Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Talking to Maestro Gabor Hollerung

On May 31st 2011, I had the pleasure of talking to Hungarian conductor Gabor Hollerung in Tel Aviv. Conducting orchestras in the world’s great concert halls, Maestro Hollerung (b.1954, Budapest) also tours with his ensembles, was awarded the prize for the best conductor in the 1984 Bela Bartok International Choir Festival and teaches. Well known to Israeli concert audiences, Maestro Hollering was in Israel to conduct the New Israel Vocal Ensemble (Yuval Ben-Ozer musical director) in “Gypsy Songs: From Brahms to Kusturica” (Irit Robb-piano).

PH: Maestro Hollerung, do you come from a family of musicians?

Gabor Hollerung: No, I do not. As a child, I learned the piano. My mother has a great love of music and I am grateful to her for making sure I did not neglect my piano practice!

PH: At what age did you decide to make music your career?

GH: I studied in a science-mathematics oriented school, but at age 18, I made the decision to take up music as a profession. I studied choral- and orchestral conducting at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music (Budapest), with further training with Kurt Masur (we became great friends), Eric Ericson and Laszlo Somogyi, the latter in Vienna. (Somogyi left Hungary in 1956.)

PH: Would you like to mention some of your conducting appointments?

GH: Yes. From 1979, I was deputy conductor of the Miskolc Symphony Orchestra. On the faculty of the Janus Pannonius University in Pecs (I taught choral conducting and music theory) I conducted a women’s choir, at the same time conducting the KPVDSZ semi-professional orchestra. Since 1989, I have been principal conductor of the Dohnanyi Budafok Orchestra. (Budafok is a part of Budapest, near the Danube. Its orchestra is supported by the local municipality.) When I started working with this orchestra, the players working under me were literally teenagers. Receiving professional status in 1993, the orchestra became the youngest professional orchestra in Hungary….and the players are now young adults.

I have been musical director of the Budapest Academic Choral Society since 1980. The choir has won a number of awards, one of them being the “Choir of the World” title at the Llangollen International Choir Competition (Wales).

PH: You are very involved in choral competitions.

GH: Indeed. In 1988, I created a choral competition with a revolutionary new concept in Budapest. It has developed into an international series of choral events – “Musica Mundi” – taking place in Italy, Germany, Israel, and the USA. The highlight of the series is the Choir Olympics, the aim which being to create an event based on Olympic ideals, bringing people together in song and fair competition. I am one of the musical directors of INTERKULTUR – International Musical Competitions Foundation.

PH: Let’s go back to your interest in teaching.

GH: I have been teaching conducting in Hungary and abroad since 1986. One of my most interesting projects is the conducting workshop I run every summer in Taipei (Taiwan.) Conductors (students and working conductors) from several Asian countries collect there to take master classes. We have a good choir and a small orchestra in situ. Every year, we choose a specific work; this year we will focus on Handel’s “Messiah”. I place emphasis on in-depth reading the score and on the understanding of styles, not just performing the technicalities of the music. This is especially important in Asia, where European music is not as strong a musical background as it is in Central Europe.

PH: You have been to Israel many times.

GH: Yes, and I am always happy to be back and working here. I have conducted the Israel Chamber Orchestra, the Israel Camerata Jerusalem, The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (I once stood in for Kurt Masur) and I was the principal guest conductor of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra for a number of years. I loved this work. I was also artistic consultant to the no-longer-existing Tel Aviv Philharmonia Singers. And now, it is a pleasure to be conducting the New Israeli Vocal Ensemble, some of whose members were in the Tel Aviv Philharmonia Singers. I am familiar with the choir situation in Israel.

PH: What is your feeling about Israeli concert audiences?

GH: Interesting you should ask. They react; they are excited by the music. However, they do not applaud for long. But one sees and senses their involvement. I was quite aware of the audience’s enjoyment at the “Gypsy Songs” concert yesterday at the Jerusalem Music Centre. In Europe, audiences seem less emotional, but they often applaud for much longer.

PH: Would you like to talk about the “Gypsy Songs” program and the New Israeli Vocal Ensemble?

GH: Of course. The content of the program was chosen by NIVC director Yuval Ben-Ozer, even the Hungarian music. This ensemble is made up of some of the best available choral singers in Israel. They are disciplined, professional, work efficiently, open to ideas and are pleasant. And they were well prepared for me when I arrived to take up rehearsals. (I did correct their Hungarian pronunciation here and there.) I do feel at home with them. The truth is that they did not believe they would be able to sing the very fast tempi of some of the songs…but they did!

PH: What do you like to do in your spare time?

GH: The truth is I do not have much spare time. But I do enjoy listening to music for the pleasure of it. I am also a keen stamp collector. My orchestra players and choir members are all “my children”; there are many nice social occasions for us to be together.

PH: Maestro Hollerung, many thanks for your time and for sharing the various aspects of your professional life with us. We look forward to seeing you back in Israel before too long.