‘A singer, dancer, policeman, psychiatrist and clown’
Gábor Takács-Nagy knows what it takes to be a good conductor, and he’s more than happy to share it
If Gábor Takács-Nagy is anything, he’s a student. The founding leader of the Takács Quartet and later the violinist of the Takács Piano Trio, he has also been an orchestral leader. For more than two decades, he has taught chamber music at the Conservatoire de Musique de Genève.
Nowadays, he’s in the public eye for his conducting and in Ireland for his association with the Irish Chamber Orchestra.
Despite his experience, he seems to approach conducting as a fascinating subject he is studying. He finds ways to absorb lessons from everything he does and pursues knowledge from anywhere and everywhere.
Total immersion is the Takács-Nagy style and it may have been his intensity and focus that cost him his position as leader of the Takács Quartet. He led the group from its foundation in 1975 until 1992, and made more than 70 appearances in Ireland for the late John Ruddock’s Limerick Music Association. But he developed muscular problems that limited him to 90 per cent of his capacity in rehearsal and 20 to 35 per cent in concert.
In one appearance at the National Concert Hall, his difficulties became so severe he had to stop playing in the middle of a piece and leave the stage to recover. His problem may have come from being “a little bit too intense”, he says. “I did not have family. I did not get married until 35. I lived only for the quartet. I wasn’t crazy, but when I got up in the morning I was already planning the rehearsals and wanting to practise.”
He doesn’t miss the travelling but he misses the repertoire. “And I miss my colleagues. We were brothers, almost.”
The four had studied with the same teachers, who encouraged them to seek improvisatory freedoms in performance, even at the expense of technical perfection. “It was total trust in the group,” he says. “When we were in top form, there were 10 or 15 seconds of each concert, sometimes three or four times, where we had this fantastic feeling that time and space is disappearing, we were just flowing with the music. I miss these moments. But sometimes now with very, very good orchestras, I can have them too.”
It was Tibor Varga, “a brilliant Hungarian violinist who taught in Switzerland” and at whose academy Takács-Nagy worked, who first asked him to conduct.
“He told me conducting is not easy, but not as complicated as it looks. The secret is the upbeat. If you have a clear upbeat which has already the tempo, dynamics and character, who cares when you arrive down. It will be together. The anticipation is important, not the arrival.”
He’s also learned from other conductors who knew him from his quartet days. “One is Simon Rattle. I went to his dressing room after a concert and asked for his advice. He told me, first of all, you have to know it’s psychologically tiring to play in an orchestra and there are a lot of frustrated people there. Every five minutes you have to wake them up in the rehearsal. Either make a joke or dance or use an unexpected image. A caffeine injection.