Budapest Festival Orchestra
Interviews May 04, 2016

The Power of Classical Music helps soothe International and Social Tensions

When we listen to the Budapest Festival Orchestra (BFO), the musical experience is intoxicating. What they give us is always fresh and full of creativity. We were curious about the novelties this global-top-ten orchestra has in store for us for the upcoming 2016-17 season, and who the faces are behind the programme’s creation. We talked to the orchestra’s deputy director, Orsolya Erdődy.

Time and again we are spoiled, whether it be in the BFO’s rehearsal hall, in Müpa Budapest, at the Liszt Academy or in synagogues. There is obviously a lot of back office work going on to ensure these magnificent results.

E. O.: We have a precise division of labour; everyone does important work as a part in a well-oiled machine. For every position there is practically a single person. I work predominantly in three areas, the first of which is relations with local and national government, which is challenging in spite of us being on good terms with both the Ministry and the Municipality. The second is music education, which means bringing up a new generation of concert-goers, as well as spotting and ‘nurturing’ young talent. The third is organising community programmes. A significant portion of my work is related to social responsibility. It’s good to be part of a team, as my work is worth only as much as my colleagues make of it. I am grateful to be working with responsible, industrious and experienced people.

Your field of research is cultural diplomacy. What does that mean in practice, in music?

E. O.: My father was Ambassador to Bonn and the Vatican; I lived abroad a lot and I grew up in that environment so diplomacy is not unfamiliar to me. We experience the significance of cultural diplomacy every day, such as the major role culture can play in building or improving a country’s cultural image. Music is a relatively new branch of diplomacy, but in the US this field already has a sizeable body of expert literature. In practice, it means soothing or solving international and social tensions through the power of classical music. The West–Eastern Divan Orchestra, co-founded by Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim, is a good example of the first. This is the project, which was launched in 1999, in a nutshell: In order to promote Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, the conductor Daniel Barenboim invited young Arab and Jewish people to make music and talk. Once the initial frictions were overcome, these young musicians turned into a formidable orchestra. The Venezuelan orchestra El Sistema is a good example of overcoming social problems. In 1975, José Antonio Abreu founded a symphony orchestra with the goal of educating and supporting children through music. The system now supports a quarter of a million children. Most of the children come from slums across the country, and without El Sistema they would most probably have become vagrants, drug addicts or prostitutes. The change in perspective and the common goals of music saved them from this. I am pleased that, aside from practising, for four years I have also been teaching cultural diplomacy through a Master’s course in International Studies at the Péter Pázmány Catholic University.

Last year, a similar goal led to the Dancing on the Square project. How will this year’s event differ from last year’s?

E. O.: Last year’s Dancing on the Square project was about more than just music and dance, it was about coming together to create, about tolerance and equal opportunities. What’s different is that this 3 June, not 200, but 500 disadvantaged children will be dancing to the orchestra’s tune. The regional meet-ups before the concert are also new this year. We would like the children to meet more than just once; ideally, at least 100 children would get together 3 or 4 times during the half-year of common work. Our goal is to lodge our guests with families for the two days, so we have asked Budapest schools and volunteers within the framework of a mentor programme.

Through your Community Weeks, you bring music to places where you offer basically the only opportunity the inhabitants will have to hear live music.

E. O.: Our next Community Week goes from 17 to 23 April. We are going to be performing in six counties, including the Mobility Improvement Institute on Budapest’s Mexikói út and the town of Téglás in Hajdú-Bihar county. The orchestra’s members are very creative, and on the suggestion of violinist Erika Illési we will be bringing the Music Castle programme to the children. The musicians themselves play the characters in the musical tale; an important element of this interactive programme is that children can make and play their own instruments. We plan to establish a network of community centres which would allow us to return to the local communities several times a year. In April we are visiting three churches; we are bringing the gift of music first to the Calvinist Church in Komló, and then will be meeting the audience in the Kecskemét and Soltvadkert Lutheran Churches. Our synagogue concerts are going to take place in Karcag, Apostag and Eger.

It is no secret that you are an experienced violinist, and music has played an integral part in your life. Whose visits are you most looking forward to next season?

E. O.: My favourite international stars are coming, such as the Estonian Paavo Järvi, who I have heard many times and I’m curious how it will be this time when he conducts our orchestra. I can hardly wait for the concert with the fantastic violinist Leonidas Kavakos, which Iván Fischer will be conducting. I have a similar curiosity for Béla Bartók’s stage works. The orchestra has a special relationship with the composer; wherever they have played these pieces they have met great success.

How does a hard-working, music-infused manager relax?

E. O.: For ten years now I have been following the Saint Ephraim Male Choir, under Tamás Bubnó, and I help them along the way. The choir came to life because they wanted to sing Byzantine music in Hungarian. They are the first such non-Slavic-Orthodox male choir to have won major international renown; for example, at the Hajnówka International Orthodox Sacred Music Festival in Poland in 2006 they were judged the best professional chamber choir, while their CD Byzantine Mosaics won the Supersonic Award in 2010. Choral music helps you unwind; the spiritual songs and music encourage you to be introspective and quiet. Such moments are necessary. Coming back to the Festival Orchestra, Iván Fischer says mothers should sing to their kids because music helps child development. For a while now, the orchestra has been bidding farewell to its audiences by singing.