The Hungarian conductor on why Mahler’s Third is the perfect symphony and why he will never conduct the Eighth.

What was your personal route into the Mahler symphonies, and was it love at first hearing for you?

Being a student in Vienna I attended the rehearsals and concerts of Leonard Bernstein’s Mahler cycle. It was an extraordinary experience. In that time there was a cult of Mahler symphonies in the circle of music students in Vienna.

Who do you respect most among the great Mahler interpreters of the past, and what particular qualities did they bring to the music that you feel is important approaching this composer?

I never like to use the word “interpretation” because music doesn’t need it. Mahler wrote everything in his music, it can be easily understood. I am actually surprised how often he is misunderstood. Although he did his best to notate everything to the smallest detail. Of the old generation I admire Mengelberg, whose scores I copied because he has many interesting ideas written there. And he knew Mahler well.

Ivan Fischer Iván Fischer. Photo © Marco Borggreve

Which symphonies do you yourself respond most immediately...

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