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The history of the Ad Libitum Choir

When, in 1991, a handful of young people came together in the small Southern-Hungarian town of Baja in order to form a choir, their aim was only to belong to a group whom they could enjoy singing with. Most of them missed choir singing because earlier they had an unforgettable experience in one of the choirs of Béla III. Grammar School. Those choirs were led by Andrea Pethő Kővári, so obviously, she was asked to be the chorus-master of this new ensemble. Of course, Andrea was happy to accept the offer for she had also been thinking of forming a choir for young singers in Baja. Those two aims met and the choir was formed. We set no serious goals at the beginning, the only important thing was to work hard and give our best at every performance. Hardly did we think at that time that by observing these rules we would experience so much success.

Those years the Ad Libitum Choir consisted of young singers most of them still being at secondary school or university. It is an amateur ensemble, anybody can become a member. One reason why we are so proud of our success is that we have achieved it using our own resources, we never asked for outside help, not even at important events or competitions. The past years have seen so many events that it is almost impossible to even make an attempt to list all of them. Though, the most important ones are worth mentioning.

The choir was less than one year old when we were included in an album presenting the musical life of the town. (That was the time when we named the choir Ad Libitum.)
It was in 1994 that we first appeared in the national radio series 'Rows' presenting different choirs. In 1995 we were invited to sing at the live closing performance of the season in the radio studio. Then, in 1998, 2000 and 2002 we gave one-hour live performances in the radio.
We toured Waiblingen, Germany in 1994, Argentan, France in 1997 and Tirgu Mures, Romania in 2001.
In 1996 we enrolled in the first international event. At the 4th International Singing Week in Veszprém we took part in several workshops and also gave two concerts.
In 1997, we were awarded a Golden Diploma B1 at the 6th Budapest International Choir Competition after coming first in our category. In the same year we got the Arts Award of Bács-Kiskun county.
We were awarded the title 'Concert choir' at the 1998 qualifying concert.
In July 1998, we recorded our first CD, wich came out in October. In August, Hungarian Television filmed our concert, and in November we sang in the great hall of the Budapest Music Academy.
In the summer of 1999 we took part in the 17th Cantonigros International Choir Competition in Spain, where our women's choir came second.
We went to Veszprém in August 2000 to perform at the Vivace International Choir Festival. Amont the eight choirs coming from four different continents, we represented Hungary.
In December, we ranked third in the competition for mixed choirs and second in the competition for women's choirs at the 2nd Zoltán Kodály Hungarian Choir Competition. We were also awarded a special prize for winning in two categories.

In 2001 the choir and its leader were awarded the Éber Prize, which was established by a patron family in Baja, in the memory of the artist, Sándor Éber.
We celebrated our 10th anniversary by giving a wonderful concert in November 2001 to an audience of over 500 people. Old choir members came from different parts of the country some from abroad in order to sing at that reunion.

In September 2002, we gave a concert in Nemesnádudvar as a part of the programme on the occasion of the festival of the ' New Wine ' . In October we invited the Pécs Chamber Choir to Baja, which is led by Aurél Tillai on the occasion of the anniversary of Kodály.

In March 2003 , the leader of the choir got an honour for the ' Fame of Baja ' . It was adjudged by the advisory board of László Erdei lieutenant - colonel foundation. In April we took part in an international choir competition in Grado , Italy , where we were awarded a Golden Diploma for mixed choir and a Silver Diploma for women's choir. In December we participated in the 3rd Zoltán Kodály Hungarian Choir Competition. The result was the 2nd place for mixed choir and a special award for the high level of the tonality and the accuracy of the formation.

In October 2004 , the Serenus Choir from Vác organized a meeting where 5 choirs were invited including Ad Libitum. On the following day of the meeting we sang in the National Gallery in Budapest, in the hall under the dome. Our performance was a part of the series of concerts in museums,which was organized by KÓTA . In december at a Christmas concert we sang Handel's Hallelujah's choir from the oratorio ' Messiah ' with the help of a chamber orchestra.

On 19th March , 2005 , we arranged a qualifying concert again. The leader of the jury was István Zámbó. According to the new qualifying system, which was set up from September of 2004, we were awarded the title ' Ars Maior '.

In August, 2005, we gave a concert in a church in Monostorapáti in the ' Arts' Valley '.
At the beginning of September we invited a German men's choir ' Mannerchor Ergolding ' from Landshut and we gave a concert together and at the end of September we travelled to Germany , where we sang in Neu-Ulm and in Waiblingen. It is Baja's twintown which is near to Stuttgart.

The first significant event in 2006 was that the leader of the choir received the Hungarian Republic's Silver Cross of Distinction from Bálint Magyar the Minister of Education. At the end of April we arranged a choir meeting where we could return two earlier invitation. István Nagy Youth Mixed Choir from Marosvásárhely ( the leader of the choir is András Kovács) and the Serenus Choir from Vác ( leader is Margit Brusznyai ) took part in this event. In June we gave a concert in Sombor, Baja's southern twintown, with the local Vox Euterpes choir together.

In December we participated on the 4th Kodály Zoltán Hungarian Choir Competition. we won a Golden Diploma and the 4th place in the mixed choir category. Also in December 2006 Andrea received another prestigious award, the City of Baja award, which had been overgiven to her at the solemn meeting of the city representatives.

The two outstanding events of this year were the two performances of the Hungarian Mass of the Tolcsvay brothers. The first performance was held in Baja at the 'Monks' Church' with the participation of László Tolcsvay, Mónika Sáfár and Sándor Sasvári. The second was held in the Szeged Cathedral, where we stood on the podium together with the Rotunda Choir, which often had sang the work before as well. The idea of learning the Hungarian Mass and performing it in Baja came from our dear friend Antal Schmidt, who later also did a lot for the concert.

In October, thanks to the invitaion of the Hungarian Choir Association (KÓTA), we could participate in a festive concert held in the Matthias Church.

In addition to our performances in Hungary (Jánoshalma, Bácsalmás, Szekszárd), our participation in the 5th Choir Olympics in Graz was a huge experience. The event, considered the world’s largest choir competition, was attended by thousands of singers from all over the world. We were also very happy with the Silver Medal in this strong field.

In December - for the first time - we organized and held our independent Advent concert in the 'Monks' Church'. Earlier the city charity concert had been held in that church but it moved to the City Theater in the meantime.

Beside the activities mentioned above, we give regular concerts, appear at charity events, sing at the concert 'Awaiting Christmas', where we often perform with the singers of the Hungarian State Opera. We have visited choir festivals in different towns in Hungary, we have sung at weddings and exhibitions, we also appeared at concert with the Erzsébet Szilágyi Women's Choir and the Pécs Chamber Choir.

The repertory of the Ad Libitum Choir ranges from Gregorian to contemporary choral works. We are happy to sing Renaissance madrigals, romantic pieces, the works of well-known Hungarian composers (Kodály, Bárdos) and those of contemporary composers from Hungary and abroad (György Orbán, János Vajda, József Karai, Nystedt, Rautavaara), and also spirituals and adaptations of light music.

Since 1994 the choir has worked as an association and is an affiliate of the Association of Hungarian Choirs and Orchestras.

The choir is especially praised for its sound, authenticity and rich repertory.

A have listed many successful experiences, of which we are proud, of course. But we find it also important that by singing in the Ad Libitum Choir, young people get such a positive influence that will hopefully make them fuller human beings.

Mrs Andrea Petho Kovari (1958) graduated from the Szeged Music Academy. She teaches music at Béla III Secondary Grammar School and is chorus-master there. She has also taught and led choirs in other schools in Baja. Her choirs have performed successfully in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Transylvania and the former Yugoslavia. She was awarded the Bács-Kiskun county Arts Prize in 1997 and the Éber Prize in 2001.

Baja is a town of 35.000 inhabitants near the southern border of Hungary. Also known as the town of schools, it celebrated its 300th anniversary of becoming a town in 1996. The Danube River and the beautiful forests of the catchment area attract a lot of tourists every year.
The summer festival is also a popular event, when the local speciality, fish soup served with noodles, is cooked in more than 2000 pots on open fires in the main square and nearby streets.

Attila Pethő
President of Ad Libitum Choir