The real danger is that in fifty years' time, perhaps our audiences will have dwindled.
During its two month marathon tour of America, the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra performed seven different programs of works. According to their general music director, Zoltán Kocsis, the musicians can now play these works faultlessly in their sleep. He regards it as regrettable that the press and musical public devote too much time to such occurrences as Iván Fischer's remarks in the New York Times (during which he appeared to make some negative comments about Kocsis's orchestra) or the storm over the music critic Miklós Fáy (whose negative review of a concert by András Schiff led to certain music critics demanding Fáy be relieved of his position and apologising to Schiff, who it was rumoured has refused to play in Hungary again.) Today Zoltán Kocsis is conducting at concert featuring harpist Andrea Vigh at the Music Academy.
– What made this tour so special?
– In all, we prepared seven programs, which seems a lot but I would dare to say that it was precisely this wonderful variety that meant we could tolerate these two months. In itself, it is unprecedented for an orchestra to withstand such a long tour. What is more, the musicians hardly wanted to come home! The music helped the negotiate the difficulties.
– What artistic experienced did you acquire during the tour?
– We were immensely successful, both with critics and audiences. But this is less interesting for me. I am far more curious with a given work, how long it takes and the manner in which the ensemble matures into a professional orchestra, rather like the ripening of a cheese, shall we say. I had some extremely positive experiences during our travels, because the orchestra, even when it did not perform one hundred percent, still performed at a level of professionalism which seems to suggest an orchestral culture, which in Hungary – let us be frank – has never really existed. Hungarian musical life has always been built on certain individual excellences rather than on collective work.
– How would you characterise the relationship these days between light music and serious music?
– It is terrible there is now such a schism between serious music and music for entertainment. In the past, Bach and Mozart wrote entertaining music and it is awfully sad that the two no longer overlap. I am sure that avant-garde composers can be charged with contributing to the situation. Schoenberg, against whom the charge of avant-gardism is most usually levelled, actually loved light music above all. He knew precisely that the two would break apart and probably helped it on its way. Unfortunately he did not imagine that today in a record shop, nine tenths of what is available would be light music. This schism has far more complex social and sociological causes than merely problems of the avant-garde. It is an immense problem that fewer people study music. If more people were occupied with music, then perhaps the situation would be different as light music is not normally composed in a very demanding way.
– During the tour, there was a considerable reaction to Iván Fischer's American statement. What is your opinion about that?
– I think people devoted too much attention to the article. I don't want to avoid the question. The antagonism between us is unfortunately gigantic, by which I mean, that between Iván Fischer and the other Hungarian orchestras. I might add that in America, it is not generally appreciated if someone says something bad or ambiguous about a colleague. The article itself received greater space than it deserved. It is another question of course, whether the words have a local value. When I am asked about the Festival Orchestra, I only say good things. Not because of my own past relationship with them (as joint co-founder) but because from my heart, I am truly proud of their successes. They enhance the reputation of Hungarian musical life and help recruit and retain music lovers and that is very important. Audiences you see are beginning to dwindle. The real danger is that in fifty or a hundred years time, we may not have any audience.
– Recently, some people actively involved in Hungarian musical life began gathering signatures in protest against articles by the Népszabadság critic Miklós Fáy. How do you view this?
– It is interesting that the outcry was over one of Fáy's critical writings that was not really so abusive. When he wrote about me far more savagely, no one said a thing. In the past, when I worked at Mozgó Világ and now at the periodical Holmi, I tried to raise the standards of critical writings about music. Sadly it seems that the audience for a critical piece is in direct proportion to its journalistic attributes. People won't read articles that objectively and professionally review a production, but prefer Miklós Fáy, who writes things that sometimes really go for the throat. By the same token, you cannot argue that he considers what he writes to be true. If he writes that my evening dress needs ironing, then of course he is right, even if he damages my trade in the process. Why didn't I get my evening suit ironed? At the same time, what is not true does not hurt. If someone were to write that I am a bad musician, then it would not hurt because I know it is not true. I don't understand this passionate outrage either. My God, this is life! Miklós Fáy is a part of democracy as am I or anyone else.
– What is the orchestra working on now?
– We have started rehearsing Berlioz's Romeo and Juliet. The French composer was unbelievably innovative and was always looking for trouble. His works and his forms continually stretch the boundaries of melodic harmony. During the rehearsals, again we have to start certain things from scratch because this is a different style, and a relatively difficult piece.