Budapest Festival Orchestra
Interviews April 08, 2014


One of our greatest festivals, Easter, is even more important this year because this holy celebration will fall on the same day for both Eastern and Western Christian churches. The Budapest Festival Orchestra has organised a festive programme in this context, featuring the excellent conductor Dmitri Kitayenko and violinist Sergei Krylov.

The Budapest Festival Orchestra was founded in 1983 by Iván Fischer and Zoltán Kocsis. The young orchestra has already been voted one of the world's top ten symphony orchestras by international critics. It is praised by international critics for its intensive and emotionally gripping performances. The Budapest Festival Orchestra undertakes to present its programmes not only in the Hungarian capital and in the international arena, but also in Hungary, in cities other than Budapest. This is why they will perform in Győr on 15 April in Holy Week. I asked Orsolya Erdődy, deputy executive director of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, about the music programme at the evening.

- Before finalising a concert programme, the Budapest Festival Orchestra naturally asks guest conductors or soloists what they would like to play, so we decide upon the concert programme together. Having been our guest conductor many times before, Dmitri Kitayenko will again perform with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, and this time he even recommended a very beautiful programme, suitable for Holy Week and Easter. This is because, similarly to an overture, the first piece of the concert will be the profound Russian Easter Festival Overture by Rimsky-Korsakov. Conductor Kitayenko reasoned that this year the Russian Easter, i.e. the Orthodox Easter, and the Christian Easter will fall on the same date. In Russia, this is the greatest and most beautiful religious celebration, which is why he opted for the grand Rimsky-Korsakov "Russian Easter Festival Overture". This is a rarely played piece of work, so we are really glad to perform such a curiosum in Budapest and Győr, which, interestingly, even features well-known themes borrowed from Russian Orthodox liturgy, so audiences or those interested in Russian liturgical and Byzantine music can enjoy this overture. This will definitely be a huge experience for them. This is the opening piece, followed by the deservedly popular and well-known Symphony No. 9 by Shostakovich. Although the latter was composed after World War II, and so it is relatively gloomy, it still perhaps evokes the world of the Viennese Classics a little, and in this respect the piece is not gloomy, but rather hopeful. Let me also mention our great soloist at the concert, violinist Sergei Krylov, who will perform the very fine Violin Concerto by Prokofiev, which is in fact the music of spring, since each and every sound in it is the manifestation and glimmer of renewal. It is quite a fresh, dynamic and joyful violin concerto, and therefore fits perfectly into this festive Easter programme. Our last piece is a commemoration, since we will perform the “The Knight of the Rose” suite by Richard Strauss; as we all know we are commemorating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Richard Strauss this year, so we will play this composition in his honour.

We’ve already talked about the conductor and the violinist, now let us turn our attention to the Festival Orchestra. To what extent do Russian music and musicians currently play a decisive role in the orchestra’s life?

- Each season has its own focal point, so to speak. In the current 2013-14 concert season, for example, we are focusing on Czech music, since the season started and will end with Dvořák. In September we played several of his symphonies at the Bridging Europe festival in Budapest, and even Dvořák’s seldom-heard Requiem, while the season-closing opera in Budapest will be Rusalka. Russian music and works are a recurring part of our repertoire, we gladly and regularly play Russian compositions. This is how we finalised the programme, which we are really proud of, and it is a great pleasure to perform this fascinating compilation for other audiences as well.

Do you hear about the Philharmonic Orchestra of Győr?

- I personally know about them, and I keep track of Hungarian ensembles’ work and activities. I picture the Philharmonic Orchestra of Győr as a very colourful and experimental ensemble, since they participate in various productions ranging from popular music to classical music played by a smaller ensemble or even a larger orchestra. So I see that they perform and experiment with numerous programmes. There is no denying that this is advantageous for the orchestra and its members alike, who can always test their knowledge in different situations and styles.

The orchestra holds many surprises for music lovers at the concert on 15 April, more on that later, but until then let’s focus on the “Soldiers' Chorus” by Gounod. After Gounod’s Soldiers’ Chorus comes an ascertainment, or ars poetica, of the Budapest Festival Orchestra; classical music does not come from the devil, said Orsolya Erdődy when explaining why the orchestra decided to shift the boundaries between musicians and audiences, thus bringing them closer to each other. Orchestras that aim to attract younger audiences as well need to be open-minded, because many people steer clear of classical music. Often this refusal is due to a lack of knowledge and experience – as we all know. We continue our discussion with deputy executive director Orsolya Erdődy with this, among other things, but now let’s find out what will be new at the Budapest Festival Orchestra’s concert in Győr on 15 April.

- In Győr, just like anywhere else, we want to present the orchestra’s diversity in addition to its quality merits. So before our evening concert in Győr, we will be in the city in the afternoon to bring our very popular and fascinating “The BFO Comes Knocking” programme to the locals, where the target audiences are primarily music school students and high school students. Mini master courses will be available for talented students, who would like to demonstrate their knowledge in front of one of the Festival Orchestra artists. This is a very good opportunity for young people to get inspiration, since it is always interesting to play music to a member of a world-famous orchestra, and present the piece they are currently working on. But this mission, or let’s say task, is very interesting and important even to us, because we often discover great talent during such auditions, with whom the Festival Orchestra subsequently stays in contact. And if teachers ask us to listen to the student’s play once more, or give them advice on how to prepare for a competition, then we are really glad to do so. Another part of the programme is that the orchestra artists give brief concerts at various venues. I cannot say at the moment where exactly these events will take place in Győr, but they may be in schools, nursery schools, orphanages or old people’s homes, but one time for example the orchestra even played in a municipal maternity ward to young mothers in Pécs. So this is another very exciting and colourful event when locals can bump into the artists of the Festival Orchestra in the streets, at the post office or even in the shopping centre, bringing them closer to classical music.

Yes, that could be a pivotal idea. How can you attract to concert halls those who are wary of either symphonic music or symphony orchestras, or classical music, I mean what can be done to lower the age of concert goers?

- We do not consider the situation too problematic, but we certainly have to work on it as well. A lot of young people and children attend our concerts, but perhaps not our evening concerts. Everyone loves music, but is not necessarily very familiar with classical music. People don’t really need to be persuaded to like classical music, instead they just need to be familiarised with it. Age-groups should be addressed in their own languages and at their own level. This is why we developed a music teaching programme whereby we offer various projects to different age groups from children to young people. The little ones, who are just 4 or 5 years old, are welcome to attend our “Cocoa Concerts”, which feature shorter pieces of music. Then there are “Taste of Musical Instruments” sessions for pupils who do not play any instrument yet. In terms of high school students, we think they are immersed in all things visual, visual arts, videos and pictures. Our “See and hear!” film competition is clearly targeted at them. As for those who are almost grown-up, young adults and university students, we think the circumstances need to be changed. We carried out a survey to find out whether university students like to go to concerts or not, and if not really, then why. Three things needed to be changed, which seemed to be a general opinion: the venue, the timing, and ticket prices for the concerts. We do not play music for them at the Palace of Arts or at the Academy of Music, but at a place they like to go to. These concerts generally do not start at 7 or 7.30pm, but around midnight.

So it is a tried-and-tested scheme.

Exactly. Our “Midnight Music” concerts are usually sold-out for example. Young people do not sit on chairs during the concerts, so the whole thing is not arranged as if it was a concert hall with a stage and auditorium; they can sit among or beside the musicians. They may be curious for example how loud the timpani sounds, and so drag their beanbag next to the timpani to listen to their sound during the concert. And this is a very interesting experience.

This doesn’t bother the orchestra members does it?

- No, not at all. They don’t even wear their normal concert attire on such occasions, so they don’t perform wearing tuxedos or tailcoats but just in their normal street clothes, indicating that we would like to remove the barriers and borders between audiences and orchestra members – and so between audiences and classical music.

We interviewed Orsolya Erdődy, BFO deputy executive director, since Győr will host the Budapest Festival Orchestra’s forthcoming concert thanks to the János Sándor season ticket programme. The music programme on 15 April is aligned to Holy Week, featuring the Russian Easter Overture by Rimsky-Korsakov, Symphony No. 9 by Shostakovich, Violin Concerto No. 1 by Prokofiev and The Knight of the Rose suite by Strauss. The conductor will be Dmitri Kitayenko, while the guest musician will be violinist Sergei Krylov.