Géza Kovács, the director of the National Philharmonic Orchestra talks about the orchestra's rising stock and his esteem for the other ensembles.
The two month American tour of the National Philharmonic Orchestra, which is virtually unprecedented in its history, is drawing to a close. The orchestra, which has enjoyed an immensely successful tour, was rejoined for its final days by their manager, Géza Kovács, with whom we talked about the highlights of the year, about iniquitous wounds and about the new draft Law on Arts.
– Following the important changes in the orchestra's running and the two year process of preparation, the National Philharmonic Orchestra has now successfully presented itself to the international musical public.
In Autumn, the orchestra toured Germany, where our musicians enjoyed phenomenal success along chief music director and conductor Zoltán Kocsis. We played in Hamburg, Frankfurt and other major cities. Recently the National Choir returned from Tokyo, where it performed the Carmina Burana several times with the Japanse Philharmonic, conducted by Ken-Ichiro Kobayashi. This lengthy American tour is really something special in the history of the orchestra. We are celebrating our eightieth birthday this year, and not even the earlier incarnations of the orchestra ever undertook a tour of this length. The American market does not pay too well, but you still have to make your presence felt. Our international reputation depends greatly upon it. During the two months, we performed in thirty eight cities from the West Coast to the East. Conducted by Zoltán Kocsis and Zsolt Hamar, the orchestra demonstrated how it perform Mozart, Beethoven, contemporary music and also put great emphasis on Hungarian music. We can say now with the tour drawing to a close that both critics and audiences received our concerts with rapturous enthusiasm. Let me just quote one of the more distinguished critics who wrote about the New York concert that: “the Hungarian National Orchestra plays at a level which would put the overwhelming majority of American orchestras to shame.
– We have all read the warmly enthusiastic American reviews. It is a shame that the start of the tour was overshadowed by the fuss over Iván Fischer's interview. What is your opinion about that?
I don't really want to talk about this business. When abroad, we always go to enormous lengths to communicate good news about Hungary and we spare foreigners talk of our domestic conflicts. I don't want to reopen the wounds. Anyone who reads the Fischer interview can draw their own conclusions. It is a fact that Hungarian orchestras have always stuck together. Regrettably, the leader of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, as he has on other occasions in recent years, does not wish to be member of this community. For us, the greatest moral victory was that our New York concert, which was so tastelessly “proclaimed”, proved an absolutely outstanding success and we received a critical reaction that any of the world's leading orchestras would be proud of.
– This season, the orchestra has also entered other new ground. It has made its first recordings for a long time.
Zoltán Kocsis now judges that the orchestra is ready for recording. We made a Bartók, a Debussy and a Ravel CD for the Hungaroton company. Unfortunately, the Bartók CD is still in the can because one of the representatives of the Bartók estate has not given permission for its distribution. It contains some early Bartók piano works superbly orchestrated by Zoltán Kocsis. In our opinion, arrangements do not harm great works. Just think of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, a piano composition superbly orchestrated by Ravel.
– Just talking about this season alone, we should mention that it is very hard to get tickets for your Hungarian concerts unless you book months in advance.
That was certainly the case when our former music director, Ken-Ichiro Kobayashi conducted three concerts, in one of which, Zoltán Kocsis was the soloist in Rachmaninov's second concerto. At the Budapest Spring Festival, we will be commemorating the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Berlioz with a performance of Romeo et Juliet with the orchestra and some French soloists. The tickets sold out long ago.
– You also have concert series for younger audiences, don't you?
These concerts for our audiences of the future take place at the Pest Vigadó, conducted by Zsolt Hamar. Our observation of many years, which we acquired in Western Europe which we take as our model is that audiences are ageing rapidly.
– Last January marked your first years under the new administrative system. How well has the Public Benefit Company institution proved itself?
It has been without hitches. The musicians were afraid after losing their status as civil servants that their rights would shrivel. However, as we went through this transformation, we managed to preserve all the perks and benefits which made being a civil servant advantageous.
– As one of the vice-presidents of the Hungarian Orchestras Association, what do you say about the opinion that the disparity in wages – sometimes by a factor of three or four times – between musicians in your orchestra and those in other ensembles, is unjust?
About ten years ago, the government of the day reduced the circle inside which national institutions are placed. In recent years, it so happened that the government could give superior remuneration to the artists of the Opera House and the National Philharmonic because they are artists employed by national basic institutions. The supporting system of the other orchestras is very diverse. I think we can expected certain sponsors (for example Matáv) to operate their orchestras under fitting circumstances. The same could be expected of Hungarian Radio – if the Radio's budget could be made to create the opportunity. Unfortunately, an orchestra that is not state financed is in a vulnerable position. It must be acknowledged that our ensembles carry out obligations stipulated in the Hungarian Constitution. The state certainly has to remunerate them for this. In recent months an experiment occurred when orchestras employing civil servants and non-civil servants acquired money. Unfortunately, this did not apply to the MÁV musicians and to the Radio musicians. I do know that this year the MÁV Symphony Orchestra received over a hundred million forints of support from government cultural funds. The Radio ensembles, which deserve a better fate, can only hope for their situation to improve should the situation of the Radio itself be sorted out. This goes well beyond the world of music, this is a political question.
The draft law, which the team led by László Gyimesi has prepared, aims to regulate performance art, and to clarify the relationship between musicians and state. This law, if it comes into force, should hopefully make the situation much clearer.