What business do a catwalk, a gallows, a tablet computer or a psychologist have appearing on-stage during a classical music concert? The European Bartók tour of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, which has been received with standing ovations by audiences all over, provides the answers; and along the way, the orchestra’s new Mahler recording has found its way onto the Gramophone magazine’s top 10 list.
“The Festival Orchestra maintains the cultural renown of the nation at the high level it has fittingly held for centuries. No turn of political events could change that. The Iván Fischers, the Márta Sebestyéns, the Ildikó Komlósis and the Krisztián Csers make being Hungarian in a concert hall akin to being Meryl Streep at the Academy Awards or the Golden Globe gala – one simply gets used to it. Doors open, and the audience rises for a standing ovation” – wrote member of the Festival Orchestra’s audience, Gergő Sáfár, who has resided in London for many years, clearly reflecting on the international critical acclaim the orchestra’s European tour has received.
In the BFO’s latest Bartók project (The Miraculous Mandarin, The Wooden Prince), unusually, a catwalk was erected to split the stage. The production, joined by the Krisztián Gergye Company, was on a week-and-a-half long tour in Katowice, Brugge, Dortmund and London. In addition to the pieces above, the tour programme also featured the opera Bluebeard’s Castle with solo performances by Ildikó Komlósi (mezzo-soprano) and Krisztián Cser (bass). Kossuth Prize-winning folk singer Márta Sebestyén, joined by the orchestra’s folk ensemble (István Kádár, András Szabó and Zsolt Fejérvári), wowed the audience with her performance.
In Brugge, the Festival Orchestra gave three concerts, each novel in its own way and each receiving a standing ovation. As an introduction, Fischer conversed with a psychologist about the depth of the messages in Bluebeard’s Castle; the next time, he used a tablet device to play Bartók’s phonograph recordings while describing the composer’s process of collecting music. And at the third concert, he shared a humorous description of the story of The Miraculous Mandarin with the audience, while the orchestra played the themes of the key episodes of the piece. The audience was clearly moved.
Shooting Stars and Amazement
“Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra are real masters of Bartók; they have a feel for his music unlike anyone else,” says one Polish critical review. “BFO does not merely perform Bartók – they breathe him. Only very rarely does one encounter an understanding of music of this level anywhere in the world” another Polish review asserted. It was also following the concert in Katowice that we read how “Iván Fischer is one of the most prominent conductors of the 21st century,” and that one “could not imagine an ensemble better-suited for interpreting the renewing nature of European music.”
The Arts Desk had this to say of the London performance of the orchestra under the title “Unforgettable Hungarians”, giving it a five-star review: “It was far more than an excellent concert that carried you away. The audience got to witness the pure joy of making music.” “The quality of the orchestra as a whole was there to admire... this is an orchestra which – surely – does not have a single weak link,” they wrote. According to The Guardian, the concert was “thought-provoking and exhilaratingly enjoyable;” one which they, too, gave five stars. Bachtrack described the orchestra’s playing as “spotless,” with Cutting Edge highlighting the shiny brass instruments which carried one away, the technical prowess and originality of the woodwinds, and the percussion instruments, which were always there to serve as a steady partner.
Of Bluebeard’s Castle, the papers had this to say: “The orchestra’s performance was brilliant in every colour of the rainbow. Never in my life have I heard this many colours be brought to life. This was matched perfectly by Krisztián Cser’s wonderful, velvety bass and the phenomenal mezzo-soprano Ildikó Komlósi. I left the concert transfixed, and I still cannot believe what I witnessed,” and furthermore, “This was an astonishingly transparent and detailed performance that the audience heard of Bluebeard’s Castle as performed by the Festival Orchestra. The group is rightfully mentioned among the top ten orchestras of the world” – said Opera Today.
Another Top Placement
While the orchestra was on tour, Britain’s Gramophone magazine chose the Festival Orchestra’s most recent recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 as one of the top ten new CDs on the market. The full list is available here.