Our concert on 13 May marked the end of this year’s season at the Academy of Music. On this occasion, fidelio.hu interviewed István Várdai, the orchestra’s artistic director.

What have you learnt from the challenges of this year?

Looking objectively at any of our concerts in the recent months – not as the artistic director of the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra, but as a musician who is also very critical of himself – I dare say with confidence that we have reached a level of quality that is worthy of being staged anywhere in the world. What is more, we also know how to maintain and develop this standard further.

How do you work with the orchestra? Let us peek a bit behind the curtains.

My own career as a cellist and a university teacher limits the amount of time we can spend together, but I’m keen to dedicate an extended period each month to our joint work. It is very inspiring for me and it seems that for the orchestra as well. As I see them in a different light and I listen to them with a different ear, I can bring things to their attention that they might not realize from the inside. We try to grab and to work on all the different aspects of the pieces, always looking for new meanings in the music. I like to say that we don’t microwave anything, we don’t want to reheat things of the past, what we do is trying to come up with newer and newer material. This is the only way to make the audience feel our humbleness and enthusiasm.

For the first time in a long while, you played abroad in April, touring in Spain.

It was the first trip abroad on which I was able to join the orchestra. We played in Barcelona and Madrid, in some of the most important concert halls in Europe. The Palace of Catalan Music in Barcelona was an architectural treat! Both the critical and the public reception have exceeded our expectations, and since then we are receiving a steady stream of enquiries from prestigious management companies. In the next season, however, we are planning to tour in several countries. The Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra has a very good reputation internationally, despite not having performed in many important venues in the last decade. I am happy to see that this is changing. It feels like a comeback, with fresh energies and inspiration.

How does it feel to join an orchestra as a soloist of which you are the artistic director as well?

It is truly uplifting, while it gives you a sense of freedom. We know each other so well that it’s easy to tell what the other wants without a word even. We don’t have to set every little musical nuance in stone on the rehearsals; once on the stage, we can allow ourselves to go with the flow. In order to be able to do this, all of the musicians need to be extraordinarily attentive with the ability to connect. I’ve had the privilege of playing with orchestras of high quality already, but the small amount of time spent together and the lack of personal familiarity prevented us from the liberating experience we are having right now.

The Chamber Orchestra will be 60 years old next March. How will you celebrate?

We are only finishing the last touches with regards to the season’s programme. On the anniversary concert, which will take place on 14 March at the Müpa in Budapest, we will share the stage with artists and ensembles who have played an important role in the orchestra’s past decades. One of the highlights of the programme will surely be the performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in the adaptation of Max Richter, accompanied by the Ballet Company of Győr. Richter is a film music composer who is also at home with electronic music, so the end result is truly a 21st century piece – inspiring the choreography as well. On the other hand, all of our concerts in the seasonal programme can be considered celebratory, considering how we succeeded in inviting some of the world’s musical elite to perform solo with us. To mention some of them, we will perform with Martin Fröst and the solo viola player of the Berlin Philharmonic, Amihai Grosz (whose grandfather was of Hungarian origin), also with Emmanuel Pahud, the world’s most famous flautist.

Are you planning to release a record in the near future?

We have received many offers from several record companies and we are thinking about which strategy to choose. The question of media and the transformation of carriers is an important issue here. I don’t want to go mainstream and make everything available digitally and online, because that’s counterproductive in the long run. I see records as digital business cards only, because it is impossible to reproduce the atmosphere of live concerts. However, business cards are important, indeed, so a record might be born soon.