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The Budapest Festival Orchestra has a series of concerts entitled Midnight Music for those who love the night-life. Tonight's concert aimed principally at young people starts at 11:30pm in the Millenáris Theatre, where Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony will be performed. We talked to Krisztina Haják, violinist, and Roland Csalló, clarinettist, to get some behind-the-scenes information on the midnight concerts.

Orchestras have held concerts for young people before, but these midnight concerts are a novelty – explains Krisztina Haják, violinist at the Budapest Festival Orchestra, who has been a member of the BFO for nineteen years. Young people were often compelled to appear at youth concerts, and so frequently the auditorium was quite noisy, while the ambience wasn’t the best either. You can bring drinks into our concerts, and we play in normal everyday clothes, so the whole concert is played in a very nice and relaxing atmosphere.

The master of ceremonies and the presenter is the BFO’s conductor Iván Fischer, who comments from time to time on the piece being played, thus instantly breaking down any barriers between the audience and the stage. There are normal rows of seats in the auditorium, but right at the front you can also listen to the music sitting on a cushion. The Midnight Music concerts are primarily aimed at young people of university age, but we often see fans of classical music on the cushions who are enjoying their retirement – says the BFO’s violinist.

The programme is generally designed to take no more than one hour, so as not to put off those who rarely attend classical music events, if at all. It’s all a bit like a party running into the early morning, except here the music is not some overplayed hit of a pop star but Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony for example, as it is tonight.

The Festival Orchestra has always been known for its bold approach to new things. For many years they played to masses of people in the open air on Heroes’ Square. They were the first to organise Cocoa Concerts for young children, along with the chamber concerts giving members of the orchestra the chance to show off their skills in a somewhat different setting than normal. This innovative approach has been evident more recently too, with chamber music being offered on the streets, in Budapest and public places around the country, even in other unusual places such as clinics or hospitals. The innovative ideas include the midnight concerts, when the musicians leave their customary concert hall and meet audiences under unconventional circumstances; they meet people who could become the audiences of the future for the Festival Orchestra as the age-group targeted is primarily high-school and university students.

According to Roland Csalló, clarinettist, who has only been playing with the orchestra for a few years, these midnight concerts are good because the people who normally come are those who are able to stay up at this late hour. The concerts also represent a departure from the norm for the musicians too, since they generally take place after an evening concert. Many things happen in reverse for the musicians as they do not have to be dressed up as normal, and so before the concert they can change back into their “civvies”. They could look on it as being up to them to create an atmosphere late at night which facilitates the audience’s acceptance of the music, but both musicians say that this doesn’t bother them, on the contrary, it’s quite uplifting and liberating. Both of them love Rachmaninoff’s work, though the music is not easy, but Roland Csalló believes it is easier for the audience to grasp than many others.

Many reckon that Bartók’s “The Miraculous Mandarin” was the most successful of the midnight concerts so far. According to Csalló, that is possibly because this piece clearly has a midnight feel to it. The audience received a pleasant surprise that night because some of the choir were sitting amongst them in the hall, and took part in the performance. For tonight’s Midnight Music concert the musicians of the Budapest Festival Orchestra will be arriving straight from the Palace of Arts, where they will be performing Shostakovich’s Suite for Jazz and Bernstein’s Serenade alongside Rachmaninoff’s symphony. The solo in the last piece will be played by the fantastic Dutch violinist Liza Ferschtman, who came in at the last minute to replace Janine Jansen who fell ill.

This programme will be played in the Palace of Arts tomorrow afternoon as well, while on Sunday the audience at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam will be able to enjoy the music of the Festival Orchestra and Liza Ferschtman. A few days later the same concert will be performed in New York and Montreal.