The flute player talks politics

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - JOHN NATHAN ‘Glow­ing Sonori­ties’ is now avail­able on the Hun­garo­ton la­bel. Noemi Gy­ori is play­ing a lunchtime con­cert at Col­ston Hall, Bris­tol on March 20.

Two things hap­pened to Hun­gar­ian vir­tu­oso flautist Noemi Gy­ori re­cently that could be a sign of fright­en­ing times. She lives in north Lon­don with her hus­band, fel­low Hun­gar­ian, Gergely Madaras, him­self a ris­ing-star con­duc­tor, and their three year old daugh­ter.

Lon­don is the lat­est and, so far, the long­est stop for the cou­ple since they left Hun­gary. Their ca­reers have pro­pelled them to some of Europe’s great cen­tres of mu­sic, in­clud­ing Ber­lin, Mu­nich — where Gy­ori took a soloist’s diploma — and Vi­enna, where she per­formed with the Vi­enna Phil­har­monic. She reg­u­larly re­turns to Mu­nich to play with the Or­ches­tra Jakob­splatz, founded in 2005 by the con­duc­tor Daniel Gross­man, which spe­cialises in Jewish mu­sic.

“I’m not re­li­gious, though I feel very strongly Jewish,” she says in English that is flu­ent, ar­tic­u­late and spo­ken with care to en­sure her thoughts are com­mu­ni­cated ac­cu­rately. Her de­scrip­tion of her­self ap­plies equally to many of the peo­ple from her life in Hun­gary, which she reg­u­larly vis­its to per­form, record and visit her par­ents. “I come from a Hun­gar­ian Jewish fam­ily. I’m ba­si­cally sur­rounded by Jewish in­tel­lec­tu­als and peo­ple who strongly value Jewish cul­ture,” she says. And although the equiv­a­lent of this state­ment could be come from the daugh­ters of any num­ber of Jewish com­mu­ni­ties in the Euro­pean di­as­pora, it’s hard not to place Gy­ori’s in the par­tic­u­lar con­text of the dom­i­nant far right, an­ti­semitic and anti-im­mi­grant opin­ion that is cur­rently to be found in her coun­try.

Still, for the past six years, home, very hap­pily, has been Lon­don. Hus­band Gergely has won a fel­low­ship at the English Na­tional Opera while Noemi is do­ing a Per­for­mance PhD at the Royal Academy of Mu­sic, the first time a flautist has been ac­cepted on the course.

We meet for cof­fee at the Hamp­stead The­atre, not far from where Gy­ori lives. And, although the sub­ject of con­ver­sa­tion is her lat­est CD — a lus­cious col­lec­tion of sonatas by Schu­bert, Rei­necke and Franck, for which she is ac­com­pa­nied by Katalin Csil­lagh on the pi­ano — our con­ver­sa­tion is dom­i­nated by a sense of un­ease about the ris­ing tide of na­tion­al­ism in Europe and beyond, par­tic­u­larly in Bri­tain and Hun­gary.

There’s no sug­ges­tion that she sees in Theresa May’s Brexit-em­brac­ing gov­ern­ment an equiv­a­lent to Vik­tor Or­ban’s pop­ulist regime in Hun­gary but Gy­ori has de­tected sim­i­lar­i­ties in the at­ti­tudes of the coun­try’s peo­ple. Or some of them. Take the two in­ci­dents ex­pe­ri­enced on the Lon­don tube and in a Bu­dapest taxi.

“I don’t want to ex­ag­ger­ate,” she says, in­ter­rupt­ing her­self even be­fore she has started telling the story. “These things can hap­pen any­where. I don’t take it too se­ri­ously, OK? But of course, when they hap­pen you can’t help but put them in con­text.”

To the Bu­dapest in­ci­dent first: Gy­ori — who has thick black hair, huge dark eyes — hails a cab. Once she is in the back, the driver en­gages her in con­ver­sa­tion. He wants to tell her about his fa­ther.

“He tells me that he feels very proud about him,” she says. “And par­tic­u­larly proud that his fa­ther par­tic­i­pated in the Hitler Youth, and was a de­voted Nazi.”

Gy­ori’s re­sponse was per­haps pre­dictable given her fam­ily his­tory.

“My grand­fa­ther sur­vived Auschwitz and Mau­thausen,” she ex­plains. “My grand­mother sur­vived the ghetto in Bu­dapest. All their fam­ily were killed. Her mother’s side of the fam­ily were even less for­tu­nate.

“I said, ‘You know what? I don’t think you should be proud of that. My grand­fa­ther was killed by the Nazis.’” The cab driver was com­pletely stunned, which is re­veal­ing in it­self. In­ter­est­ingly, how­ever, Gy­ori doesn’t see the in­ci­dent as a per­sonal at­tack on her, or her Jewish­ness.

“I think he just ex­pected me to agree with him; he just wanted to have a con­ver­sa­tion.”

The episode is, says Gy­ori, symp­to­matic of a Hun­gary in which many peo­ple see the coun­try as the guardian of Chris­tian and white Europe.

It’s a very dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate from the one in which the 33-year-old mu­si­cian was raised by her psy­chol­o­gist mother and her fa­ther, an aca­demic.

They were not a par­tic­u­larly mu­si­cal fam­ily. Yet a com­bi­na­tion of luck and cir­cum­stance drew Gy­ori to her vo­ca­tion: a girl next door who played the in­stru­ment and who Gy­ori wanted to em­u­late from the age of five; the “crazy” neigh­bour of her grand­fa­ther who had a col­lec­tion of old in­stru­ments, in­clud­ing an Amer­i­can sil­ver flute (she now has a gold flute).

And then there was her won­der­ful teacher who saw many pupils end up as pro­fes­sional mu­si­cians play­ing in Hun­gary’s in­ter­na­tion­ally pres­ti­gious Na­tional Phil­har­monic Or­ches­tra. Though few, if any, of those mu­si­cians have gone on to play New York’s Carnegie Hall as has Gy­ori.

Yet rather than live a life of rar­efied ex­clu­siv­ity like many of her peers, Gy­ori prefers to en­gage with the wider world, which prob­a­bly ex­plains why our con­ver­sa­tion is more po­lit­i­cal than mu­si­cal, and per­haps also her re­sponse to the in­ci­dent on the Tube.

“I was talk­ing to my daugh­ter and sud­denly a woman said that I should speak to my daugh­ter in English! Then she said that I was de­stroy­ing her fu­ture be­cause she wouldn’t be able to speak English prop­erly. ‘We are in Eng­land,’ she said, ‘and in Eng­land we speak English.’”

For Gy­ori, these events are no more than straws in the wind. But if they sig­nal a pos­si­ble fu­ture, that doesn’t make them any less wor­ry­ing.

“I can see weird par­al­lels with what I ex­pe­ri­enced in Hun­gary and what I ex­pe­ri­enced here,” she says.

“What up­sets me most is the growth of these at­ti­tudes globally; the xeno­pho­bic, pop­ulist think­ing. In Hun­gary, it re­sults in peo­ple be­ing judged by whether or not they are white and Chris­tian in­stead of what they are like as a per­son.”

I ask what the woman on the Tube looked like. The an­swer: white, mid­dle-aged, re­spectable.

“I told her I speak five lan­guages to a pretty good stan­dard and I don’t think that has ru­ined my life. On the con­trary, my daugh­ter speaks beau­ti­ful English and Hun­gar­ian.”

The cab driver said his fa­ther was in the Nazi Youth

Noemi Gy­ori: girl with a golden flute

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