Hungarian conductor and composer, Iván Fischer, was born into a Jewish musical family, which includes his brother, the conductor Adam Fischer. Initially he studied piano, violin, cello and composition at the Béla Bartók Conservatory in Budapest. He moved later to Vienna to study conducting with Hans Swarowsky at the University of Music and Performing Arts (1971-1974), where he also studied cello and early music. He also worked as assistant to Nikolaus Harnoncourt on period performance practice in Salzburg during 1975. Although he had previously been a prize-winner at the Florence Conducting Competition in 1974, Fischer’s professional conducting career was effectively launched when he won the Rupert Foundation Conducting Competition in London in 1976.
Iván Fischer was soon invited to direct the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London and to conduct at the Zürich Opera. In 1979 he was appointed chief conductor of the Northern Sinfonia of England, a post that he held until 1982. He guest-conduct such British orchestras as the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra, with whom he conducted a world tour in 1982. His USA conducting debut was with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in 1983.
Iván Fischer returned to Hungary in 1983 to found the Budapest Festival Orchestra (BFO), which initially was intended for a limited number of concerts a year on a part-time basis. This drew together many of the best orchestral musicians in Hungary. The BFO became a permanent institution in 1992, enjoyed unusually extended rehearsal periods; with a schedule of about 30 weeks of performing a year. With the BFO, he has incorporated unorthodox ideas into practice, including allowing individual symphony musicians to contribute to concert programming, as in the "cocoa-concerts" for young children. Other series include the Titok-koncert ("bag of surprise") concert series where the programme is not announced, "one forint concerts" where he talks to the audience, open-air concerts in Budapest attracting tens of thousands of people, as well as concert opera performances. Within a few years the BFO developed a reputation as one of Hungary’s finest orchestras and was invited to play at major festivals and concert halls throughout Europe and America. Fischer has founded several festivals, including a summer festival in Budapest on baroque music and the Budapest Mahlerfest which is also a forum for commissioning and presenting new music works. In addition, there is an annual competition from within the orchestra for soloist opportunities in concert. Fischer and the BFO have recorded commercially for Philips Classics and Channel Classics Records.
In the USA, Iván Fischer held the position of Principal Guest Conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra for seven years. In 2006, he became Principal Guest Conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington. In April 2007, Fischer was named the principal conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra (Washington, D.C.), after Leonard Slatkin stepped down as music director in 2008. He held the title for 2 years.
Fischer was Music Director at Kent Opera in the UK from from 1984 to 1989, leaving only when the company’s funding was terminated by the Arts Council of England and it had to cease operations. He was Music Director of the Opéra National de Lyon from 2000 to 2003. The Lyon production of Ariadne auf Naxos received the prize of ‘best regional opera production of the year’ given by the Association of French Music Critics. In 2006, Fischer was named Principal Artist of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. In February 2011, he was named Music Director of the Konzerthaus Berlin and Principal Conductor of the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, effective with the 2012-2013 season, with an initial contract of 3 years.
Alongside his permanent appointments he has been a frequent guest conductor of many major orchestras, such as the Berliner Philharmoniker, Münchner Philharmoniker, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and Israel Philharmonic Orchestra as well as the Orchestre de Paris, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. His work in opera as a guest conductor has included a Mozart cycle in the Wiener Staatsoper, and productions in Zürich, London, Paris, Brussels, Frankfurt, Stockholm and Budapest. He debuted in 2006 at Glyndebourne Festival Opera in a new production of Così fan tutte:
Iván Fischer's compositions are usually written for intimate groups of human voices and instruments. His "Spinoza-Vertalingen" for Soprano and chamber emsemble composed on a 17th century Dutch translation of Spinoza's text has been performed first in the Netherlands, then in Hungary. For women's choir, he composed Zigeunerlied (Goethe), La Malinconia (Umberto Saba), 29. Canzone di Petrarca, Sait gesund with a Yiddish text and A nay kleyd (Rokhl Korn). The last two were commissioned by the Dutch memorial day (Dodenherdenking) and broadcast on Dutch National TV. In 2011 he composed de slome slak (Joke van Leeuwen) for children's choir, commissioned by the Koorbiennale in Holland and Festival Hymn 2011 commissioned by Young Euro Classic in Berlin. His most frequently performed work is Eine Deutsch-Jiddische Kantate, which has been performed in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, USA and Switzerland.
Ivá Fischer signed an exclusive recording contract with Philips Classics in 1995. Among the best of the numerous recordings which he has made with the Budapest Festival Orchestra are dynamic accounts of Béla Bartók’s ballet scores The Wooden Prince and The Miraculous Mandarin, Franz Liszt’s Faust Symphony, and Zoltán Kodály’s Háry János Suite and Dances of Galánta. The orchestra’s recording of Johannes Brahms’ Hungarian Dances included a number of new orchestrations by Fischer himself, which combine improvisations from Gypsy musicians with a symphony orchestra. His B. Bartók and F. Liszt recordings with the Budapest Festival Orchestra have won a Gramophone Award, Diapason d'Or de l'Annee, four Cles de Telerama, the Arte, MUM Erasmus prizes.Since 2004, Fischer has recorded for Channel Classics Records. His recording of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 2 with the Budapest Festival Orchestra for Channel Classics won a 2007 "Editor's Choice" Gramophone Award. Other Fischer/BFO releases have included Sergei Rachmaninov's Second Symphony, G. Mahler's Symphony No. 6, Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4, and Richard Strauss's Josephslegende. On DVD, his Glyndebourne performance of Mozart's Così fan tutte was nominated for Gramophone and Grammy Award.
Iván Fischer has stated that he feels especially close to central European composers such as J.S. Bach, Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Dvořák, Gustav Mahler and Béla Bartók, and his connection with several of these stretches beyond the concert hall: He is a founder of the Hungarian Mahler Sotogether with the composer’s granddaughter, and Patron of the British Kodály Academy. He received the Golden Medal Award from the President of the Republic of Hungary, and the Crystal Award from the World Economic Forum for his services to help international cultural relations. The French Government named him Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. In 2006, he was honoured with the Kossuth Prize, Hungary's most prestigious arts award. He is an honorary citizen of Budapest. In 2011, he received the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award in the Conductor category,