Budapest Festival Orchestra
Interviews November 28, 2018

Gérard Korsten: "There is no compromise for me"

Gérard Korsten, the internationally acknowledged conductor visits Hungary as if he would come home. He conducted Hungarian orchestras many times, first of all the Budapest Festival Orchestra with whom he is having the seventh concert series now. He speaks about Iván Fischer and the musicians of the BFO as if they were his family, whose feelings, movements and soul he understands perfectly. We asked him about the upcoming concerts in Müpa Budapest on the 8th and 9th of December.

You will conduct a very special programme in Budapest on 8&9 December: besides a unique overture and a classic symphony by Schumann we can listen to an Oscar Award-winning film music by the popular American composer, John Corigliano.

Gérard Korsten: The Red Violin certainly brings a different atmosphere into our concert. When we discussed the programme with Iván Fischer, there came up the idea of this violin concerto which he and probably the orchestra really wanted. Gábor Sipos, the violin player of the BFO winning the Végh Sándor Competition will play this piece. I was very happy to meet him in Vicenza at the Opera Festival, where I saw the wonderful Falstaff performance of Iván and his artists. We went to my hotel room with Gábor and there he played The Red Violin for me. I didn’t know this music before, but I was overwhelmed. I used to conduct contemporary music, and some of the pieces could not touch me, but this came really close. I went to the internet, I watched the film about the tragic history of the dead wife and child and read a lot about the composer as well. This film music is really a piece which comes over to the audience and the musicians in a good way. Nevertheless, it is a very difficult musical piece.

From the classic repertoire we can listen to the 2nd Symphony of Schumann. Will it be easy to get back to this universe after The Red Violin?

G.K.: I do not see any problem with that. The music history is built up on the compositions of many centuries. To have music from different ages does make a concert colorful. I am almost sure that Corigliano studied the music of Mozart, Bach and Schumann, even if he does not refer to any of them in his music. But this does not make any problem, I am sure that this is a great programme with all the three pieces. The Schumann symphony I like most of all of his symphonies, I conducted it most as well. Because I find it is a very positive music. We know that Schumann was in deep depression when he wrote this music, but the symphony does not show this. It means the opposite for me. In all the movements you hear the love of life. He was very much influenced in this time by Bach, in the first movement you can hear a coral, as if Bach had it written. And this motive comes back again. I like it also because it is light and enjoyable to play it for the orchestra. It is tricky sometimes, Schumann hid some little jokes in between the lines. This give the feeling of happiness.

This might have been a kind of therapy, a treatment for himself to write this piece.

G.K.: For sure. As he shows just the opposite of being not well. So I am pretty sure that he used the composing for therapy, and this symphony shows how music can heal!

You start the concert with a rarely played overture, the King Manfred overture by Reinecke. Why did you choose this?

G.K.: Although Carl Reinecke and his King Manfred is not the music people really know, I am very much interested in it. About eight years ago, when I prepared myself for a concert, I wanted to see what were the connecting points between Reinecke and Mendelssohn. It turned out for me that Reinecke was studying music together with Mendelssohn and Schumann. Later Mendelssohn was the chief conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. He was followed by Reinecke at the same position for many years. And also Mendelssohn conducted the premiere of Schumann’s Symphony we are going to perform in the second half of the upcoming concert in Budapest. So you can see, there are more connecting points between the three of them. But beside that the other reason why I am looking so much forward to conducting the Reinecke overture with the BFO is that it needs a certain special sound that this orchestra can perform, especially the strings. This suits in my opinion the orchestra very well. It is a great work, but it is worth, because it gives the audience a very unique experience.

Since when have you been working with the Budapest Festival Orchestra?

G. K.: I was quite young when Iván Fischer was kind enough and believing in me that he thought, I could help him to work with the orchestra. I did it and it was a great pleasure, I fell in love with them at once. Since then I have been working with them very often.  When I came back and back again, I felt that this is a great family to whom I also belong, and with whom we can do important and good things.

Do you like complicated tasks?

G.K.: Even if I have conducted a piece already many times, I do the work again and again. When you make music it’s a hundred percent challenge. There is no compromise for me. This is the only aim, should it be an opera or a concert.

You visit your home country, South Africa pretty often. How do people react to the music you conduct there? Do you have to play differently in Africa than in Europe or the USA?

G.K: I was there just one week ago. I love to give concerts in South Africa, because people receive the music more spontaneously, the musicians are also more natural and instinctive. I don’t say better, but easier. It is a different world than Europe, because they have so much more trouble in their lives, with economy, nature, health problems, politics, poverty, corruption and criminality, that they learned to praise the good things much more. They are also more optimistic than European people, they believe that the future will be better than the present.