What is the relevance of contemporary classical music in the 21st century? How intercultural collaboration may be realized in the realms of art? In what ways does conscious marketing support all of the above, as well as a civil organization?

In the latest edition of Zsolya Communication’s inspiring interview series featuring female entrepreneurs, we spoke with Eszter Bodnár, the director of the Sonus Foundation. We discussed the importance of supporting contemporary art, cross-border projects, and why it’s worth listening to classical music today.

In what circumstances was the Sonus Foundation established, and what role did you play in it?

Many people consider contemporary classical music difficult to listen. For a long time I’ve been just like that. I totally avoided it, thinking that nothing interesting had been composed after the second half of the 20th century. Of course, I later on discovered that what really matters is what we listen to and how we do it. 

Contemporary classical music, alongside its marvelous sound, uniquely reflects today’s societal issues, such as migration, intercultural connections, gender equality, and environmental concerns. It’s emotionally and intellectually exciting, offering a broader perspective than the music from previous centuries.

In 2017, I started working with contemporary musicians, and it became clear that there had to be an institutional background to sustain this work. Thus, the Sonus Foundation was established to support contemporary music and interdisciplinary arts in Hungary and internationally. Our goal is to support the contemporary Hungarian and international music and performing arts scene.

Since the beginning, I’ve been involved in various aspects of the foundation’s work, from project conceptualization to implementation, fundraising, and maintaining relationships with musicians.



You originally have a law degree. How did you transition into the world of music?

I’ve always been interested in the arts. In high school, I wanted to be a writer. Then, during university, I saw the opportunity for a patron role in an intellectual, artist-filled environment. I was confident that, as a lawyer, I will have the opportunity to be close to the arts. Classical music life in Budapest completely captivated me.

After university, I worked in classical legal areas and as a project manager. Meanwhile, I realized that the skills I acquired were transferable to the arts, especially to the world of classical music, where artists also need such support, knowledge, and assistance.

Who are your favorites?

This is a tough question. The list is long, but I would rather highlight female composers as they have a significant impact on me. Their work, especially opera, reveals a sensitive, fascinating world that one can completely immerse oneself in.

What is really special about the work of a female composer?

Aside from approaching music differently, I think their strength lies in narrative storytelling, where the story, words, and music all have an impact on me.

Another important difference is that they often work within quite challenging circumstances. This is a relatively new direction; even 100 years ago, women didn’t have the opportunity to enter the artistic and musical world. That’s why it’s particularly important for me to provide them with more opportunities.

Let’s go back to the story of the Foundation. In Hungary, how much space does a musical and interdisciplinary foundation have?

The life of a civil organization is like a roller coaster. When a project is completed, it can be a huge success. But due to financial uncertainties, we also experience challenging periods.

The foundation is based in Hungary, but has always been functioning as an internationally active civil organization. We fundamentally imagine music without borders. Therefore, we have many European and global projects.

Last year, we announced an international competition for a new instrument created from the tárogató, and we received 75 new compositions from every continent. Working with creators from different cultures is always a wonderful experience.

Regarding challenges, I’d like to talk about what helps us overcome them. 

  • First, having faith in the importance of our goals. We couldn’t go anywhere without it. 
  • Second, having a strong vision is crucial, serving as the basis for all decisions. 
  • Third, a spirit of experimentation is necessary; we need a great amount of courage to venture into something new. 

All of this is complemented by building the organization consciously from the beginning. An integral part of this is thoughtful marketing, which we apply daily as a civil organization and pass on as knowledge to the musicians we collaborate with.

What’s in the vision of the foundation?

At the moment, I see two main directions where we have tasks ahead of us.

One is ensuring the accessibility of contemporary music. It’s crucial that contemporary music doesn’t function as luxury available solely to the elite. It should rather reach a broader audience, regardless of age, social status, or background.

The other main direction of our vision is supporting musicians in acquiring various soft skills. We’ve realized that in artistic education, there’s often a strong focus on gaining the highest level of professional knowledge and practice. However, there is very little emphasis on preparing artists for participation in the business of music. Therefore, it’s important to help them succeed in their careers.

Many young musicians reach out to us having just completed their studies, and many are surprised that they aren’t getting offers. Our task is to help them understand that they need to showcase themselves and make their music known to the world.

Based on all this, we created the Focus On You project during the pandemic. We enlist the opportunities offered by the digital world, enabling us to support musicians internationally.



How does the project work?

The cooperation with the young musicians is the strongest within the mentoring program. We support them for eight weeks in developing their project ideas or advancing their next career steps.

In addition, we offer various workshops. I’d highlight the social media workshop created by Orsi and the Zsolya Communication team. But we also offer workshops on communication, program planning, fundraising, legal basics, and storytelling.

The workshops and mentor program were initially in Hungarian, but as of this fall, they are available in English as well. This is a significant challenge, but we trust that this process helps integrating young musicians into the international circuit, allowing them to meet other like-minded musicians.

How did the crisis of recent years impact contemporary music and the artistic world? How did the foundation’s strategic approach assist its work?

The pandemic was a challenge, even in Europe, where the state supports the arts significantly, unlike the American continent, which relies more on private donations. However, I believe that every crisis is also an opportunity, resulting in innovative solutions from musicians.

One important pillar of our operation is conscious marketing and online presence.

One source and supporter of this is Orsi and the Zsolya team. I followed Orsi’s work for years before I first contacted her  when the Focus On You program started. Orsi hosted one of the first workshops and remains one of our most popular speakers. It shows how crucial the area the Zsolya team focuses on is.

The use of social media often triggers resistance in young musicians because classical music is perceived as a sacred idol, and they find it challenging to imagine how to represent it on various platforms. Orsi’s approach in the workshops greatly helps resolving this issue.

It’s also essential that the Zsolya team boldly supports civil organizations, sending a powerful message. I hope many will follow their example.

What are you currently working on?

Currently our focus is on the international launch of the Focus On You project, and we plan to host offline workshops at several Hungarian and international universities. Focus On You provides an opportunity to help musicians work on their personal brand and visibility. Even if someone is an excellent artist, their activity will remain unknown if not promoted.

In addition, our central project is supporting the work of the MIKAMO Central European Chamber Orchestra, which reimagines the Central European musical heritage. This is an Austrian, Hungarian, and Slovakian project where the three cultures and perspectives intertwine in music and projects.

We intend to connect even closer with individuals and organizations in Europe and worldwide who think similarly to us. Currently, we’re working on joint projects and fundraising. I trust that in 2024, I can report on exciting new initiatives.

Thank you for the conversation!