In the light of the celebration, we must think of death for a minute
On December 23rd, the National Philharmonic Orchestra will give a concert, conducted by Zoltán Kocsis and featuring Éva Marton. The program presents works by Wagner, Richard Strauss and Schoenberg.
– With Christmas approaching, every ensemble is giving a Christmas concert. The National Philharmonic Orchestra's concert on December 23rd, however, is now being advertised as a festive event
– If we present a Christmas concert, then I would perform Handel's Messiah, which we did this time last year, or else some other work which expressly symbolises birth. By contrast, the central theme of this concert is death. In Richard Strauss's final composition, the Four Last Songs, we can sense impending death, just as with Wagner's Tristan and Isolde or Schoenberg's Pelleas and Melisande, the principal thought is death, of transience, of farewell
– I must confess it strikes me as a bit strange that just one day before Christmas we should hear such dark music. Isn't this spoiling the festival?
– I think that although birth and death are opposing terms, they nonetheless are very close to each other. I think we should also think every day about this. I have thoughts about death every single day.
– Why did you ask Éva Marton to be the soloist for tonight's concert?
– I have known her for a long time and seen and heard her countless times in opera, on the concert podium, both when she lived in Budapest and when she worked abroad. We performed together several times. She is an artist with astonish capacity and suggestively: I regard her as one of the great manifestations of primeval power. It is only possible to talk about her vocal achievements, and how she has shaped certain operatic roles from Wagner and Richard Strauss in superlatives. There are very few singers like her, who are equally at home in the genre of song and stage roles. Naturally, Éva Marton's career is now reaching its end: both in her appearance and her vocal endowment, she is a typically stage phenomena. Since she creates marvels as both opera and chamber singer in the same musical style, I feel that Éva Marton is the perfect partner.
– Earlier you worked with her as a pianist, now as a conductor. Is there a difference?
– Naturally, since a ninety strong symphony orchestra is accompanying her. When artists meet, every concert is an event, principally if the artists are at the level of Éva Marton. If someone undertakes to accompany a soloist, it is an obligation to follow her, whatever she does. This is what I expect from a conductor when I perform as a soloist. There is a risk to this, since it can happen that soloist and accompanists come face to face with some unknown thought or different approach. This can be a phrase held on for longer, or a greater crescendo. We can all be surprised.
– This program consists of romantic era works. Is this period close to you?
– There is scarcely any worthwhile music which is not close to me. There are things that are closer still, but this evening, what is important is that the works have some kind of interconnection. It is not just the topic of death that unites them, but an identical musical language. Wagner sets the tone at the start of the concert. Schoenberg's symphonic poem Pelleas and Mélisande is a kind of inverted “negative” of Wagner's Tristan. Wagner's music was also very important for Strauss. Wagner left deep impressions in European art music, in spite of the fact that his art could not be continued. The greatest geniuses of the 19th century could free themselves from it by eradicating their influence.
– When people hear the name Schoenberg they think of twelve tone technique and piles of incomprehensible notes.
– This work was written in the early years of the 1900s, a good deal before his twelve tone period, and is a late-romantic creation. The action in Pelleas takes places in a filmic fashion. The essence of the story is compacted together across forty minutes in an extraordinary fashion. It is a work of such elemental power, that when I work on it, I am melancholic for days, and cannot free myself from its influence.
(Népszava, December 21st 2001.)