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A: I’m a pessimist. At the same time, because of my age and my profession and also my temper I always try to look at the bright side of life. What I see is that the virtual ‘lifestyle’ has fundamental effects on society and it’s independent of various generations. It might not be a problem by itself because the world is more spacious now and it’s easier to get to know it. Unfortunately, there is a huge loss in values too in this new virtual space. I feel very deeply about all the disappearing of invaluable cultural resources. What do I mean by that? Just to bring one example: classical music. My nightmare is who and how people will listen to Beethoven symphonies? Who and how will understand Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 or Wagner’s operas?

In order to interpret these compositions a thorough historical and cultural understanding is also needed apart from the obvious musical knowledge I think the world is heading somewhere where all of these are not important any more.

Q: For that matter, can you or is it possible to draw a line between high culture and popular culture?

A: Well, as they say world music and other flashy trickery are on the borderline of classical and popular music and it’s possible to find a transition in these cases. But in reality they are artificial ‘genres’ and cannot provide the same level of experience as classical music. They’re simply not authentic. They cannot possibly replace Bach Mass in h-moll or Bartók violin concertos. I’m not sure whether the mission to include folk music somehow in musical adaptations has any kind of effect. Because it doesn’t necessarily mean that people will start listening to and enjoying the original works. It’s undeniable that the rediscovery of folk music was mainly due to the rediscovery of folk dance, folk architecture and traditions. The main „.. THE COMPOSITION OF A TEAM IS A SCIENCE…” - INTERVIEW WITH ISTVÁN MÁRTA, THE MANAGING



aim of the Muzsikás and Sebő (and my younger years too) was also something like that. I try to provide space for these pursuits in Kapolcs from time and time again but there is less and less demand and place for this kind of music. Today’s generation has very different fields of interests, way of thinking and they also use very different technology. Tablet PCs and smart phones serve as a body parts. They post on Facebook but can only focus for a minute or two then they click to something else. Or they download a more intelligent App. Live music – classical or folk – and the face-to-face characteristics of these music types are uncomfortable for this generation. This is of course my opinion – a grey fox – who probably shouldn’t make sweeping statements. My generation also had a stigma a few decades ago.

Q: Can this pessimist view be applied in international context as well? Is it true there too or are we different from that?

A: The international context is exactly the same. We are not different at all. But I wouldn’t dare say that this is the end of the world and everything will perish. It’s not that dramatic.

During the millions of years of human evolution thousands of similar instances took place without disappearing. Even in the European music history. Another example is Baroque music which was followed by Italian operas. But on the bright side – talking strictly about music – oriental music, for example, became available which hadn’t been the case before as a result of huge distances. Similar to this is traditional Indian raga music or the Maori music.

I only wish Debussy could have lived to see it. And this is a good thing. The question remains:

What can mankind do with the moments, hours and days following the clicks on the computer? What can we use the moments after we receive the stream of information? This is when we have to face the issue of live performance. Can live music, theatre, performing arts etc. offer something additional the way we had imagined it? Isn’t it maybe too much of a burden to dress up nicely, to remember our good manners when we go to a concert hall? Or is it more of a possibility to open these spaces making them more inviting and ‘popularize’ them by letting people in wearing jeans and T-shirt.

Q: As far as I see it this is how people go to the theatre today.

A: Yes, these are formalities. With or without a frock the really hard question is whether the actors the director and the audience can understand each other. My opinion about this is – I’m quite a liberal in that matter – that people should come in even with no tie on. What I think is very important is to understand the language of a theatre play.


VOLUME 4 • ISSUE 1 (MARCH 2015) As the director at New Theatre we had 98 plays in thirteen years included classical and contemporary pieces as well as plays in small stage version or big stage performances. My most powerful ‘tool’ was the team of actors and actresses. Young artists discovered by me (Pokorny Lia, Huszár Zsolt) several accomplished artists who won the Kossuth Prize (Gáspár Sándor, Bánsági Ildikó, Eperjes Károly) pushed the theatre to new heights in the philosophical sense as well. In the last thirteen years I did have the feeling that the quality and interests of the audience has been changing relentlessly. But there is no scientific research behind this. When I realised this I had a big dilemma. Should I loosen the reins or fight our old ways tooth and nail. Don’t misunderstand me, I wasn’t into acting in an extreme way and I’ve never thought of playing with our pants down. I didn’t have time to deeply think about the ‘what ifs’. You know that is the beauty of theatres. Whatever is said about theatres they are hierarchical structures, institutions which means that in practice – at least traditional theatres – play to the director’s taste, will, world view and value system.

At the end of the day a decision must be made about what to play. There are twenty outstanding, very popular artists in front of you, several won the Kossuth Prize and then you Fotó: www.nol.hu „.. THE COMPOSITION OF A TEAM IS A SCIENCE…” - INTERVIEW WITH ISTVÁN MÁRTA, THE MANAGING



have to tell them: ‘Listen! We are going to play Dr Faustus by Marlowe.’ They look at you oddly but you have to explain why they have to play that show. You see it’s not you but them, the artists who risk their necks which is yet another cliché. To have this experience throughout the many years as a director, made me more conscious about which direction to take. It’s not good for the artists either if there is no audience or if the audience leaves in the break. And in the midst of all that you can’t help but think about your values…I’ve always worked with great artists not those types who preferred playing with their pants down but real ones who learned from the likes of exceptional directors. They came from leading theatrical schools of Major Tamás or Ádám Ottó. This is something you can’t learn at school. You either learn it as you go or not. As for me I hadn’t been a theatre performer so it was twice as difficult for me to get accepted. Going back to a previous idea and it might give you better understanding of what I meant earlier: I felt the same in Kapolcs namely, that I was in a ‘more difficult position’ there. I was one of the ‘blow-ins’ from Budapest who are by birth all so rich. The life and the whole history of the village was about looking at who is coming from outside the village – especially coming from a large city – as someone who can only bring something bad. That was part of the collective memory… First, I was from a big city. Second, I was an artist. They thought my kind didn’t even exist.

They looked at really suspiciously. But eventually I’ve won the battle which took me about five years. I needed that much time to be accepted by the locals. After a while they even started to spread the news that I was born there. I was so proud but in fact it wasn’t true.

I was a ‘blow-in’ in the world of theatre as well. As a composer, as a theatre musician I was respected but in the very moment I changed my role in the theatre I was abused right and left. The reason why I went for a change was because I believed that I was well equipped for change with creative ideas. Then of course the profession went quiet and busy workdays kicked in. Whether I like it or not I had enough conflicts in the last few decades.

Q: I looked up some currently available definitions regarding the skills of managers in cultural organisations. I would like to ask you, as someone who actually works as a manager in various cultural organisations, to comment on that. One of these definitions is: ’… a manager must have effective economic and organisational knowledge and skills.’ A: It will be a short answer. It depends on the type of cultural organisation we are talking about because they are very different and shouldn’t be bracketed. Each and every have their own distinctive set of characteristics. I think that there are leadership strategies but they are more the question of individual choice.


VOLUME 4 • ISSUE 1 (MARCH 2015) Q: The other skill is: ’…a manager must operate the organisation without qualitative compromise.’ A: What is meant by quality? I don’t want to avoid answering your question but who is to tell what quality means? The concepts and quality criteria of a theatre, a symphonic orchestra or an exhibition space owned by the local government are very difficult to define. There might be the number of audience members or nights, there are marketing expectations but the quality is fundamentally determined by the values of the director and the identity and history of the theatre. The sensitivity and openness of the team are also important.

As for the professionals – if we separate culture professionals – they are all very much aware of their value but if the leaders’ ideas are not part of the decisions made then there is a huge problem. So, I often think that professional specialisation must always be evaluated carefully when somebody is running for a director position. What is professional specialisation? I will by no means defend my assignment for theatre director because I did have master level art qualification in music but not in theatrical art and it wasn’t a problem. I have a very dear friend who is a cellist and the director of Kolibri Theatre. But a professional specialisation?

What is it? It would be absurd to ask for a specialised qualification from the director of the Kolibri Theatre, a cellist who has proved that he is more than capable of leading the theatre through his exceptional skills…while it is true that he is not an actor or a stage director and has never been awarded a degree from the University of Theatre and Film Arts. So, I really think that qualification has not much to do with the whole thing. And again, I’m not trying to defend my directorship. Nowhere in the world would qualification be a determining factor in assigning directors. In some areas – mayors in local governments, the Minister for Culture – can be appointed based on personal ties but it’s very risky.

Q: Among the skills there is another one which I think is a cliché: ’… a manager must be creative and well-informed.’ A: Yes, I agree totally. In every cultural institution, either it comes to a gallery or a symphonic orchestra, the leader must be well-informed. And the information they have should be broad, including local as well as European perspectives. Moreover, they should be able to think globally and know trends very well. Creativity is of course fundamental because global changes require brand new, individual responds. Communication technology tools must be used as well.




Q: I would like to ask you how well can at the levels of local and national governments public orientation endorsed? As we know local and national governments are quite heavily involved in the market of cultural services. It is also a cliché.

A: Well, local governments have a well-defined group of responsibilities that they have to meet. Theatrical art is not included in that but many other areas for reasons of local tradition, prestige or image are included. So, local governments have enormous burden on their shoulders because they must finance at least partially these areas of responsibilities.

The local government is required self-control because they might have different philosophies.

But that’s art which is sacred and must be let alone. Let’s say I’m a city leader. Sometimes, even if it makes me desperate, I have to close my eyes to let things happen. Because this is what needs to be done. Real culture and high art in general are not to serve the financiers’ will. Undeniably, it means constant fighting in the case of real art. And it sometimes happens that there are individuals who give in and focus on what is expected. They leave at 3 p.m.

sharp, get their money and are desperate to meet the indicators that had been set. They don’t care about anything else. I find this extremely harmful. I require my colleagues to be on board with our projects and put their shoulders to the wheel. Of course, I’m thoughtful of them and their families but those who are in the top management must work much longer hours than the usual 9 to 5 or 8 to 4. Just to say quietly, we couldn’t possibly do festivals here in the Zsolnay Quarter if we only worked in the usual hours. Leaders must have a sense of mission, a will and unfortunately I have to serve as a good example because preaching is sure easy.

Q: What is your perception about the cooperation between public, civil and business sectors in Hungary?

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