Budapest Festival Orchestra
Interviews January 30, 2014


Új Magyar Szó online (literally translated as “New Hungarian Word online”) He works in three towns, though he believes a good conductor must conduct rarely and well. Since he was told that only the insane conduct operas, he conducts operas. Zsolt Jankó is an absolute perfectionist in everything, and so also when searching for good wines and cooking – as for the latter, he never sticks to recipes, but adapts and “orchestrates” them.

Conductors are natural leaders. They handle people well and respectfully, and enjoy doing so. Zsolt Jankó, conductor of the Hungarian Opera of Cluj-Napoca and the Oradea State Philharmony and assistant conductor of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, was quite young when he became accustomed to leading groups of 40-50 people. Although he graduated from the Music High School in Cluj-Napoca in violin studies, conducting fascinated him at the early age of 14-15, and fortunately (despite first sitting an entrance examination to the department of choir directing) he eventually found himself at the department of conducting. He does not believe in chance though. “There are no coincidences, what must come is written” – he said during a discussion with Zoltán Horváth entitled “Music-Word” held at the Albert Györkös Mányi Memorial House.

The conductor, who has a remarkably large repertoire for his young age, is a friendly and pleasantly modest person in “civilian” life. Nobody would believe that he is the same person as the one in the internal video recordings of the orchestra, who directs musicians with sudden bursts of energy yet meticulous attention (the audience at the Györkös Mányi Memorial House was able to watch some of the internal videos filmed by a camera set in front of the conductor, to ensure that soloists standing on the side of the stage for example can also see each and every movement the conductor makes). “Never conduct an opera unless you are insane!” – he once received this advice from his maestro in Venice, who taught him how to conduct Traviata. And so it is: those who conduct operas must have the right temperament and be insane, indeed. Besides being demanding and maximalist; two qualities that brought him to the attention of Iván Fischer, leader of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, at one of his master classes. And here is another story proving that there are no coincidences: “137 people applied for Iván Fischer’s master class, which was available for ten people only. I was the 11th. But somebody withdrew from the course before it even started. That is how I joined the class. Iván Fischer first chose five, then two people out of ten to be his assistants. I was one of them.”

Zsolt Jankó has been assistant of the Kossuth-Award winning conductor for four seasons, which he considers a tremendous honour, since the Budapest Festival Orchestra conducted by Fischer is hailed by critics as one of the ten greatest orchestras in the world. He lives in three different places, expending his energies in Cluj-Napoca, Oradea and Budapest. Even San Francisco was once his home until his wife moved back to Cluj-Napoca. What does a musician do in a new town? He looks for orchestras, philharmonies, opera houses and visits rehearsals. That is what Fischer did in Vienna, Venice and San Francisco as well. His reflections make you wonder: “American orchestras have a very precise technique, it was a pleasure to watch them rehearsing. However, there is not much difference between the dress rehearsal and the concert. They perform in concerts with absolute precision, but unlike in Europe, you don’t feel that every concert is a festive occasion. In my opinion, concerts are music beyond the scores.”

One would think such a busy musician memorises scores, conducts, deals with music and talks about conducting techniques even in his sleep. Well, Zsolt Jankó enjoys cooking and good wines in his free time in order to “shut partitures out of his brain”. Even if he can shut partitures out, the technique itself probably not, because there is a considerable connection between music and cooking, as he says. “I never stick to a fixed recipe, instead I combine several recipes and flavours – I orchestrate food” – he reveals. On stage he is sweeping, dynamic and passionate, yet his philosophy of life rather resembles that of an oriental philosopher. Of course, it may have something to do with his maestros, especially Iván Fischer, whom he cites so fondly: “If music is inside you, it will somehow come to the surface”. Today on Thursday evening Zsolt Jankó will conduct The Elixir of Love by Gaetano Donizetti at the Hungarian Opera in Cluj-Napoca. On 27 February he will conduct the Philharmony’s Traviata opera concert in Oradea.