- - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ivan Fischer captured Washington’s heart during his tenure as principal conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra from 2008 to 2010, so it is with mutual joy that he returns on Friday with the Budapest Festival Orchestra in a concert at Strathmore bursting with magic.

His guest, celebrated violinist Pinchas Zukerman, will perform Mozart’s “Turkish” Violin Concerto. That work is bracketed by the Overture to “The Magic Flute” and Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” featuring two rising young singers, German soprano Anna Lucia Richter and Slovenian mezzo-soprano Barbara Kozelj.

“I chose these because I am working on ‘The Magic Flute’ now,” Mr. Fischer told The Washington Times. “We will present the whole opera in my own staging in Budapest, Abu Dhabi, New York, Amsterdam, Berlin, and I think at least my dear Washington listeners should hear the overture. The whole program will have something magical about it because the ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ also takes us to a world full of fairies. I love magic.”

Mendelssohn was only 17 when he composed the overture to the Shakespeare work. Its infectious melodies and the instrumental depiction of fairy footsteps and Bottom, the braying donkey, delighted audiences. Sixteen years later King Frederick William IV of Prussia commissioned him to write a suite of incidental music for a performance of the play. Selections from the score quickly became popular, none more so than the “Wedding March” after Queen Victoria chose it for the marriage of her daughter, the Princess Royal, to Prince Frederick William of Prussia.

As founder of the Budapest Festival Orchestra in 1983, Mr. Fischer attributes the close relationship he and the ensemble enjoy to mutual trust. Along with the luxury of communicating often with a brief eye contact instead of chatter, he appreciates the musicians’ accommodations of what he terms his “radical innovational suggestions.” Surprise is always in the air when they get together, just as it is in his popular “cocoa” and “bag of surprises” children’s concerts.

“I even invite children to my rehearsals,” he said. “There is always a school class listening to our work. Then, in the intermission, they ask questions. Kids love classical music. They are open-minded, keen to hear something new. I love to be surrounded by young people, and it is great fun to develop concert programs for young audiences.

“Our latest initiative is Midnight Music for students. The concerts start at 11:30 p.m. They love it! The key advice I offer parents and teachers is to encourage children to sing, sing and sing. Join choirs. Learn to read music.”

In addition to conducting the Budapest Festival Orchestra worldwide, Mr. Fischer has been principal conductor of Konzerthausorchester Berlin for the past two years. Each summer he crafts a brilliant festival, often in his native Hungary. His plans for the summer of 2015 involve a cycle of Mozart operas, which he both conducts and directs.

“I call these staged concerts because they are fully staged but conceived for concert halls,” he said, “I don’t like the expression ‘semi-staged’ because it implies ‘half,’ and what we do shouldn’t be half. It has to be complete theatrical experience. One can work with minimal tools and still create full theater. Next summer we revive ‘Figaro’ for the Edinburgh Festival.

“I love composing, and there are two dates in my diary that especially excite me: an evening of my works in Bonn and Berlin. There is also a commission from the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra’s musicians for a new piece, which I have to finish this year,” he said.

“But for now, I want the Strathmore audience to enter the concert hall with this goal: Relax, sit back, and let yourself be enchanted.”

IF YOU GO:

WHAT: Washington Performing Arts presents the Budapest Festival Orchestra conducted by Ivan Fischer

WHERE: Music Center at Strathmore

WHEN: Friday, Jan. 23, at 8 p.m.

INFO: Tickets: $35 to $95 at 301/581-5100 or tickets@strathmore.org.

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