Miklós Malek

Born: June 3rd, 1945, Budapest (Hungary)
Nationality: Hungarian

Eurovision record
Miklós Malek twice conducted a Hungarian entry in the Eurovision Song Contest, in 1995 and 1998. Moreover, he arranged the music to ‘Árva reggel’, which failed to qualify from the 1993 Eastern European preliminary round. In 2008, he was a member of the expert jury which selected ‘Szívverés / Candlelight’ to represent Hungary in the 2008 contest.

Miklós Malek hails from a working-class family. At a very young age, he became interested in music, mastering the accordion and the trumpet. He played the trumpet in a Dixieland orchestra with which he won a talent show that was broadcast on national TV in 1963. As a result of this, he decided he wanted to make a career in music. He studied classical trumpet at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest (1964-1970). Since the 1960s, he has worked as a composer and arranger in the Hungarian popular music industry and the world of theatre. Amongst others, he worked both as composer, arranger and trumpeter with his own Expressz Ensemble for more than twenty years. After that, he joined Studio 11, the music band of Hungarian radio. One of his songs, ‘Hull az elsárgult levél’, won a prize in the Bratislavská Lýra Festival in Czechoslovakia (1974).

The award Malek received in 1974 for writing the winning song for the Bratislavská Lýra Song Contest

Although Malek’s work focuses on popular music genres in the first place, he has orchestrated and composed symphonic character pieces – commissioned by the Hungarian Radio – on a regular basis since 1975; amongst these are three brass concertos. Between 1992 and 1999 he was continuously employed by the Hungarian TV as a musical director. However, he mainly works as an arranger in the recording studio, having collaborated with the likes of Caterina Valente and Harald Faltermeyer and even having been commissioned by the BBC to record the music for the TV series Robin Hood. Besides all this, he has often worked with live orchestras; most spectacular perhaps was his participation in the cross-over production Carmen with jazz guitarist Al di Meola in 2003. He is a board member of Artisjus, the Hungarian federation of composers. His wife and both of his children are professional musicians as well.

Miklós Malek in the Eurovision Song Contest
Miklós Malek’s first involvement in the contest came in 1993, when he arranged the music to ‘Árva reggel’. This song, performed by Andrea Szulák, was chosen to represent Hungary in Ljubljana, in the preliminary heat for the new EBU members from Eastern Europe: apart from Hungary, these were: Estonia, Slovakia, Romania, Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina. The first three were to qualify for the Eurovision Song Contest in Millstreet, Ireland. Coincidentally or not, the three participating ex-Yugoslavian states won. Malek was not sent along as a conductor to Ljubljana, according to himself because, probably, Hungarian TV officials were not aware that it was customary to do so.

Two years later, in 1995, he was the Hungarian conductor in Dublin for Csaba Szigeti and his song ‘Új név egy régi ház falán’. Malek had not written the arrangement, but, two weeks before the contest, he was asked by the song’s composer, Ferenc Balázs, to come along to Dublin, because the arranger, a percussionist by the name of Bela Zsoldos, was not a conductor by profession. Strangely, Balázs and his lyricist Attila Horváth had to pay for Malek’s stay in Dublin, because Hungarian TV refused to do so. Unfortunately, Csaba Szigeti lost his voice during a daytrip along the Irish coast and in the end, the Hungarian entry finished second-last. Nevertheless, Malek, being the passionate musician that he is, thoroughly enjoyed his stay in Dublin, curiously visiting the rehearsals of many other countries to see his colleagues at work with the orchestra. The sound technicians’ work interested him, too. Malek: “That is also a part of my job, because I work in the studios a lot. I watched the rehearsals attentively, as if it were a football match! The organisation in Dublin was perfect. For that reason, I was not nervous at all. The orchestra was great; these musicians understood what music like this was about.”

In 1998, Malek was involved in the Hungarian entry ‘A holnap már nem lesz szomorú’, a delightful blues ballad, sung by Charlie, one of Hungary’s most successful recording artists. Composer István Lerch wrote the rhythm score, but Malek added an orchestration with strings and brass. He accompanied Charlie to Birmingham, England, as a conductor. Malek thought the English organisation was slightly inferior to what he had seen in Dublin three years before. But he enjoyed working with the BBC Concert Orchestra nonetheless: “The best thing in Birmingham was the orchestra. It was spectacular, so much quality! Those musicians played practically everything by heart. The overture they played during the show was absolutely magnificent!”

The Hungarian delegation during the rehearsals of the 1998 Eurovision Song Contest in Birmingham: (from left to right) composer István Lerch, singer Charlie, lyricist Atilla Horváth, conductor Miklós Malek and two backing singers

This Hungarian entry was awarded with a mere four points and a twenty-third place. This came as a shock for the entire Hungarian delegation. Malek: “This time we were even more heavily disappointed than in 1995. Not that I had expected that we would win or finish among the first five, no – but I thought we would get a respectable number of points. Charlie himself could not understand it either. His entire career has been a string of successes, apart from this Eurovision episode. The song was quite good, too. After the voting we went back to the hotel immediately, where we sat down at the bar and tried to find the reason as to why we had failed so utterly… Charlie had sung well, the music was played excellently. We simply could not understand it. Who knows, perhaps Europe was not ready for blues back then?”

The 2008 Hungarian entry, originally titled ‘Szívverés’, but during the contest sung in English (apart from a few lines) as “Candlelight”, was selected by an expert jury of which Malek was a member. The song was composed by Viktor Rakonczai (a former member of VIP, representatives of Hungary in 1997) and sung by Csézy. This classy traditional Eurovision ballad came last in the second semi-final.

Does Miklós Malek look back in anger on his Eurovision participations, which all ended with a disappointing result? “No, because I did what I could… and, if the orchestra returned to the contest, I would love to conduct it again! For, what could be better than working with an orchestra?"

Other artists on Miklós Malek
Péter Wolf, himself twice a conductor in the contest, has known Miklós Malek since their student days in the 1960s. They are close friends: “We also meet privately. We have more or less led parallel lives, studying a classical instrument at the conservatory, but later working as arrangers for Hungarian radio and in the recording studios. However, he has one big downside: he does not like football! In the 1960s, we each were in a band of our own. Those bands used to play football against each other, for fun, on what almost was a daily basis. Miklós was the only one who never participated in those games…” (2007)

László Pásztor, composer of “Árva reggel” for the 1993 Eurovision Song Contest and one of the members of Neoton Familia, which won the 1983 Yamaha Music Festival in Tokyo with ‘Time goes by’: “Miklós and I are of the same age and started our career in music more or less at the same time. Our ways crossed several times as band leaders. He really is a nice guy with a profound knowledge of music. When arranging, he always succeeds in focusing on the essence of the work. He wrote new arrangements to my winning song in the Yamaha Festival ‘Time goes by’, which I conducted at the anniversary concert of the festival in Tokyo in 1989. Apart from having orchestrated ‘Árva reggel’, he wrote many string arrangements to my songs for the popular pop group TNT.” (2007)

Atilla Horváth, coincidentally, was the lyricist of both songs that Miklós Malek conducted in the Eurovision Song Contest: “In 1995, both the composer of the song, Ferenc Balázs, Miklós and I had to pay for our stay in Dublin ourselves, since Hungarian TV could afford to delegate one person only: the performer, Csaba Szigeti. A friend of mine, chief editor of the Hungarian police magazine, managed to find accommodation for us in the headquarters of Irish police, a castle in Phoenix Park. Oddly, the officials there were all convinced we were very cleverly disguised secret agents. The composer and I were dressed in jeans and we wore long hair and earrings, while they assumed that Miklós, who looked every inch a gentleman, was our boss. Miklós only arrived one day before the last rehearsal. By then, Csaba had no voice left after having caught a terrible cold during a trip to the Irish seaside. Miklós understood what needed to be done: during the night, he translated the song into a lower key; he rearranged the entire orchestra, and wrote a whole new partiture for all instruments! Next morning all musicians got their new sheets and Miklós invited every one of them for champagne thanking them in advance for their pains of having to learn the new version. After the contest, Miklós and I decided to spend a week in London, the capital of rock music. He is a super-gifted musician, a real gentleman and a good friend.” (2008)

The Hungarian team in the 1995 Eurovision Song Contest during a riding tour in Belfast, Northern Ireland: Miklós Malek is standing up; seated (from left to right): singer Csaba Szigeti, composer Ferenc Balázs and lyricist Atilla Horváth

Links & sources



Songs conducted
1995: Új név egy régi ház falán
1998: A holnap már nem lesz szomorú