The Festival Orchestra is a unique team, with musicians who are not afraid to demonstrate their solo prowess. The winners of the Sándor Végh Competition now have a chance to do just that outside the rehearsal room, in the concert hall. On 27 and 28 October, the spotlight will turn to Rudolf Szitka and Zsolt Fejérvári, leader of the double bass section. Here is our interview with the latter about the greatness of Bottesini, inspiration, and his “singing” instrument.
Zsolt Fejérvári: I am delighted at the recent transformation of the Festival Orchestra, which adds to the range of exciting event series such as the Cocoa Concerts, Music Castle and Synagogue concerts. The BFO already has a Baroque ensemble and a contemporary music team, but until now has never had a classical chamber music orchestra. I think it’s a great idea, and - judging by ticket sales - the audience seems to agree. I feel greatly honoured to be able to participate as a winner of the Sándor Végh Competition in these concerts led by János Pilz. I have been performing with him for a long time and have come to regard him as a brilliant chamber musician. In fact, chamber music is very close to my heart, and I’m happy we have many opportunities to play it in the Festival Orchestra.
Am I right to think that one of the secrets of the BFO’s success lies in regarding each musician as a unique artist? Every once in a while, you have the opportunity to give the best of your own artistic abilities, and one of the best places for this is at the Sándor Végh Competition.
Zs. F.: That reminds me of musicians who won lawsuits against several Budapest orchestras because they simply refused to audition in front of the chief conductor. With us, it’s the other way around - we find it important to demonstrate our individual musical skills from time to time, and we have people thronging for the opportunity. Every second year, there are thirty or forty individual production entries for the Sándor Végh Competition. It is a priority for all of our musicians to practice for weeks and even discover new pieces to show one another.
Does listening to each other’s performances cause tension, or does it rather seem to provide inspiration?
Zs. F.: Since the goal is not to beat the others, these contests are particularly important, thrusting even musicians who don’t normally perform alone into the limelight. The winners of the Végh Competition are often string tuttists, people who have never performed alone on the stage, just sat with the others behind their music stands. And when a jury of prominent artists decides that these productions are worthy of consideration by the audience, it is a great boost for each musician.
Without the Végh Competition, how much of an idea do you have of one another’s skills? How much can you find out at rehearsals?
Zs. F.: We’ve been playing together long enough (I’ve known the majority of the musicians since they were 14) to know more or less what each one of us can do. But the extent of our skills at individual special contests becomes obvious during the Végh Competition.
You will perform Bottesini’s concerto in B minor for double bass at the Concertino concert. What significance does this piece hold for you?
Zs. F.: It is particularly dear to me because I have performed it quite a few times, including at the competition in Cremona where I won second prize with no first prize awarded at all. Today, as a professor of the Liszt Academy, I’m teaching my students how to play it for their graduation concert. One could say that I have quite an intimate relationship with this piece. Although Bottesini may not be as skilled a composer as his famous contemporary, Verdi, I believe he will prove to be a great discovery for the audience.
It is no coincidence that you’ve mentioned Verdi, given the close friendship between the two composers.
Zs. F.: Indeed, and it is notable that Bottesini was a highly gifted soloist. He was also a true globetrotter, as was customary in the 19th century. Though no recordings could have been made of course, he was known to have played with the same proficiency as Liszt or Paganini. He played for kings and aristocrats, and at the same time was a great conductor and excellent composer, especially when it comes to opera.
How do you prepare for playing this piece?
Zs. F.: Just like with operas, we really need to “sing” here, on a high level, overcoming a great deal of technical difficulties. This is a truly masterful concerto with one magnificent melody after the other.
I have read that this double-bass piece is a bit like opera music. And, apropos of opera, we are currently sitting at the premiere of Falstaff in the garden of the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, waiting for the performance to start. Opera as a genre has a particular importance for you. Am I right?
Zs. F.: Opera is a totally unique musical world unto itself that a great many symphonic orchestras miss out on. Which is why I think including one opera in each of the past years’ programmes has been one of Iván Fischer’s great innovations. After the Mozart-series, it was another excellent decision to include Verdi operas in the programme as well.