Budapest Festival Orchestra
September 04, 2018

“The BFO makes other orchestras look routine and oafish”

“Oh, that all concerts were like its visit to the Proms last week with conductor Ivan Fischer.” Critical review by Igor Toronyi-Lalic, Spectator.

Looney Tunes was always at its best when soundtracked by a Hungarian gypsy dance. (Watch ‘Pigs in a Polka’ if you don’t believe me.) It’s music that was made to chase small cartoon animals — and terrify conductors. The gunshot syncopations. The hand-break turns in tempi. The banana-skin portamenti and rubato ravines… Musical tripwires everywhere.

Nothing to faze conductor Ivan Fischer, however. Last week at the Proms, with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, Fischer was giving a guided tour of Hungarian gypsy music and its century-long cohabitation with classical music. It was a masterclass. Without breaking a sweat, he suavely explained the provenance of each piece to the audience, then swung round into the line of fire, Bugs Bunny-ing his way through the musical grapeshot, all while balancing the hair-raising needs of two gypsy violinists and a cimbalom player. As he bowed, I half expected him to whip out a carrot and cross his legs with a ‘What’s up, Doc?’

Gypsy culture was to 19th-century classical music what rhythm and blues became to 20th-century pop. Part cultural exchange, part stolen goods. Not that the gypsies did too bad out of it — they often pinched back the rearranged tunes and fed it to their customers as echt gypsy. At this Prom, Fischer was trying to give the gypsies their dues. Centre stage: three extraordinary gypsy performers, who were invited to cut right across the canonical dances and rhapsodies by Liszt, Brahms and Sarasate with pleasing disregard for taste or propriety.

You can read the full article here.