The Violin Channel recently sat down with conductor Andras Keller, Director of the annual new music event, and Conductor of the 114 year old Concerto Budapest Orchestra — whose musicians will perform during the festival.
"In the era of the internet, we can access so much information that we often form an idea before actually becoming familiar with its object. So, I believe we should slow and quiet down inside, listen to music together, listen to one another, and listen to what this language has to say to us about the world, where we currently live, and how it reflects upon former worlds" - Condutor Andras Keller
This is an enormous undertaking you are committing to. What was your main motivation for creating this special international event with two full-day committed predominantly to spotlighting contemporary music?
I've been György Kurtág's student from the age of 16. I primarily learnt from him that while making music, the notes we are playing are the most crucial "events" of our lives. It means that we must dedicate ourselves completely and fully to these notes so that they are born to a new life, and then we will (perhaps) be able to convey the composer's and our own message to others. If we play contemporary music with this humility and conviction, then maybe, unusual or unfamiliar harmonies can reach people's hearts.
What I had in mind by establishing the Day of Listening was an approach to music where one first listens to an unknown piece and only then does one form an opinion of it. In the era of the internet, we can access so much information that we often form an idea before actually becoming familiar with its object. So, I believe we should slow and quiet down inside, listen to music together, listen to one another, and listen to what this language has to say to us about the world, where we currently live, and how it reflects upon former worlds. Let's time travel together, and let's share this experience.
The term "Day of Listening" has various connotations. The main purpose of Concerto Budapest is certainly to turn this day – from year to year – into a feast of contemporary music.
Even though it is called ‘The Day of Listening’ and it’s become so impactful it now runs over two days, what can we expect to hear and experience this year?
At the festival squeezed into just two days, the audience is awaited with forty compositions, eight world premieres, three Hungarian premieres, and numerous musicians and ensembles. Such composers are going to cross paths through the notes resounding at this year's Day of Listening as Peter Eötvös, Gábor Csalog, György Ligeti, Stravinsky, Kurtág, Debussy, Franck, Schönberg, Vidovszky, Beethoven, to name a few. Among others, such performers will take to the stage as Orsolya Kaczander, Mihály Demeniv, Csaba Klenyán, Miklós Perényi, the Keller Quartet, Veronika Harcsa and many other supremely gifted figures of the contemporary Hungarian music scene.
One of the visions of this project is to pair established repertoire of composers, including Beethoven, Stravinsky, Debussy, and Schönberg with newly-composed works. Can you please explain the vision and idea of this amalgamation-type programming?
The classical and contemporary pieces are woven uniquely into a singular fabric of music, where the performed compositions gain their exceptional character only there and then, in interaction with one another. The works will influence each other in a completely unpredictable way. If one of Gábor Csalog's compositions follows Beethoven's, they will certainly enter into a unique dialogue determined by the moment, coming to life on the spot.
Your entire festival is free to attend and all 12 hours of the 2nd day of the festival will be streamed for free LIVE here on The Violin Channel on November 14. How important is it for you to make classical music, particularly new music, accessible to everyone and everywhere?
The protagonists of classical music are keen to keep their usual routine. Concert, audience, recordings...Suppose we can open up the wonderous casket of music and re-create the miracle with the assets of a movie. It is confirmative feedback to us that it is worthwhile to work hard, create things, and challenge boundaries on occasion. Besides making sure that nearly all their important concerts should take place – even if postponed – during the pandemic, Concerto Budapest soon took the path of professional, sometimes even feature-film quality, streaming.
Last year, the three concerts of Concerto Budapest's Beethoven Day reached 240 thousand people altogether via the title page of a market-leading news portal, representing uniquely high viewing numbers in a Hungarian context. This means a significant step into a new direction both for the orchestra and the cultural sector. In these grand-scale streaming projects, I work closely with Imre Szabó Stein, who plays a crucial role as the production's producer or its director. Thanks to the streaming on The Violin Channel, this year's Day of Listening will be available to hundreds of thousands of viewers. It is an exceptional opportunity for the Day of Listening – focussing this time on Hungarian contemporary music –to find its place on the international map of the contemporary music scene.
How important is classical music to the Hungarian people and the culture of your country?
Unfortunately, something has got lost in the world of classical music concerts in Hungary and all over the world. However, it is hard to put our finger on what it really is. Perhaps, genuine, really consequential "events" are missing from our lives. Concerto Budapest strives to expand the horizon of people's perspectives regarding classical music to collect the experiences and insights of the invited artists so that in the long run, we can point in a specific direction and create a shared philosophy. With our events, we commit ourselves to give room to a "genuine world", where we read books on paper, go to the cinema, attend theatre and concert performances. It is almost tangible that there is a sort of alienation present worldwide, as, for many, the internet seemingly replaces genuine human relationships. Music can serve as the last resort for love and faith, without which – to my mind –, it isn't worth living.
The Concerto Budapest Orchestra was established 114 years ago. Can you tell us more about this dynamic ensemble and its enthusiasm for championing new repertoire?
The Concerto Budapest Symphony Orchestra is one of the leading ensembles in Hungary with a unique character, passionate performance style, and above all, a singular timbre. The average age of our musicians is the lowest in the country, and thanks to the stable attention of our regular audience, before the pandemic crisis, we would always play before a full house. Should you take a glimpse at Concerto Budapest's concert calendar, you'd immediately spot that we perform a conspicuous number of Hungarian works every year; among them, lots of contemporary world- and Hungarian premieres.
The upcoming concerts – with a special thematic relevance – will be even more exquisite thanks to the participation of numerous world-famous artists, such as Elisabeth Leonskaja, Kristof Baráti, Peter Eötvös, Mihály Berecz, Gábor Takács Nagy, Khatia and Gvantsa Buniatishvili, Thomas Zehetmaier, István Várdai, Gidon Kremer, just to mention a few of them. I believe we can claim that we learn and stage the most new pieces in an average season in Hungary. In this sense, Concerto is a highly prolific orchestra.
How do you select the composers and works to be presented each year?
I take into consideration a number of aspects while creating the artistic concept based on which we compile the annual program scheme. Composers play a central role in it, but we also have thematic days: this year, for instance, the mini-festival, Listen to Brahms or the long-established Mozart Day. Also, the Hungarian Gems Series is very dear to my heart. There, we present to the audience not yet discovered or rarely performed pieces of the Hungarian repertoire, which – in interaction with more popular and well-known compositions – may become familiar and more intimately known to the listeners. Of course, the guest artists collaborating with us also make tremendously thrilling suggestions. It is of pivotal importance to us that several world premieres be linked to Concerto Budapest's name. The just mentioned concept also applies to the Day of Listening.
We strive to compile the most versatile programme possible so that everyone can find new and familiar pieces, performers, composers in it. In the mutual interaction of these, we aim to draw attention to the importance lying in the sheer existence and the legitimacy of contemporary music.
What are you most looking forward to at this year’s edition of the festival?
In general, with the Day of Listening, I endeavor to create dimensions that can materialize only once on that day in the Budapest Music Center and are indeterminable in advance. It is what’s most appealing to me. This is why I enjoy working on the compilation of the program so much. A concert is an event where compositions “date” with one another, so I am very much looking forward to seeing what interactions we’ll experience at this year’s festival.
Full program available: here.