“Oh, that all concerts were like its visit to the Proms last week with conductor Ivan Fischer.” Critical review by Igor Toronyi-Lalic, Spectator.
Looney Tunes was always at its best when soundtracked by a Hungarian gypsy dance. (Watch ‘Pigs in a Polka’ if you don’t believe me.) It’s music that was made to chase small cartoon animals — and terrify conductors. The gunshot syncopations. The hand-break turns in tempi. The banana-skin portamenti and rubato ravines… Musical tripwires everywhere.
Nothing to faze conductor Ivan Fischer, however. Last week at the Proms, with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, Fischer was giving a guided tour of Hungarian gypsy music and its century-long cohabitation with classical music. It was a masterclass. Without breaking a sweat, he suavely explained the provenance of each piece to the audience, then swung round into the line of fire, Bugs Bunny-ing his way through the musical grapeshot, all while balancing the hair-raising needs of two gypsy violinists and a cimbalom player. As he bowed, I half expected him to whip out a carrot and cross his legs with a ‘What’s up, Doc?’
Gypsy culture was to 19th-century classical music what rhythm and blues became to 20th-century pop. Part cultural exchange, part stolen goods. Not that the gypsies did too bad out of it — they often pinched back the rearranged tunes and fed it to their customers as echt gypsy. At this Prom, Fischer was trying to give the gypsies their dues. Centre stage: three extraordinary gypsy performers, who were invited to cut right across the canonical dances and rhapsodies by Liszt, Brahms and Sarasate with pleasing disregard for taste or propriety.