Budapest Festival Orchestra
Interviews November 06, 2013

Grandmaster of Historical Performance Practice

Interview with Jos van Immerseel, the conductor of the baroque concerts in November

From the very start, you’ve been a part of Hungary’s historical music past. You’ve given courses, held concerts and conducted since the 80s. How did it all begin?

I have very beautiful memories of those early concerts and the Hungarian musicians, of Sopron and Fertőd, as well as the Hungarian musicians I’ve formed relationships with. Last time, I played with my orchestra, Anima Eterna, in Budapest and Szombathely in 2010. I have an old friendship with Iván Fischer, dating back to the start of the 80s. Ever since, I have constantly watched and been amazed by his work with the Festival Orchestra.

You’ve put together a very exciting and demanding concert program. In the second part, before the Monteverdi piece, we hear a cantata by a Bach predecessor, previously unknown to us. Meanwhile, the first part is like an illustrative lesson into the history of Baroque violin playing.

That’s a very good observation, and perhaps it is a little true, although that was not – or at least that was not my only intention. For the most part, I conduct purely so the audience can hear a very good piece, beautiful works, and so that I can place them in a dramaturgical context. Farina’s work is altogether uncannily cheerful and amusing, full of humour, imagination and subtle irony. Besides this, it’s very interesting that it demands the same technical capabilities from the performer as some Paganini pieces. The work is a potpourri, where spirited dances alternate with various “imitations”. Schmelzer’s lament is a counterpart to Farina’s music in terms of mood. He wrote it on the occasion of Ferdinand III’s death, which had a strong emotional impact. The work of 49 measures symbolizes the age of the deceased; the ruler lived 49 years. Biber’s battle scene is yet another matter. He, too, was a technical violinist, practically reminiscent of Paganini, and he wrote pieces accordingly, expanded and refreshed with his own innovations and expressive instrumental techniques. The movement that mimics a drunken company, for example, where everyone plays something different, could even be an anachronistic commentary on some of today’s music.

The composition of the cantata attributed to Johann Christoph Bach is disputed. Music historians are divided. The composer could have been a different Bach who was one generation older than Heinrich Bach. It is certain, however, that this is a remarkably powerful, amazing work.

related events:

November 16, 7:45pm
Italian Institute

November 17, 7:45pm
Italian Institute