BFO
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Press reviews February 21, 2019

Exciting, cheeky, stunningly great – after the Stravinsky tour

The Budapest Festival Orchestra was on tour with its Stravinsky line-up between 11 and 16 February, visiting Antwerp, Amsterdam and Udine. Like Hungarian audiences, concert-goers and critics raved about the remarkable atmosphere of the concerts, where despite the incredibly challenging programme, the orchestra still had energy to sing in angelic voices, and for two of its musicians - Noémi Molnár and Zoltán Fekete – to dance a passionate tango. Excerpts from the best critiques follow.

“As performed by the orchestra, The Rite of Spring is a true celebration. Fischer conducts the piece by heart, and his special relationship with the orchestra is in full bloom. His attention to detail shines through, which in the case of this dynamic piece is a real gift. The tension peaks, the audience feels their spines tingling – in particular during the second movement, entitled The Sacrifice –, and you come to understand perfectly why the 1913 premiere of the piece was a near-scandal.

The well-deserved, resounding applause – it is not every day that Belgian audiences give standing ovations – was followed by another surprise. And a truly unique surprise, at that: the entire orchestra sang (!) Stravinsky’s Ave Maria. A highly unusual concert with a wonderful ending.”

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Budapest Festival Orchestra and Iván Fischer

“The Budapest Festival Orchestra, led by Iván Fischer, gave a fantastic concert of Stravinsky’s works. This was an exciting, cheeky and stunningly great performance.

[…] And the Rite of Spring was still to come. Stravinsky’s scandalous 1913 work is an eternal masterpiece, which can’t be performed in muted tones. Rarely, however, is it performed as colourfully as it was by Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra. Their performance was the very embodiment of excitement and cheekiness, producing an especially clever result as if performed by a single living organism. The Spring Round Dances seemed so painfully slow and drawn-out that it felt like they were on the verge of breaking apart. Then, finally, they culminated in a grandiose, almost unrecognisable cacophony. The second movement kicked off with a bright cavalcade of sounds unchained, followed by daemonic acceleration and barbaric fanfares. Fischer conducted by heart, and himself performed a kind of wild sacrificial dance as he cued each of the crazy notes and irregular beats. It was extreme, but at the same time emphatic, yet free of overemphasis – and dazzlingly good.”

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“Is classical music difficult? Stravinsky composed complicated pieces: but does this mean that it is also difficult to listen to a concert showcasing only his works? The concert by Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra dispelled any possible doubts.

The orchestra was still getting in tune, with the musicians preparing their instruments for the first piece of the series. All of a sudden, out of the cacophony, Four Norwegian Moods began to emerge, even though the conductor was nowhere to be seen yet. A few seconds later, the doors opened, and Fischer appeared on the steps of the Concertgebouw, walking in to the rhythm of the music.

Smile

With this unexpected entrance, the musicians earned the first smiles from the audience. Next up was Tango, another brilliant piece. Just as the first notes were played, two musicians of the orchestra got up, leaving their instruments behind, and began dancing a passionate tango to the rhythm played by their fellow musicians. Real professionals. And yet more smiles.

So this is how one gets ready to listen to a challenging piece such as the Symphony of Psalms. After these “easier” pieces and the functional approach the orchestra took to them, no one noticed that this piece was not one that is easy to swallow. All this resulted in a musical experience which left shivers running down the spines of the audience. Let us also thank the RIAS Chamber Choir, which – keeping pace with the orchestra – provided the vocal accompaniment, exacting, yet soft in tone.

Noémi Molnár and Zoltán Fekete dancing to Stravinsky’s Tango performed by the Budapest Festival Orchestra

An innovative duo

The Budapest orchestra and Fischer make for a recognised Stravinsky ensemble, with their performance of The Rite of Spring once again proving the skills of this innovative duo. Stravinsky was a smart composer; Fischer and his team are, in their own ways, equally clever. Their performance was spine-tingling and maddening, as we witnessed their springtime sacrifice accompanied by blaring brass winds and grumbling-screeching strings.

And then they pulled another encore out of their hat: standing up, the orchestra sang Stravinsky’s Ave Maria as a choir. Those who stayed home, opting instead to watch Ajax vs. Real Madrid, chose poorly. The thing is, this magazine only allows a maximum of five stars for a review – otherwise, this performance would have deserved six.”

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Photo credits: István Kurcsák