JD: Gabor, please tell us something about what “drives” you musically? I’ve heard you as violinist, conductor and teacher and I’d love to know what your ideals are and what qualities you think are vital in a musical performance.
GTN: The most important thing is to manipulate the emotions of the listeners (as Leopold Mozart wrote in 1756 – sending to them spiritual messages which are behind every note and phrase). In the score we find dead notes; we have to bring them alive. In other words, the composer feels an emotion or atmosphere and finds the notes for them; we performers find the (dead) notes on paper and have to find the spiritual values behind each of them. This is fascinating and is what drives me – I am not a genius but hopefully have antennas to them. There is an Indian saying: 'You are as rich as much as you give.' A musical performance, which is an emotional strip-tease, is nothing other than sharing and giving emotions and spirits.
JD: How did you come to join the Manchester Camerata? What is special about them, for you? What are your plans for the new season with them? And how would you like to develop your work with them in the longer-term future?
GTN: In 2008, Bob Riley, CEO of Manchester Camerata, invited me to conduct the new year’s concert and I felt a big affinity with the orchestra. They are very nice people and very good musicians and I knew immediately that we could make music as I just described . I‘d like to use fewer gestures in future performances and rehearsals and also to talk less because now we understand each other more and more. The mutual trust and confidence in each other could be even higher, which means we could be even more creative in the future.
JD: When the orchestra says that they wish to “redefine what an orchestra can do” - what do you feel this means? How would you like to see the orchestras of the future - or, indeed, the present - operating?
GTN: When I asked my young daughters if they like concerts of classical music, they answered, “No, because the music is nice but both the musicians and public are very stiff”. I had to agree with them. We have to be more communicative, open and emotional on stage, otherwise we will lose the next generation. Some years ago, I began presenting the pieces to the public and it makes the atmosphere more human and relaxed for both orchestra and public.
JD: The conductor Iván Fischer recently said (in an interview with The Times) that he thinks the traditional symphony orchestra model can last only another few decades, if that. What do you think he meant by this? Do you agree? How will things change?
GTN: I agree with Iván – if we don’t change drastically, we could lose the next generation. We have to reform many things, but still manage to avoid circus-like activities.
JD: How is the musical scene of Hungary at the moment? Why is the place home to such a special tradition of musicianship - and does this still exist?
GTN: The Hungarian music scene is very alive: we have lots of brilliant musicians and the public loves classical music. The tickets are getting more expensive for an average wage but there are many free events as well. I hope the country will get stronger economically, which will help cultural activities. I do not know exactly what the secret could be of the special tradition of musicianship – one thing is true, though, which is that the Hungarians are very emotional with extremes of mood that can change abruptly. This is very useful for music-making!
JD: How can we best attract and excite new audiences with classical music in a world that seems so ignorant of it and resistant to the idea of it?
GTN: With exciting, emotional, colourful performances and with smiling faces from the stage. Classical musicians, especially in orchestras, can look far too serious. One of the reasons is the fear of making small mistakes which the public doesn’t hear anyway! It’s a long story.
JD: Please would you name a few of your favourite pieces?
GTN: My favourite piece is always the one I am working on (most of the time). If you study a masterpiece and get closer to it, sooner or later you will fall in love with it. During the performance, this love can be the generator for our energy and enthusiasm.