This , if nothing else, is going to be fascinating. This is a document from Hungarian artists decrying the level of anti-gypsy, anti-semitic and homophobic sentiment in the Hungary of Viktor Orban and the Jobbik party. There are a couple famous artists whose names seem conspicuously absent, and no doubt many more whom I haven't heard of. But the absence of one name rings loudest - Adam Fischer's younger brother, Ivan Fischer. In addition to being the former principal conductor of the National Symphony in DC, he is the creator of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, which is (in my strong opinion) the finest traditional orchestra in the world today. There can be very few explanations for this except for the most obvious: the Budapest Festival Orchestra will always in part depend on public financing to keep its standards high. And judging from the overwhelming response to their concert in London last night, standards have stayed very high indeed. But one can't help feeling that something more is needed. Hungary inherited the EU presidency just a few months after Jobbik, an authoritarian nationalist party, captured 12% of the parliament. It would be nice to think that things are better in Budapest than in the past, and perhaps they are. But in the long run it will do nobody any favors to pretend that things are good.
But here's the catch: read this article from Anne Midgette in 2003. The Budapest Festival Orchestra was created in a Western-model, to be as free from public subsidy as humanly possible. Ivan Fischer was quoted as saying that Communist tyranny bread mediocrity. Does he feel the same way about right-wing tyranny? Will he ever?
Let's also make another proviso. Taking a stand is a bit easier for Ivan's older brother, Adam Fischer. Over the years, Adam has proven to be nearly as talented a musician as his younger brother, the only difference in their abilities originating from what by what all accounts is Adam's gentler temperament. Adam Fischer is a conductor in the traditional 'kapellmeister' manner, working his way up through positions in the opera houses of Central Europe and contenting himself with being an honored guest at the larger institutions. He's known as a wonderful conductor of opera, a warm-hearted presence in the opera house. By the time he worked his way up to be director of the Hungarian National Opera, he was already pushing 60. So when Viktor Orban's government started interfering with his casting choices and hiring practices, Adam could leave without much trouble. And even if Adam has quit the opera, he is still the director of the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra - an orchestra that cannot function without government subsidy.
Ivan Fischer's career is in another stratosphere from his brother's. He has never been a musician to accept second-best in anything. From the beginning of his career, he looked westward to assimilate the very newest ideas. He studied with Vienna's famed conducting teacher, Hans Swarowski (who also taught Abbado, Mehta, Barenboim and Sinopoli), and he became a trusted assistant to the Austrian period-instrument master, Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Even after completing his studies, he found ways to travel all around the West as a guest conductor during a period when going to the West was all but impossible for most musicians behind the Iron Curtain. And if that didn't take enough chutzpah, he returned to Hungary in 1983 to build an orchestra around a capitalist model - with private donations and a board of directors. The result is a living rejoinder to the anonymous music-making of most Western orchestras. Less concerts, more involvement from the players, less guest-conducting, more rehearsal-time, more willingness to experiment on untried music and untried presentations, and more personality. As a vehicle for presenting great music to the public, it has very few equals among contemporary classical music orgs. As a traditional orchestra, it may be in a class by itself.
But the curtain hasn't yet been pulled back to see just how Ivan Fischer accomplished this - not for an English-language paper at least. Did Ivan manage to keep the government out? And if he did, why is he staying silent? Supposedly, his older brother's radio orchestra is far more government-controlled than the Budapest Festival Orchestra ever was. Yet Adam had no trouble speaking out against a government who could easily make his life difficult, and already has. What is stopping Ivan?
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