Not so long ago, going to university was a privilege of a small percentage of the population. Same applied to listening to such music we call “classical” today – fun fact: in Hungarian, it is widely referred to as “serious music”. But is it really that serious? Nowadays, public universities are open for thousands of students, and with the internet, all kind of music became much more accessible as well. But even in the changing world, it makes sense to experience the beauties of live classical music and finally reject our fears that it’s too complicated to understand. I asked Tuva Stranger, medical student at the University of Pécs, about her experiences with the student-centred Classical Chill Out concerts, and why is she planning to visit them this year again.
How did you decide to study in Pécs? What do you think of the city?
At the University of Oslo, there is a programme in collaboration with the University of Pécs: you start your studies in Oslo and after a year, you move to Pécs. It captured my attention as it wouldn’t have made much sense to stay in Norway for all my studies, as I’m most probably going to live there anyway for the rest of my life. So I came here and like most of the students here, I found that Pécs as a pretty, little, cosy city. And there is the forest as well, which is very important for us Norwegians. (laughs) You can go outside and have a nice time in the nature. So my first impressions were very good.
Once you’ve settled down there, how did you find out about the Classical Chill Out concerts?
As far as I can remember, the information came from the monthly newsletter of the English-German School Council. I was very happy to see it, because back in Norway as a kid, I used to go to a lot of classical concerts. My mother is a member of the Oslo Philharmonic Choir.
Really? How cool!
Indeed. (laughs) Therefore, It was kind of natural for me to have a look at the Classical Chill Out. Even before that specific advertisement, one of the first things I did in Pécs was to check out the Pannon Philharmonics, the lovely concert hall, the agenda for the year, and I visited some of the concerts, both jazz and classical. We are very lucky here to have such a great orchestra.
The Classical Chill Out has some distinguishing features, like the audience can sit at tables instead in rows. Do you think it makes any difference in enjoying the music?
Well, I would go anyway, no matter how the circumstances are, but it definitely made some difference for my friends who have never been to classical concerts before. They enjoyed that it is more like having some casual fun than to sit stiffly at some festal event. It’s also good to to include the guide, an English-speaking person who comes to the stage between the pieces and tells a bit more about what are we going to hear or what we have just heard. My friends told me afterwards that they noticed elements of the music that would have gone unnoticed without the guidance. For beginners in the world of classical music, this is a good place to start.
Do you think people will visit other concerts as well?
Yes, I guess everything that tries to reach the younger audience will sustain regular concert visitors for the future. I also experienced the same in Oslo, for instance, at the opera and the theatre: they advertise cheaper concerts that are only accessible for people below a certain age. And every time, a lot of people go and encounter the programme of that particular concert hall. So, in the end, such events enlighten people a bit more about what’s on and available in their area. I find it very useful.
Do you play any instruments yourself?
At the moment not so much, because I’m focusing on studying, but back in Oslo, I used to play the cello. I started it with eight and actively practiced it until I became nineteen. Since then, I only play very little. And I also used to sing in a choir. When I go to a classical concert, I see it a bit from an insider’s perspective and I miss the time very much when I played more regularly. I wish it was me. (laughs) Actually it’s a very nice feeling, I really like it. And I always pay extra attention on the cellists. After finishing university, I surely will be very busy as a practicing doctor, but I still hope to play some cello occasionally.
Isn’t this our fate in the 21st century, after all? We are running around and don’t have enough time for arts.
Actually, I recall comments from the last Classical Chill Out about the faster pieces being “entertaining”, whereas the slower ones requiring a lot of attention and are harder to follow. That is a challenge for today’s students. Generally, our attention span has decreased rapidly, it is much harder to concentrate. It’s a good question though whether it is really a 21st century development, or for some people, classical music has always been so hard to follow. For me, it is a great time. You just sit there, put away your phone, see the musicians and the conductor…
Do you also feel that the Pannon Philharmonics goes against the often mentioned ‘elitism’ of classical music?
Yes, I feel they have such a goal. What I experienced in Oslo, and maybe there is a similar case in Hungary, is that there is a huge audience, but the majority is usually 50-60 years old with a higher education. I appreciate how orchestras try to reach a broader audience. We need more people to keep the concert halls full.
What else can help?
Student prices are surely useful, so that young people with financial difficulties can also be included. But I know it is hard to juggle with, as the orchestra needs a reasonable income to exist. And time management is even more difficult anyway. If you take your studies seriously, what else do you have time for? Some of them are very concerned about activities that are not study-related, and they might not even pay attention to news on cultural events. Some students never find out that there is a cinema they could visit, or the concerts. I see it as a mission to advertise these more, because you need arts and entertainment in your life. Studying, albeit useful, can’t satisfy such a human need on its own. I wish I could go to even more concerts!
So do you plan to go to the Classical Chill Out this year?
Yes, that’s my plan, although I’ll have two exams on the day that follows the concert on the 4th of December. But I really want to, and I even think I will need that 1,5 hours of switching off and relax with music after all the stress of the studies. My roomies and I have a rule to stop studying around 8 or 9 o’clock anyway. Actually, in such a situation, slow pieces are indeed really nice, you just sit there and let your imagination flow, far away from all the commitments and the constant pressure to perform.