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Maestro Iván Fischer Is At The Heart And Soul Of The Friends Of The Budapest Festival Orchestra’s NYC Gala

Lee Fryd

Joanna Fisher and Ivan Fischer. (Photo: John Sanderson from Annie Watt Agency)

The unbridled talent, exuberance and generosity of the incomparable Maestro Iván Fischer emanated from his heart, to his hands, to the Budapest Festival Orchestra musicians, and the captivated audience at David Geffen Hall, Sunday afternoon. "Joyous," we heard Ellen Burstyn exclaim, after the standing ovations. "He takes such obvious delight," Barbara Tober enthused to Mary McFadden and Peter Thomas Roth, at the Budapest Festival Orchestra Gala Dinner that followed. New York is one stop on Fischer and the Orchestra's tour, spreading his transcendental art and its underlying message of inclusion throughout the world, melding a civic calling to culture.

Ellen Burstyn and Andre Fratto. (Photo: John Sanderson from Annie Watt Agency)

Fischer, Budapest Festival Orchestra's Founder and Music Director, had given one of his signature, free Cocoa Concerts, tailored to autistic children, that morning. Parents tell him his methods of explaining the musical patterns help their understanding as well. "So there's a little autistic child in everyone," he told the room. "It's a good excuse because it brings in a certain audience that would not usually come to concerts. And it's great to make music for new people."

Fischer is always looking to bring his music to audiences that are usually excluded. He gathers underprivileged youngsters for Dancing on the Square performances in the heart of Budapest, and has staged Midnight Music performances to bring young adults into the fold. He has held Community Concerts in abandoned synagogues, nursing homes, hospitals, child-care institutions and prisons. There is a Juilliard Apprentice Program. Joy fuels it all, but to help fund it, there are some very exclusive chamber music events in Manhattan's toniest homes.

A whimsical surprise element to the concerts is having the musicians sometimes break out into song. It's part of the ebullient nature of the Maestro's touch. "We are not singers but I want to encourage people to sing more," Fischer told the gala. There are opera plans. "Come back in the summer. We will be here in early August performing at the Rose Theater in Lincoln Center. We will sing, play and act!"

He is as warm to his musicians as to his donors. "He stays in the same hotels we do," said Double Bassist Naomi Shaham, "takes the same flights, stays on the bus with us for six hour trips and acts as a friend. I've played with many conductors, but he's the only one who has had breakfast with me. When I told him about my grandfather who survived the holocaust in Budapest, Ivan took my phone, called him and spoke in Hungarian for half an hour."

"And he doesn't conduct from music. He knows it all and it just flows from him."

Peter Thomas Roth, Emese Gulyas, and Stephen Benko. (Photo: John Sanderson from Annie Watt Agency)


At the gala following the Vicenza Opera Festival in the stunning 16th Century Teatro Olimpico designed by Palladio, Fischer told the European titles assembled not to miss Joanna Fisher's exquisite tiara. In a way, she is Lincoln Center "royalty." Her grandparents were among the philanthropists who founded it, and she was one of a handful of young children, playing with Leontyne Price's on the balcony, as the soprano performed for Lincoln Center's opening night.

Stephen E. Benko is the Chairman of the Friends of Budapest Festival; Andrew Komaromi is Treasurer; Sylvia Hemingway, Secretary. Other Board Directors are: Stephen Angel, Ambassador Colleen Bell, Aaron Feinstein, Em Green, Heidi Lee-Komaromi, Kati Marton, Peter Thomas Roth, Laine Siklos, Stephanie Stokes and David Tobey. Daisy Soros is Director Emeritus.


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