Last year we witnessed the renewal of the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra from both an artistic and a business point of view. Serious market and target group researches, repertoire and performance analyses preceded the preparation of the multi-annual strategic plan, as well as the new image. interviewed JD Judit Körmendy-Ékes, chairman of the board of trustees and artistic director István Várdai about their experiences of the journey taken and the next steps ahead.

Among the goals defined last year we see that of becoming a trendsetter, as well as playing a decisive role in the world of classical music. Did those become reality?

JD Judit Körmendy-Ékes: We have stepped onto that road and have come a long way since. The new image and the rebranding campaign were showered in prizes, winning fifteen quality awards, of which we are very proud. One of the most prestigious of these is the First Prize of the International PR Association’s (IPRA) Golden World Awards, where not only the quality of the brand but also its potential functionality was evaluated. For me, this feedback means that we are only at the beginning of a successful process that shall work in the long run.

István Várdai: There is a much greater need for renewal and the creation of trends than we thought previously. We live in such a flood of information and marketing messages that in case a cultural product carrying serious content cannot stand out, it will be washed away. However, if an innovative repositioning and rebranding plan succeeds, that can attract the attention of those who decide upon the awards, for example, which means a lot in view of someone’s international recognition.

Is there a practical dimension to the awards?

JD Judit Körmendy-Ékes: Even in the light of the numbers, it seems that we are on the right track. While the classical music market has been burdened by the Covid pandemic and there is a huge competition for concert dates, the number of our inquiries, the quality of concert venues, the ranking of our meeting partners and the amount of royalties offered have also increased significantly. It is my delight to share the news that we managed to secure an international company as a supporting partner in the world of classical music, who is very happy to take part in our work. It is quite an uplifting feeling, while it also helps the brand to stand out from the crowd.

It was also in your intention to engage new groups of audience. How are you trying to reach out to them?

István Várdai: During the times of the pandemic – when the audience members thought twice about going out – we could almost always play in front of a full house, despite the fact that when we renewed our repertoire, we took some drastic steps which involved quite an amount of risk. Luckily, our most loyal fans have not turned their backs upon us and we have even engaged with groups of people who weren’t interested in our concerts previously.

Transcripts play an integral part in the new repertoire. According to concertmaster Péter Tfirst, they can bring freshness to the life of the orchestra, while bringing the quartet genre closer to the audience. Did they prove to be effective?

István Várdai: With the power of novelty, transcripts appear inspiring for the musicians and impressive for the audience members. Everything we do is an investment into the future. We had several ideas how to expand our repertoire: we wanted to look for long-forgotten gems and we wanted to come up with new transcripts, while the next step will be commissioning new pieces for the ensemble from renowned, active composers. In the long run, we would like to perform these on our own or accompanied by internationally acclaimed soloists who would take the news far and wide.

JD Judit Körmendy-Ékes: Although transcripts and new pieces have a lot to do royalty-wise, we give them an important role, because we want to create a repertoire that is only ours.

Talent management is also an important issue in the orchestra’s life. As part of the professional program called Masterpiece – organized in cooperation with the Academy of Music – students selected after a round of auditions may take part in the several months-long rehearsal process of the orchestra, eventually performing with the Franz Liszt Orchestra. The next concert in this fashion will take place on 20 March. What is the importance of such a collaboration?

István Várdai: On the one hand, we can reach out to a generation and a societal cluster we have not dealt with previously, and on the other hand, we can pass our knowledge on. This is always important for musicians. Meanwhile, our young colleagues are bringing entirely different energies to the productions.

What can the audience understand out of this?

István Várdai: Through these channels, there’s a chance to influence the new generations of audience members in a much more authentic form. They need experiences that will bring them back to us many more times. We would like them to grow into this world organically.

JD Judit Körmendy-Ékes: Continuity is a key element – in education, as well as the pursuit and the implementation of business strategies and artistic concepts. We did not look at the pandemic with despair, but considered it a motivating factor. Just to give you a few examples: we have had new systems developed matching our profile, we have sorted our discography and have also run a drawing competition which we are planning to take on in the future, although in a slightly different form.

During the pandemic, you have also managed to purchase five new master violins which the ensemble received in February 2021.

JD Judit Körmendy-Ékes: We have purchased other instruments as well, our last European public procurement process is just about to end. I am very proud of the fact that we were able to build a new inventory of instruments under the said circumstances. Instruments are profitable investments, while their sound is only getting better with time. We believe that without buying these instruments, we would not be able to achieve the artistic goals we have set. Nevertheless, we hope to find a sponsor who will help us use even more serious instruments.

István Várdai: We have reviewed a lot of international models and the operation of several orchestras of similar quality (e.g. Austrian and Swiss ensembles). Considering string instruments an investment is an international trend nowadays, and the instruments are seen as the voice of the musician. In order to give the most as a musician, you need the right instruments. The instruments of Landolfi, Leclerc, Santagiuliana, Mönning and Jáns Spiegel carry a huge opportunity for our continuous development.

How will music remain “joyful with you” in the future?

JD Judit Körmendy-Ékes: We have high hopes of going on a tour, returning to foreign stages. That would be a big change. At the same time, we keep following our strategic plan. We have managed to develop the systems – including a modern operation system – that allow for more flexibility and the ability to respond quickly to queries or changes around us. If it turns out that our dreams were viable and the goals we have set were realistic, I will be very happy. We are working in an unpredictable environment, yet we can still share and receive happiness.

István Várdai: We are treated by major promoters in Europe and overseas as an alternative. We have fought a lot for certain projects that we see getting realized now. I was pleased to find that when life didn’t turn out the way we imagined, the orchestra still worked, still rehearsed. This work was probably one of the most important investments which took the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra to a new level, considering the international scene as well. The greatest pride and the biggest recognition for us would be if the audience felt we provide them an experience that is worth their time, therefore many would happily buy tickets to our concerts all around the world. All members of our group is working towards this goal and considers it their own. The orchestra is not “just an occupation” for us. It is a mission we believe in.