Saturday 1 April 2023

Every phrase has a story behind it: Gábor Takács-Nagy on conducting Mozart and more.

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Gábor Takács-Nagy & Manchester Camerata at The Stoller Hall
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Gábor Takács-Nagy & Manchester Camerata at The Stoller Hall

During my recent visit to Manchester, various people said of conductor Gábor Takács-Nagy (music director of the Manchester Camerata) that he was a born story-teller. I was lucky enough to spend time with Gábor after his rehearsal with the Manchester Camerata the night before the latest concert in their series Mozart, Made in Manchester at The Stoller Hall. Even after a three-hour rehearsal, he was eager to communicate, to talk to me about making music.

Gábor Takács-Nagy was perhaps best known as one of the founding members of the distinguished Takács Quartet, but for the last 20 years, he has been notable as a conductor. He became the music director of the Manchester Camerata in 2011 and is also the music director of the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra, an ensemble of young professionals with whom he has recorded all the Beethoven symphonies (to be issued on disc in May on Deutsche Grammophon).

He first conducted Manchester Camerata in 2010 and the collaboration was fruitful, he found them friendly and enjoyed their playing. He took over as music director in 2011, though they took time to adjust to each other, he comments that he psychologically learned what to say (and what not to say) and now they have a responsive relationship, everyone wants to play. He feels that the orchestra's response to the problems engendered by COVID showed what great people they are, he always likes coming to Manchester and feels that it is a creative joy rather than work. And he adds that his wife was born in Burnley.

Gábor Takács-Nagy
Gábor Takács-Nagy

Gábor first conducted pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet in Haydn keyboard concertos with the orchestra, and they had an immediate positive artistic response. He calls Bavouzet a musical brother, they understand each other, and for both of them, it is the life and story behind the music that is important. Following on from the Haydn concert, the idea of the Mozart concertos was born and the series, Mozart, Made in Manchester has really taken off. For Gábor, Mozart was a born theatre composer, the key to the piano concertos is opera, every phrase has a story behind it, you never leave a note without some life to it. To emphasise this, they are performing and recording all of Mozart's opera overtures too (some 15 in all), pairing the overtures with concertos from the same date.

For Gábor, when the volume goes down in one of Mozart's concertos, the music becomes more sensual, more intimate, it is pure opera, a man and a woman interacting in a sensual, poetic way. But the contrasts in the music are unbelievably big, and Gábor relates this back to the way that Mozart was an eternal child, with huge changes of mood in the music.

The most recent Mozart, Made in Manchester concert [see my review] was followed by a tour of Baltic states and Poland, with Gábor leading the orchestra in an all-Mozart programme of a divertimento, two piano concertos (with Jean-Efflam Bavouzet) and the Linz Symphony. He and the orchestra have toured before, and in 2021 they toured with pianist Martha Argerich in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 and Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 1, and Gábor adds that Argerich loved the orchestra.

The latest Mozart concert will lead to the eighth disc, of a planned eleven on Chandos [Volume seven was released in February]. And now, future plans have been confirmed, and once the Mozart series is finished, Gábor and the orchestra will go back into the studio to record unusual Hungarian repertoire, an idea dear to Hungarian-born Gábor's heart.

Beethoven symphonies - Gábor Takács-Nagy, Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra - Deutsche Grammophon

Gábor co-founded the Takács Quartet in 1975, but left in 1992 because of problems with his hand. He had spent 17 years with the quartet, played over 1000 concerts and had phenomenal teachers. They had worked with the Amadeus Quartet, the great Hungarian violinist Sándor Végh and pianist Alfred Brendel. It was the sort of education that confirmed his quest to give every note life and spiritual meaning.

In 1991 in London, well before any thought of stopping playing and becoming a conductor, members of the quartet were playing a Mozart piano quartet with the great conductor Sir George Solti as the pianist. Solti commented to Gábor that he would make a brilliant conductor because his body language was very clear. For all that, it took until 2002 for Gábor to take up conducting. After he left the quartet, he started teaching in Geneva (where he was for 20 years) continuing in the quartet repertoire that he loved. 

He comments that living in a string quartet for such a long time gives you a fantastic musical education, and when directing an orchestra he knows a lot about string playing and about phrasing music. When presenting concerts he talks to the audience, he feels that the public needs it and his explanations bring audience members closer to the music.

As well as the Manchester Camerata, he is first guest conductor of the Budapest Festival Orchestra and music director of the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra. He is most enthusiastic about this latter ensemble of young professional players, calling them brilliant and emphasising the forthcoming issue of Beethoven symphonies, which were recorded over a 13 year period. The orchestra plays each year at the Verbier Festival and draws its players from across Europe and beyond.

Gábor Takács-Nagy & Manchester Camerata at The Stoller Hall
Gábor Takács-Nagy & Manchester Camerata at The Stoller Hall

His favourite composers remain Haydn, Mozart and Beehoven, and whilst he loves Bach he admits that he is 'not a Baroque person'. He also loves Hungarian music and comments that Bartok is in his blood, whilst he enjoys 20th-century music and the Romantics. When I ask about Hungarian music beyond Bartok, he mentions the Hungarian-born Swiss composer, Sándor Veress (1907-1992) was taught by Kodály and Bartók, and who taught György Ligeti, György Kurtág, and Heinz Holliger. And the Takács Quartet studied with Kurtág for five years because in the 1970s he was professor of chamber music at the Budapest Music Academy.

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Elsewhere on this blog

  • Focus on Manchester:
    • A joy in telling stories in music: the Manchester Camerata, the Monastery & music - feature
    • Successfully integrated into the same eco-system, The Stoller Hall and Chetham's School of Music - feature
    • Let other pens dwell on misery and grief - a joyous ensemble performance of Jonathan Dove's Mansfield Park from RNCM Opera - opera review
    • The latest in Manchester Camerata's Mozart, Made in Manchester series featured a lovely creative dialogue between Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Gábor Takács-Nagy and the players - concert review
    • Henning Kraggerud & RNCM Chamber Orchestra in RNCM's Original Voices Festival concert review
  • Handel in Rome: Nardus Williams and the Dunedin Consort at Wigmore Hall - concert review
  • After Byrd: HEXAD Collective launches its concert series exploring hidden music for voices - concert review
  • The go-to place for information about opera performances across the globe: we chat to Operabase's new CEO, Ulrike Köstinger - interview
  • A lockdown success story: St Mary's Perivale and its amazing programme of 120 recitals per year, viewed live and online - interview 
  • Late romanticism and youthful vitalityCello Concertos by Enrique Casals & Édouard Lalo from Jan Vogler & Moritzburg Festival Orchestra - record review
  • Friends are nothing, Family nothing, all the world is a wilderness: premiere recording of Jonathan Dove's In Exile - record review
  • Gilbert & Sullivan's Ruddigore: All-singing, all-dancing small-scale show at Wilton's Music Hall - opera review
  • Home

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