Budapest Festival Orchestra
March 30, 2017

discover joy

In September, the Budapest Festival Orchestra (BFO) will be launching its 2017-2018 season with a performance of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni that has enchanted audiences not only in Hungary, but in the U.S. as well. In 2011, the New York Times described Iván Fischer’s production at the Mostly Mozart Festival as “more involving, imaginative and theatrically daring” than most full-scale opera house performances of Don Giovanni. Critics began to cite this performance – which has since achieved iconic status – as the standard against which others are measured. A revamped version was invited back to the New York festival, as well as to the Edinburgh International Festival. The staged performance, which will be seen by Hungarian audiences in September, had its 2010 debut as a co-production of the BFO and Müpa Budapest. In addition to performances in New York, Edinburgh and Bruges as resident orchestra, the Festival Orchestra will also tour Washington, Reykjavik and Athens.

Iván Fischer will, for the first time in this season, step out of the entrancing world of the Mozart series to produce Verdi’s last opera, Falstaff, as well. These staged concerts will feature several star vocal performers, with Nicola Alaimo taking the role of Falstaff, Tassis Christoyannis as Ford and Eva Mei as Alice. Alaimo has previously played this part before audiences at the Metropolitan Opera in New York as well as at La Scala in Milan.

Outstanding conductors

Born to be a musician, American Marin Alsop already knew by the age of ten that she wanted to be a conductor. Though she is sometimes surprised how there can still be firsts for her as a woman conductor, she made history by conducting the closing concert at the 2013 BBC Proms. She now marks another milestone by being the first woman to wield the baton before the BFO. Other guest conductors we will be welcoming this season include Dmitri Kitayenko, with a selection of works by Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky; Marek Janowski, the returning “surgeon with a conductor’s baton”; distinguished Finnish conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste, also a returning guest, bringing Hungarian audiences an apocalyptic – at times even shocking – Bruckner symphony; while Grammy Award-winning early music expert Jordi Savall will also be leading the orchestra. For an exquisite Baroque experience, Jonathan Cohen will be sharing his passion for chamber music; while the inimitable Jörg Widmann will offer a taste of contemporary compositions. In the upcoming season, Iván Fischer will be conducting works by Tchaikovsky, Bartok, Brahms, Schumann, Rachmaninoff and Mahler, among others.

Beyond routines

Iván Fischer is drawn to all that falls outside of the routine, and will thus be presenting many unusual concepts this season. The Budapest Festival Orchestra is unique amongst the world’s symphony orchestras for having its own baroque ensemble. The BFO’s conductor will now make this ensemble part of the program of the full orchestra’s concerts. Several BFO concerts will begin with works by Johann Sebastian Bach played on Baroque instruments from his era, so that the audience can experience the incredible difference in sound between the two. As Fischer says, “This little novelty is part of our long-term goal to break the traditional, conceptual confines of the symphony orchestra, gradually shaping the versatile, up-to-date orchestra of the 21st century”.

A panoply of international soloists

Seven-time Grammy Award-winning pianist Emanuel Ax perfectly complements this orchestra of the 21st century: while he is a dedicated follower of contemporary composers, he will be playing a true classic with the BFO: Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor. Piotr Anderszewski will also be visiting us – a real ‘punk’ Polish pianist, with Hungarian roots and an intense, original style. Meanwhile, world-renowned Russian Lilya Zilberstein and Radu Lupu will be bolstering the ranks of the pianists. Alina Pogostkina, a young Russian/German violinist, will be treating audiences to a Sibelius violin concerto, while Arabella Steinbacher will be presenting Korngold’s Violin Concerto.


After a season off, the Haydn-Mozart series will continue under the direction of Gábor Takács-Nagy, while chamber music aficionados can choose from a range of concerts in the Sunday Chamber Music and Back to Nature series. It is well worth listening to the unique timbre of the positive organ, the vibraphone or the violone.

This year, our marathon, co-produced with Müpa, will be focussing on Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein’s eclectic compositions mix jazz, klezmer and music for the stage. But no matter what he composed, communication was always his highest priority. As his brother, Burton Bernstein, put it: “Lenny made history: he was the first American to be taken seriously in concert halls”.


Tolerance Concert on Heroes’ Square

The music of Leonard Bernstein plays an important role in the closing of the Festival Orchestra’s season this year as well. One of the highlights of the season will be the Dancing on the Square project, to be held on Heroes’ Square on June 10th. This year, over five hundred children, some from disadvantaged backgrounds, others from more fortunate circumstances, will be joining forces to put on a dance performance. The youngsters have been rehearsing since January for the big day: this year, they will be moving to the strains of the Symphonic Dances from Bernstein’s West Side Story.

West Side Story is a modern rendition of Romeo and Juliet, relating the feud between two rival gangs in New York City. As American teenagers face off against immigrant youth, one member of each of the sides fall in love with each other. Caught in the crossfire, their love comes to a tragic end. “This is a story which is again relevant for our times - about whether different ethnic groups can coexist. Maybe this was not just a problem in the 1940s, but one which is still here today”, said Iván Fischer, adding, “and meanwhile, this music is incredibly beautiful and exciting. Bernstein succeeded in bringing together his exceptional knowledge of the classical, jazz and Broadway genres. West Side Story is an unmatched masterpiece.”

The choice of the work also points to the fact that the Dancing on the Square project is much more than just music and dance - it is about accepting one another, creating together as a community, and about openness and tolerance.

János Lackfi, József Attila and Prima Primissima Prize-winning author and poet, as well as one of the ambassadors of the Dancing on the Square project summarised the project as follows: “We have a tendency to view society as a mosaic, and to only pick out the sparkly, more exciting pieces for ourselves, thinking that this is what will make the whole picture more beautiful. In fact, our world is more like a puzzle. If you throw out the pieces that you don’t like, the whole picture doesn’t come together, and you end up with a broken, leprous version instead. Basically, if we push away people who are vulnerable and disadvantaged, we are injuring ourselves. The reason I find the concept and approach of the Dancing on the Square project so appealing is that it creates a great experience and helps improve the self-image of kids who would otherwise never have an opportunity like this one. Ultimately, it draws them into a complex musical experience, demonstrating there’s a gentle ecstasy to classical music, and that it’s great to be surrounded by it, to move to it. I hope this beneficial virus is able to reach and infect as many people as possible!”

(The 2016-17 Dancing On The Square project is made possible with the support of EEA Grants, within the framework of the programme area for inter-cultural dialogue between Roma and non-Roma.)

Community Weeks

Once again in 2017-2018, the orchestra will be holding three free Community Weeks in abandoned synagogues, childcare institutions, churches and retirement homes. Meanwhile, as part of this year’s 2016-2017 season, there will still be two special weeks like this in May and in June. The orchestra’s chamber ensembles will be giving Synagogue Concerts in the Hungarian towns of Orosháza, Tokaj, Esztergom and Mezőtúr. Performances for children will be held, among others, at the You Have a Place Studio in Ózd, the children’s home in Fót, and in the towns of Kisújszálás, Zsámbék and Salgótarján; and they will also be performing in several churches: in Kiskőrös, Balassagyarmat and Debrecen. In the space of two weeks, they will give 24 concerts at retirement homes, including the Újpest elder home of the Budapest Jewish Faith Community, the Aranysziget Home in the Castle of Nagymágocs, and the Dunakeszi Social Services Centre’s elder home.