Budapest Festival Orchestra
Interviews June 12, 2016

Iván Fischer Says that What Drives Him is the Desire to Understand People

"I love music, but I love people more," explained Iván Fischer, founder and music director of theBudapest Festival Orchestra (BFO). He went on to say, "I have nothing to do with politics at all," insisting that he was "100 percent a musician. Fischer made his comments during a conversation with Anna Gács, president of Szépirók Társasága, at the School of Public Policy at CEU on June 5. The event was organized by SPP as part of its annual conference, the view from here: artists//public policy.

Gács pushed Fischer a bit suggesting that there are actually a number of ways in which he was political: in his selection of the musical pieces that the orchestra performs; in the statements he makes to audiences who attend his concerts; and in the orchestra's public outreach with events such as the Dancing on the Square that took place just a couple of days ago. Fischer said that he did not consider these activities to be political acts. He agreed that he sometimes gets involved with politics but said that it was only because he cares about human values. "I think I should understand the people for whom I make music," he said.

Fischer and Gács spoke at some length about The Red Heifer, the opera that Fischer wrote that premiered last fall. Fischer explained that the opera is based on a blood libel from the late nineteenth century and focuses on a 14-year-old boy who testified against his father. Although many people have commented on the opera's political message, Fischer insisted that what interested him was the young boy. "Let's imagine this boy," he said, going on to explain that the boy betrayed his family because he wanted to step into a new identity, but then is forced to return to his family. "It's an opera about betrayal and return," he said.

Fischer told Gács that he was often pressured by foreign journalists to comment on events in Hungary, but said, "It's not me. I'm not that type of artist." He said that he does sometimes answer questions about Hungary, but not because he wants to be critical.

Gács asked Fischer about the recent threat by the City of Budapest to cut its support for the Budapest Festival Orchestra. Fischer noted that there have been threats and cuts in support in the past, commenting, "I've been fighting for my orchestra for 30 years." Fischer went on to point out that there were strong voices in Hungary who recognized the value of the orchestra. "It provides a great service to the country and to the image of Budapest," he said. "The orchestra makes [the Hungarian] people proud."

Asked how he relates to his audiences, Fischer said that he believes that there is an inner core within all of us. "My aim is to get through to that inner core," he said.