A recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by the Budapest Strings chamber orchestra has been seen on YouTube by over 220 million times! On this occasion, the concertmaster and the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the Budapest Strings Foundation talk to Diplomacy&Trade about the past and present of the orchestra as well as on the relationship with their audience.
The history of the Budapest Strings Chamber Orchestra dates back over forty years. “Four decades is a long time – even in the life of a string chamber orchestra. This period brought about a lot of changes,” says concertmaster János Pilz. He explains that “this orchestra came about like a circle of friends in 1977 and today, it is only a few of the founding members that still play in it. Despite the changes, the operation of the orchestra was continuous and we are still alive and kicking. Over this time, the taste of the audience has changed and the orchestra has had to follow these changes with regard to both the repertoire and its relationship with the audience. As far as our judgement by the public is concerned, I believe that this orchestra is still highly appreciated, we are invited to numerous festivals and we have several program series popular with the public. So, we don’t really have reasons to complain.”
He adds that what has not changed fundamentally is the orchestra’s commitment to always ensure a quality performance. “As I said, the orchestra initially grew out of a circle of friends and that family atmosphere characterizing us is still with us.”
In reference to this history of over forty years, “which is almost a lifetime,” the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the Budapest Strings Foundation, Dr. Andrea Jádi Németh highlights the name of art director Károly Botvay who no longer plays in the orchestra but follows them closely. “What amazes me about this orchestra is the vitality and freshness and that they have always managed to ‘talk’ to all generations at the same time, thus addressing various audiences.” She also emphasizes the friendly family atmosphere, the togetherness.
No good or bad audience
The Budapest Strings Chamber Orchestra has played to different audiences in many different parts of the world. When asked whether people have different attitude to classical music in different countries, János Pilz points out that “actually, the only difference we have experienced with the audiences in various countries is in temperament – like that of an Italian or a British audience. Whatever the audience, they are equally important for us. People come to the concert – irrespective of the country or continent – because they are interested and would like to hear good music, would like to receive something extraordinary. That is why we usually say amongst us that an audience cannot really be good or bad, the audience is always very interested and curious. The outcome of a given concert, what the audience receives from a particular performance, totally depends on us, on what relationship we can forge with that audience,” he adds.
Envoys of Hungarian music
Playing the works of Hungarian composers abroad is like being the envoy of Hungarian music. As to what sort of feedback they have experienced in this respect, the concertmaster believes that “we, Hungarian musicians are very fortunate as we have very good composers: Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály, Ernő Dohnányi or Leó Weiner, just to give you some names from the 20th century. We always enjoy playing their works. I also think that we have a bit of an advantage over others when we play pieces from these composers: this is actually our ‘mother tongue’. Whenever we play these compositions, we always feel how much people appreciate that they hear Hungarian music from performers who play that in their ‘mother tongue’ and that fills us with joy, as well.”
Over 220 million views
In modern times, a measurement of success for performing artists is popularity on platforms like YouTube where the counter at the recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by the Budapest String shows over 220 million views and over a million ‘likes’! According to János Pilz, “Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is perhaps the best known and most frequently performed classical music piece in the world, something that is basically compulsory for every single violin soloist – and chamber orchestra – to perform. The recording we are talking about was made some thirty years ago by, we can daresay, the predecessors of the current members of the Budapest Strings. It is a recording made in a very classical way and I believe that people all over the world award and appreciate this performance format with these 220 million clicks. This composition by Vivaldi has been performed in many-many styles and today, we also play it with different emphasis, and I feel that this recording has a very deserved place among all the others.”
Andrea Jádi Németh agrees. “There are several different approaches and concepts when it comes to performing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The way the Budapest Strings orchestra played it was a very classical and lasting approach. It is amazing that among the multitude of recordings of this classical piece, this is the one that the audience fell in love with so much. I am sure that all those who created numerous visualizations of this very recording did a good job in capturing the essential, timeless beauty of the Budapest Strings audio recording.”
Coping with the pandemic
One of the areas hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic is that of performing artists. “Actually, this very new and frustrating situation made us realize how important the audience is for us. There are musicians who specialize in studio recordings but our conviction is that there is no real alternative to good live music. For us, it is very important that we give and there should be people there who receive that,” János Pilz says, adding that it is very painful for the members of the orchestra that in the past half a year or so, they could only play to a very much reduced number of people and had to resort to online opportunities. “On the other hand, it is also fortunate to live in an era when we can reach the audience through the world wide web. That also helps us maintain our relations with our audiences – until we can have full-house concerts again.”
In behalf of the board of trustees, Andrea Jádi Németh believes that they have great responsibility “as we are very well aware that performers need the stage, the opportunity to play. Therefore, we are seeking possibilities and channels where the orchestra have the opportunity to maintain contact with the audience, like online tools. At the same time, we are also contemplating ways that this contact would not only be a one-direction one but also create a personalized experience somehow. This is a great challenge and I am convinced that technology will rapidly develop to help us in these efforts to create a tangible experience for both the orchestra and its audience.”
The Budapest Strings recording watched over 220 million times: