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About the program

The Teatro alla Scala in Milan is among the foremost opera houses in the world. It was commissioned by Maria Theresa after the theatre that previously housed opera performances was destroyed by fire in 1776. The word Scala in the theatre’s name comes from the earlier Ducal Theatre, which was built on the former location of the church Santa Maria della Scala. With a stage 24 metres long, 22 metres deep and 20 metres high and with its seating capacity (the premiere seated 3500) it used to be the largest opera house in the world. Even today, the Scala is considered to be one of the world’s prime music theatres. It is an exceptional honour to be able to perform there.

The Festival Orchestra will begin the concert with Béla Bartók’s Hungarian Sketches. In 1931, the composer orchestrated five of his earlier piano works and arranged them in a five-movement cycle. He did not intend to change the original character of these short pieces, among which all save the last piece were inspired by the Hungarian folk-song style. The closing movement, Swineherd’s Dance from Ürög, is an actual folk song adaptation. Bartók commented, “this is how the last recorder-player of Felső-Iregh performed the melody of [the folk song] »Házasodik a tücsök«.”

The second item is Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto in E major, composed in 1945. The composer, struggling with terminal disease, did not live to see the premiere of his work. The concerto was dedicated to his wife, the excellent pianist Ditta Pásztory. However, the 1946 premiere was performed by György Sándor and The Philhadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Jenő Ormándy.

On the tour the Festival Orchestra will also perform Mahler’s Symphony No. 4. According to Iván Fischer, there is a kind of special, transparent clarity in this symphony. The fairy-tale sound of the sleigh-bells take us on a journey through the composer’s childhood identity, that of angels, fantastic tales, anxiety and unconditional, transcendent love. This childlike symphony required a special orchestra; there is no place for the sombre tuba, the cumbersome trombone or the heavy sound of the brass section. It better suits the chamber orchestra, where clarinets can imitate the sound of trumpets, with the solo violin being tuned more sharply to scare us all the more, and where the lightness of the entire orchestra offers us a vision of Mahler’s charming, childlike paradise.


Béla Bartók: Hungarian Sketches
Béla Bartók: Piano concerto No. 3
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 4 in G major


Iván Fischer


Miah Persson, soprano
Yefim Bronfman, piano