The first ENO Charles Mackerras fellow looks forward to moving to London
Congratulations on a very successful year so far! How does it feel to have been named the Charles Mackerras Fellow at ENO aged just 27?
I’m very excited! This is a great company with wonderful artists, and I am very much looking forward to the many musical experiences we are about to encounter together. Edward Gardner has been incredibly supportive and friendly since the first moments of my audition; I am positive that he will be the kind of mentor every young conductor should have! Also, London has always been a city I dreamed of being associated with – now I am moving there, it’s wonderful.
What have been the highlights of your career so far?
Performing at places like Tanglewood and the Musikverein; conducting the London Symphony and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestras; and studying with James Levine, Sir Mark Elder and David Zinman.
What else is on the horizon that you are excited about?
I am returning to Lucerne for two more summers to assist Pierre Boulez at the Festival Academy. This is a magical, beautiful place filled with great music and fantastic musicians. Boulez himself has a magnetic personality that makes the Lucerne experience incomparable. Also in next season, I will conduct in the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall in Budapest, which is probably the best concert venue in my country.
What made you want to become a conductor?
I have always had the desire to bring people together, and to lead them towards a common goal. So when I was about seven or eight, I thought: I want to be either a conductor or a bus driver! That time I was already studying the flute, violin and the double bass, and a family friend, who was a player in the Budapest Festival Orchestra, brought me to one of the last rehearsals of Sir Georg Solti, conducting Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra. I was allowed to sit next to the principal of the second violins, directly in front of the giant. What he created with the orchestra was magical and mesmerizing, so I immediately dropped the second career option as a chauffeur…
Are there any particular musical genres you feel most comfortable with?
Coming from a Central-Eastern European background, I started my musical education studying Hungarian folk music, and the music of Bartók, Dvorák, Mahler, and even the folklore-based Russian pieces, feel exceptionally close to me. When I started conducting, I performed a huge amount of contemporary music, and ever since I have kept my eyes opened for the best new pieces. Then I lived in Vienna for five years, where I began to learn how to approach the music of Mozart, Haydn, Schubert – and even Brahms and Beethoven – with as much authenticity as possible. That will stay with me for my lifetime. And since living in England for almost two years, I have a feeling that I’m starting to have a better general understanding about British music.
It sounds like you have absolutely made the best of the musical and intellectual opportunities afforded to you by conducting!
This is such a great profession: as we live in different places, it allows us to emerge into the culture, tradition and music of that particular country and its people. My goal is to maintain this curiosity in my whole life.
How important is it for you to strike a balance between opera and the symphonic repertoire?
I believe that a great conductor must “speak both languages” equally well in order to be a complete musician. I have been mostly concentrating on the symphonic repertoire so far – at the moment this is where I feel myself really at home. For this reason my next two years with the ENO will be extremely important – and the Charles Mackerras Fellowship comes exactly at the right moment of my life. I want to inherit, capture and experience from the operatic world as much as I can, so by the time I finish my tenure with the company, this balance will be equalized!
Who are your greatest inspirations, musical or otherwise?
Carlos Kleiber, Frida Kahlo, Gustav Mahler, Woody Allen, Sir Simon Rattle, Milan Kundera and Béla Bartók.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
In the trickiest situations, my family always encouraged me to stay being myself. This self-reflecting, but also self-reassuring quality is something that gives me an inner strength, but also room for growth; and most of all it allows me to live things to their best at each moment.
What are the best and worst aspects of being a young conductor?
“Oh, you can still do that, you’re young!”. “Oh, you can’t do that, you’re still young!”
The world is about to end – what piece of music would you conduct, where, and with whom?
The German Requiem by Brahms with the Berlin Philharmonic and the Schönberg Choir, let’s say, in the Carnegie Hall!
What’s on your iPod?
Right now Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Michel Petrucciani.
When I talk about going home, I always mean Budapest, even though I have not lived there for almost 7 years. This is where I grew up, and where my family and best friends live. But wherever I am, as long as my wife is around, it feels like home to me!