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Ivan Fischer Answers a Few Questions from Antoine Leboyer (seenandheard-international.com)

The Budapest Festival Orchestra under Ivan Fischer will tour in Switzerland at the end of the month. Maria Joao Pires will play Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, and Swiss soprano Marysol Schalit will sing Mozart’s concert aria “A Berenice… Sol nascente.” Schoenberg’s orchestration of Brahms’s 1st Quartet will be performed in St-Gallen and Zurich, while Dvořak’s 8th Symphony will be played in Berne and Geneva.

Ivan Fischer takes a few minutes to answer questions from Antoine Leboyer.

Is there a specific Hungarian orchestral sound?

Sound is not the most important characteristic. What really differentiates orchestras is the collective musicianship, the way of playing. In this respect, there is a Hungarian style: it is temperamental, imaginative and extrovert. This country had many influences: Viennese, Russian, the Balkans and Gypsy. It is a hot melting pot; one can feel these influences in the music making.

Is the Hungarian sound closer to Russian or Austrian orchestras?

It is a mixture. Hungarians have a Viennese sense of taste, style, phrasing and elegance but also Russian temperament, emotional intensity. We are in the middle.

What about modifying the placement of groups of musicians?

I like to choose a placement that best fits the composition. We change this often according to the work we perform. But usually we have a standard seating with the basses at the back, facing the audience. This allows the orchestra’s playing to be built on the bass.

Is there also a rhythmic specificity in Hungarian music with both unique rubatos and, at the same time, rhythmic sophistication à la Bartok?

Yes, because Hungarian folk songs have two main groups. One is story telling, declamatory, following the rubato, the rhythm of the language. The other group is dance songs with a strong regular pulse. Hungarians were brought up with these folk songs.

How was the Budapest Festival orchestra created?

I wanted to found a new orchestra with a new philosophy, where each musician is asked to be creative, innovative, playing with full emotional involvement. This was the dream and it worked.

What are its current challenges at a time where many orchestras are fighting for survival?

Orchestras that operate in a rigid, traditional way are of course in trouble because they do not develop. The purpose of the symphony orchestra has to be reinvented. An orchestra needs to serve the cultural needs of a community and that means adapting to the needs of a community. Orchestras have to be flexible and change certain old-fashioned, rigid rules. The Budapest Festival Orchestra is not in trouble, our audience is growing, and the orchestra is celebrated all over the world. But this is the result of a lot of work and rethinking.