Iván Fischer’s high-quality free public concert in Budapest’s Heroes Square

HungaryHungary Budapest 150 celebration concert: Budapest Festival Orchestra / Iván Fischer (conductor). Heroes Square, Budapest, 2.9.2023. (AK)

Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra © Ákos Stiller

Patrik Oláh – Fusion – „off-white”
Beethoven – Symphony No.3, Eroica

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the unification of Pest, Buda and Óbuda into the city Budapest, the 100th anniversary of the 1923 centenary celebrations resulting in the compositions of Bartók’s Dance Suite / Kodály’s Psalmus Hungaricus / Dohnányi’s Celebration Overture and – last but not least – the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, a deeply moving and high-quality open-air event was presented by Iván Fischer and the BFO.

The venue was the magnificent Heroes Square, the largest square in Budapest. I do not have reliable figures for the people capacity of the square but my estimate is several times that of the Royal Albert Hall.

Audience on their paper stools seeing and hearing the Budapest Festival Orchestra in Heroes Square © Gábor Halász

Fischer’s standing is such that it filled the large square to full capacity. The event was free, strong paper stools were provided for the audience who could watch the two speeches (by Gergely Karácsonyi, Budapest’s Mayor and Fischer respectively) as well as the one-hour long concert by looking either at the stage or at one of the two large screens on both sides of the stage. I had the luxury of seeing the stage as well as both screens; it is likely that much of the audience had the same privilege.

The audience was fully attentive throughout. They came to hear and see; they came to pay their respect to Fischer and the BFO. This was a sharp contrast to my experiences at opera screenings in Trafalgar Square in former times where consumption of self-brought food and drink seemed to be taken for granted as audience participation.

The BFO and the city of Budapest under the leadership of the Mayor Gergely Karácsonyi facilitated a composition competition to honour the triple anniversary. The task was to compose a celebratory overture which would celebrate the 150th anniversary of the unification of Budapest, its complex history as well as the multicultural identity of the city. The winner was Patrik Oláh, a young composer of probably Roma background who three years ago composed the first Mass in the Lovari language (which is a Hungarian dialect of the Roma language). The composition, Le Devleske (To God), fused elements of classical music, liturgy and Roma music.

For the Budapest 150 festive overture competition Oláh’s winning composition was Fusion – „off-white”. It is about eight minutes long, which is – by accident or design – the same length as Dohnányi’s Celebration Overture for the centenary celebration in 1923. On one hearing and without looking at the score it is hard to form a reliable picture of the piece. However, it was enjoyable and exciting, no doubt partly because of the committed performance by Fischer and the BFO.

Fischer and the BFO presented the Eroica magnificently at BBC Prom 39 some three weeks ago (see review here). This time, their knowledge and skills served a greater purpose than musical enjoyment. History, past and present, vibrated in the air and unified the large crowd in Heroes Square. Fischer’s pre-concert speech and subsequent exemplary musical delivery was a masterclass in meaningful purpose and successful communication. Politicians of the world, take note.

Agnes Kory

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