Iván Fischer (Photo © Marco Borggreve, lifted with implied permission from the Konzerthaus Berlin's website)A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview Ivan Fischer, the new principal guest conductor of the NSO for WGMS and their internet radio station VivaLaVoce.com. The occasion coincided with the release of his new Mahler recording – the Second (“Resurrection”) Symphony for Channel Classics.
Ivan Fischer is an ardent fan of Mahler (“one of the greatest Geniuses of music history – on the same level as Bach or Beethoven”) and the founder of the Hungarian Mahler Society. I suggest that to firmly establish Mahler on the musical menu in Budapest might have been more difficult than in, say, Germany or the United States – but apparently I am wrong. Not the audience which loves Mahler, Fischer says, had to be convinced, but the musicians. After a superb recording of the Sixth Symphony (which I reviewed in November and will feature prominently on my upcoming Mahler overview), his second Mahler recording raises the prospect of a Mahler cycle with the Budapest Festival Orchestra – but Mr. Fischer immediately waves off. Not a fan of complete cycles, he’d rather only conduct those works that he has a truly deep connection with and leave the others to other conductors. He admits straightaway that there are already so many full cycles that there is no point in just doing another one. The symphony of Mahler’s that he is less fond of than the others is – not surprising for a ‘Mahlerian’ - the pompous glory-feast (my words, not his) that is the Eight Symphony. This very complicated, complex, monumental work (his words, not mine) is “not his cup of tea”.
Getting excited talking about Mahler, he reveals that far beyond just sharing the Austro-Hungarian cultural background, his connections to Mahler are deeper, still. His and Mahler’s family started as Jewish shopkeepers in the
Tim Page, Fischer and Co. Provide A First-Rate Account of Mahler's 2nd (Washington Post, October 8)
Fischer responds candidly to the suggestion that there is – the neo-romantic return of composing notwithstanding – still an air of suspicion among concertgoers to everything that sounds ‘too beautiful’ at first hearing. He sees this as the separation of two different appeals: one to shallow- and one to ‘deep’ listening. Great music, he argues, is the one that combines the two. Even more intriguing his candor when asked whether conductors, to be great, need to be particularly aware of their weaknesses or think of themselves as not having any. It was a question that Marin Alsop navigated with all her PR savvy earlier this year. Fischer disarmingly went to the point: Conducting can easily inflate the ego – so he keeps in mind that the conductor is the servant of the music and the composer. In doing so, Fischer says, he is very aware that he does not posses the key to certain pieces and composers and therefore doesn't try to open them.
For the full interview go to WGMS’ internet radio station VivaLaVoce’s website.
Click here for a mp3 download, here for a Windows Media Player download.