Once again, the Japanese conductor Ken-Ichiro Kobayashi is a guest in Hungary, where he will perform works by Rachmaninov, Brahms, Carl Orff and Chopin with the National Philharmonic Orchestra. We spoke with the orchestra's general music director Zoltán Kocsis, about the popular Japanese musician's series of concerts, about his plans and his musical philosophy.
– What prompted you to invite the Japanese conductor?
– We invited Maestro Kobayashi to conduct a series of three concerts. I don't need to remind anyone how much Hungarian audiences love him, and I thought that it would give Hungarian music lovers great pleasure if he would again conduct these works that he knows so well. On Wednesday, which is the first concert of the series, we will perform Rachmaninov's 2nd piano concerto (in C minor), with myself as the soloist, and following this, the Maestro will conduct Brahms's First Symphony. At the next concert, he will conduct Carl Orff's Carmina Burana at the Budapest Congress Centre and a week later, Chopin's E minor piano concerto with his daughter, Ayano Kobayashi as soloist, and Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony.
– What sort of artistic relationship do you have with Ken-Ichiro Kobayashi?
– We have worked together many times in both Hungary and Japan, and sometimes, we even rehearsed in Japanese. I speak a little Japanese, so when we worked together with the Kyoto Symphony Orchestra, we communicated in the Japanese language. This apart, we have always understood each other well. Otherwise, Kobayashi is one of those conductors whose style, idiom and personality takes a bit of getting used to, so an orchestra needs to know “Kobayashi-ese”! He is someone who operates through meta-communication rather than being truly a man of words. When he is on the podium however, he cannot be misunderstood.
– On Wednesday you are performing Rachmaninov's C minor concerto together. Why did you choose this particular work?
-Actually it is a very conventional programme, because this Rachmaninov concerto is perhaps the composer's most widely performed composition. Everyone has heard it, even if they think they haven't. There are differing – generally negative – opinions surrounding it, just as there are about Rachmaninov, but I think there is only one way to approach this music – and that's with devotion. You must play as if truly celebrating a ritual, because if someone starts playing in bad taste, then it can really backfire. I have heard countless performances of this work, but only Rachmaninov's own recordings really made a deep impression on me. These performances radiate such seriousness and pathos that there is no question the work is a masterpiece.
– Many find Rachmaninov's music kitsch and over-emotional
– Sadly it is Rachmaninov's personal tragedy that syrupy Hollywood film music can seem to originate from his music, which is absolutely nothing to do with him whatsoever! We have to reassess his music in its own totality and seriousness, and not draw parallels with a style of music that did not even exist when he had completed his entire oeuvre. He is not the only one: I would mention Kreisler first and foremost, or French composers of the Debussy era or Scriabin, who is also very important but in this part of the world, to all intents and purposes, is a forgotten composer.
– When you assemble a programme, what proportion features music that you judge as important?
– Programme building is a very delicate operation, since to a certain degree, you have to also satisfy the requirements of the audience. One of my artistic goals – which hopefully can be clearly recognised after five years – is the programming of rarely played and unfairly forgotten masterpieces. Both the orchestra and I can lay our hands on these works with far greater creativity, in addition to refreshing the repertoire and broadening the audience's horizons. I even bear this is mind when preparing programmes for foreign tours. For example, we have just returned from a tour of Germany where alongside one Hungarian work – Bartók's Dance Suite – we performed Beethoven's St Stephen Overture and Fourth Piano Concerto, Richard Strauss's symphonic poem Aus Italien, Debussy's Fantasy and Dvorák's Symphony No. 3.
– How are you occupying yourself these days?
– Besides studying orchestra works and my administrative commitments, I have only time to practise works that I have already learned. In a few day's time, I am setting off on a tour of Western Europe, from where we will “pop over” to Boston. There I will play Bartók's Third Piano Concerto with Marek Janowski. Actually, like many of my colleagues, I only have time for studying new works in the summer. During tours, I can study new works relatively well, and it has happened that I have learned two new Beethoven sonatas during a single foreign tour.