Budapest Festival Orchestra
Uncategorized October 24, 2013


Iván Fischer needs no introduction. The whole world knows him as a brilliant conductor. As a winner of two conductor’s competitions he has also won places on podiums round the world, and has enjoyed a global reputation for conducting and leading the most finest orchestras. The Budapest Festival Orchestra, which he founded, has been one of the ten best orchestras in the world for many years (

I am not a real music connoisseur, but the Festival Orchestra is one of the orchestras whose music is able to send shivers down my spine and evoke images in my mind. Today I wear a hearing aid (tuned to music) to hear the music, but as long as I am able to listen to it this way, I will always look for Fischer.

I recently learnt that he has already made his first efforts in composing music. Many of his pieces are regularly included in music programmes abroad by the most renowned orchestras. Furthermore, he has already held composer’s evenings in a number of countries. It is typical of the situation in Hungary that he made his debut as a composer in his homeland on the 13th and 14th of this month only.

It is my country’s fault that barely any news was heard about it before or even after the concerts. Because Iván Fischer deserves better than that, since he is one of the standard-bearers of our country’s reputation. And because the performance was not merely good or interesting, but also exciting. Exciting, as both parts of the concert were full of surprises.

The first part was characterised by an international overview of the composer’s profile and his broad knowledge. Instead of providing a complete list, I will only mention three pieces I regarded as the climax of the evening: the Shudh Sarang Sextet was not only able to create an Indian atmosphere, but also used a typical Indian instrument, the table; the Spinoza translations proved to be an extraordinary opportunity for the composer’s daughter to demonstrate her remarkable skill. According to the composer, the piece is “...a chain of free associations in which the words of Glazemaker [who translated the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus into “ancient” Dutch in 1693] provide an opportunity for the playful appearance of various musical forms.” Finally, an extremely exciting piece of the Japanese Noh theatre entitled Tsuchigumo – “a satiric opera performed in six languages” as the composer nicknamed it – which held the audience in awe with its imaginative plot, fitting music as well as the extraordinary dance scene of the protagonist.

The international character of the first part was underlined by an Italian choral work (La Malinconia) performed by Dutch singers and a Gypsy song.

The second part included the world premiere of a piece published under a unique title: The Red Heifer. Its content is a musical protest against rampant racism. The Tiszaeszlár blood libel has recently been used by one of the Jobbik MPs to incite anti-Semitic hatred.

This made the composer realise the ambition he has had for some twenty years: in the shape of an opera, he has finally exposed the horrible incident to the world. After a lengthy delay, there is no better time than now to stage the piece when the power-hungry guard that rules the country is unable to disband extreme right organisations or to prevent the reincarnation of the Horthy era.

I would sound pompous if I wanted to work out the musical values of the one-act opera. The point is, however, that I was captivated by the content, but I could also enjoy the music. I have heard and read about the shocking barbaric act in question, but it has just struck me now that a little boy could be made a witness and testify against his own father in court. A dreadful sin. And how many horrors like that have been committed by fascists, communists and religious fanatics in their nasty forges since then. If the composition were nothing more than an analysis of this terror, it would still count as a valuable piece.

But it is more than that: it draws attention to anti-Semitism embedded in wider society as well as to the fact that our truly great thinkers – Lajos Kossuth, Károly Eötvös – stood up for the Jewish people with profound conviction. And Krúdy, who was badly shaken by the incident, served as a guide for the composer.

Several prominent artists have stuck up for the composer and acted as co-writers.

It was an unforgettable experience, and will remain so.


Iván Fischer introduced himself as a composer for the first time in his homeland, Hungary. It may sound strange since he is world-famous conductor, and had already presented most of his compositions abroad.

It is not his fault, it is the fault of the unbearable atmosphere in the country. One of the peak events of anti-Semitism, a referral in Parliament to Tiszaeszlár, urged him to compose an opera on the subject of this crazy blood libel (1882).

This opera, in one act, was the second part of his concert on the 13th and 14th of this month. The first part consisted of extremely diverse compositions. I mention only one here, the brilliant Tsuchigumo (The Monstrous Spider) as he calls it: a satirical opera in six languages. Wonderful!

If you have the chance to see any of his performances, do not hesitate.

(And be careful, he sticks to the Hungarian spelling of Iván!)