir and inspire hearts, what a beautiful spirit to encounter in lifes journey

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  24. I was lucky to have Bence's music with me during my very short stay in Venice in Feb 2014... and of cos I had his CDs all the way back to Hong Kong.. Wish him all the best in his music life :)

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  25. Another fan who has had the privilege to see and hear this musician over the years, in Venice. I'm listening to his music right now, and decided to see what the internet had to say about him. During Carnevale, he was dressed in a velvet jacket and 'floppy' hat, and looked as though he had drifted in from a long ago century. he's just brilliant.

    Maybe we should start a Facebook fan club and give him some publicity.

    Yvonne (Australia)

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  26. Filip SlachmuyldersJuly 18, 2014 at 4:04 AM

    We heard him near the Guggenheim Museum this summer. Luckily I bought both his CDs, initially intended as souvenirs but I found out they are better than just souvenirs.

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  27. Quality, heard the man in Venice two days ago. Listening to it not, sublime and elegantly beautiful.

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  28. Oops! Listening to it now!

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  29. Wow, I love your music on the CD I recently bought from you in Venice! Robert

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  30. I feel so related to Bence Boka's wonderful music and it's like I've finally found my "alter ego" self playing the tunes I really love in my beloved Venice. The CD Dances I bought only a couple of days ago in Venice from him personally is sheer beauty. Guitar was my 1st instrument, then I switched to bass. On bass I try to play my own dream-music solo with an atmo like Bence's. My songs are called Minstrel, Dreamer... (CD Each Tree is Poetry). I wished I could meet up again with Bence and maybe I could learn to play the baroque lute like he does! Invite me to Hungary and find me a lute too Bence, you're great! Robert (Belgium), the man with the "strong woman" at his side, remember? LOL!

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  31. We found him a few days back and I took his photo. Such a placid looking man.

    http://ajh57.wordpress.com/2014/10/04/portraits/

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  32. Returned from Venice yesterday, where we encountered Bence playing on the Academia bridge late one night, and were enchanted by his playing. Just been listening to his wonderful CDs, and idly looking up the web address I was delighted to find that so many people have encountered his music in the same way. I love Renaissance music, Eastern European music, and so-called cross-over music, so this is a real find! - and he seems a lovely man. Why has no one yet snapped him up for a European tour?! (starting in Oxford, please!) - or perhaps he prefers just busking around Venice.....? Simon + Sue x

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  33. I had the pleasure of encountering Mr. Boka in Venice back in March 2002. He is a talented and gracious musician. Nice to hear that he's still entertaining and enlightening folks.

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  34. Me and my husband met him 2007. in Venice. His music was beautiful and his talent exceptional. Often we listen to his cd's...I wish he was more recognized.

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  35. Just back from Venice where i saw this great hungarian luteplayer. So great!! Spoke a few words with him about his music....like to meet him again ,now i'm listening to his 2 cd's!! Thanks Boka!

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  36. Years later, he's still there, and unfortunately happens the same way: he adamantly plays marvelously the luth, but loud boats overpowers his gentle soft sound, and the other thing louder is the rare sound of pieces thrown by people rushing by. But if you stop by and really listen, and you talk to him, then wow you realize what hidden gem is right there in front of your eyes and years. I also bought his CDs and listening to them right now, I've been instantly teleported by his music's magic back to the bridge... Köszönöm szépen, Bence!

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