Gergely Dubóczky is one of the young conductors being introduced through the Budapest Festival Orchestra’s series. He is the director of the Béla Bartók Conservatory Symphony Orchestra and also works with his own ensembles. Dubóczky got his first degree, in mathematics, at the Eötvös University; only afterwards did he study at, and graduate from, the Liszt Academy. Scholarships allowed him to study at various places, including New York and Vienna. I talked with him about being a conductor, about his beginnings, his most memorable musical experiences and his current projects.
Let’s begin with the question that probably everyone would ask when they look at your music career. Why, after graduating as a mathematician, did you decide you’d rather become a conductor?
I have been playing music since I was a child, but for a while I thought I could do it without making a living from it. Then, of course, it turned out that I couldn’t; even during my years of studying mathematics I was already working on many things that would pave the way towards conducting, like being an accompanist or playing the bassoon. But the decision came while at a performance of Bach’s St John Passion, where I was sitting and turning the pages for the harpsichordist, who was then my teacher. When the orchestra began to play there were simply no further questions.
What was the most memorable concert or project you’ve worked on?
I have had many favourites, but my own projects, when the idea is mine, are especially close to me. With the Budapest Sound Collective we do experimental concert formats and we always perform programmes that are special in some way. One of the most recent was Seven Last Words, where I got the opportunity to work with both Péter Esterházy and Pál Mácsai. Another one worthy of note was Elements, which we performed at Café Budapest. I’m hoping this series will continue this year. As far as my career goes, however, the pinnacle so far has naturally been the collaboration with the Budapest Festival Orchestra. This is a huge opportunity for a conductor at the beginning of his career.
You direct Semmelweis University’s Medic Orchestra, which is a symphony ensemble of medical students. How did this orchestra come about?
I was not the founder of the Medic Orchestra, rather the students found me. Back then they were a nice and enthusiastic team – they still are – who didn’t really know how to go about founding an orchestra. It is part of my occupational commitment to play a role in amateur music, too, especially in an age when musicians struggle so hard to find an audience and to maintain a relationship with that audience. So I find it very important to make people realise how music can be an integral part of someone’s life, even when it doesn’t provide a living.
How is it to work at the Bartók Conservatory? Do you feel at ease with the students?
Teaching future musicians is an entirely different task. While it is also a youth orchestra like the medical one, in this case my work is based on a well-defined educational concept. There are certain fundamentals that simply must be learnt at this age to enable the musicians to perform well in orchestras later on. To share and experience this with the young musicians is a fantastic task, but at the same time it is also hard work since the knowledge they acquire here will have such a significant impact. The Medic Orchestra has it simpler, there it is purely about the joy of music-making.
Do you have an idol in contemporary music? Who do you look up to?
I couldn’t name a single idol, but that’s good since one needs to develop one’s own personality. There are, however, quite a few masters I look up to, the first of whom is most certainly Claudio Abbado. It is fantastic how he treats music with such humility, and how he empowers his musicians to be creative with such an irresistible force. Leonard Bernstein and Carlos Kleiber are also essential for me. In reality, I always like it when someone focuses on the music. Even though being a conductor is an exhibitionist profession, it is extremely important that the conductor should not try to rule the orchestra but to create something together with the players.
What do you think of female conductors? Is this fundamentally a man’s field, or is conducting gender-independent?
I think, by now, this profession has distanced itself from gender roles; abroad, in fact, female conductors have become fashionable. The conductor’s way of communication has moved away from stereotypes, but it remains a fundamentally masculine profession, so a woman would have to start from a position of disadvantage. However, many choirs are led by women, since that requires a kind of empathy which male colleagues might lack. So the opposite is also true; I think this is not about discrimination.
How did you like going on tour with the Budapest Festival Orchestra?
This was my second tour with them, and this time we went to the USA. My most powerful experience of the orchestra’s work is that nothing is superfluous, they solve problems in a few moments and thus eliminate possible errors. I am very grateful to Iván Fischer for giving me a variety of tasks, since all of them were new challenges for me. On the one hand, there are many guest conductors who need help; they play various kinds of pieces, including contemporary ones which are more difficult to digest and romantic symphonies which form part of the basic repertoire.
I also enjoyed being one of the judges at the orchestra’s in-house competition (Sándor Végh Competition - Ed). These musicians are not just a joy to work with, it is especially interesting to experience such a complex system in action while still being a rookie conductor. Their activities consist of so many programmes: there are marathons, tours, Cocoa Concerts, the Dancing on the Square project, chamber concerts – I find it incredible how Iván Fischer keeps track of them all and how the management keeps it all together. As far as tours go, I have been to many places on my travels, but with the BFO I got to go to La Scala, the Royal Albert Hall and Carnegie Hall .
What projects are you currently working on?
I am continuing the contemporary music project with the Budapest Sound Collective, where we focus on the elements that form a musical sound and its basic properties – the first one was about space, and the upcoming one will deal with tone. As far away as it may seem, I feel that the November concert with the Festival Orchestra at the Liszt Academy is just around the corner. This is an incredible opportunity; I feel like you cannot prepare enough for it.
The Medic Orchestra and I will soon be visiting Switzerland to perform a Beethoven mass in co-operation with the Bern University Choir. I am also looking forward to this year’s Wagner days, where I’m again going to be Ádám Fischer’s lead accompanist. I’ll also be taking part in the Miskolc Opera Festival, where we are going to play Bartók with the Ferenc Erkel Chamber Orchestra. I have other plans too for the coming season, but it is still too early to talk about them – fortunately I am always full of plans and work. Of course, you cannot see everything in advance - some ideas fly straight away while others take years. Unexpected twists are always the most exciting.