In the third part of our article series, we try to sum up the most important cultural events of the EU presidency in March.
The 31st Budapest Spring Festival was doubtlessly one of the most significant events happening in Hungary in this period. Naturally, the programme line-up reflected both the Liszt bicentennary and the EU presidency: each day featured a Liszt-related programme, and following the tradition that the BSF hosts a different country, region or city every year, in this special year the festival invited guest performances from all EU member countries. Therefore, numerous international productions were included in the programme, which listed almost a hundred events and lasted for 17 days from 18th March.
The cultural institutions of EU-member states put on joint programmes at the Budapest Spring Festival on April 2. One-act plays of young authors, a round table discussion and world music concerts were followed by an international gala concert called Jazz Locomotive. This is the name of the series which has brought Hungarian and Romanian jazz life closer to each other, but this time the concert showcased a multinational band. The Jazz Locomotive, never a club only for members, had already taken on passengers from Denmark, Slovakia, Estonia and Great Britain, so the series was quickly growing into a regular European workshop. As a result, in 2011 the Jazz Locomotive gala in the Uránia National Film Theatre in Budapest on the EUNIC Day featured a band in which each member had come from a different country. The artistic director of the band was guitar player István Gyárfás, one of the most renowned figures of mainstream jazz in Hungary.
On 6th March, the Hungarian Institute of Culture in Brussels brought a colorful mixture of artists from the EU trio countries (Spain, Belgium and Hungary) to the Trio Fiesta. Ever since 2007, the acting EU presidency countries have worked in closer cooperation in the scheme of the 18-month EU trio period, and this multi-arts programme was initiated in the framework of the current Spanish-Belgian-Hungarian cooperation. Besides the various literature and music performances, the guests could also get a taste of national culinary specialties at this international event.
From wunderkind to wonderman, or how to become a mature artist from a prodigious child – one of the special features of Liszt's career. In Sopron (Hungary’s 'civitas fidelissima'), on the occasion of the Liszt Year, Hungarofest Nonprofit Ltd. and Pro Kultúra Nonprofit Ltd. Sopron co-organized the Wunderkind Symposion on 18-19th March. Franz Liszt was born and raised in Raiding (Doborján in Hungarian), Burgenland. The child of extraordinary talent held his first concert in Sopron. Amazing teenage musical talents and virtuosi have been found in large numbers ever since, but the aim of the 2011 Sopron Syposium and the related interdisciplinary European level cooperation was to help gifted children living a full childhood become trained and well-balanced musicians later.
The world premiere of Excelsior!, an opera written by Gyula Fekete (music) and András Papp (libretto), took place on 18th March at Thália Theatre. The performance, which is a co-production of the Hungarian State Opera House and the Budapest Spring Festival, is a semi-serious opera in two acts, bearing strong reminiscences of the musical language of Wagner and Liszt, however, there are no direct quotes from any of their compositions. The conductor of the production was Gergely Kassák, the young Liszt was sung by Attila Fekete, while Tamás Fodor played the old Liszt.
In March, the Hungarian capital saw the launch of two temporary exhibitions related to Liszt, which were organised in association with the Budapest Spring Festival. The Franz Liszt Memorial Museum put on the Franz Liszt and Budapest exhibition at the composer's last residence, where he held his regular lessons as well. The exhibition opening featured a recital by pianist Péter Nagy. Designed by director Zsuzsanna Domokos, the photo display embraced Liszt's stay in Pest (later Budapest) from his first recital in 1823 to his last recital in 1886.
At the same time, the Liszt and „Gypsy music” exhibition opened in the Museum of Ethnography, and it is currently still on. The exhibition sets out to present a narrow but important slice of our national culture: it aims to show the process of Hungarian folk music consolidating into Hungarian culture, being popularized by Gypsy music bands widely across the country. The organisers are Balázs Szuhay and Krisztina Pálóczy. The next programme is on 9th July at 3 p.m., when Krisztina Pálóczy leads a guided tour through the display, followed by Sándor Bura and his band playing live Gypsy music in the hall.
Not only Liszt-themed exhibitions were opened in this month, and not only in Hungary, either. The Hungarian Embassy organised an interactive event for young children in the Hague, Fabulous Europe, which aimed to open a window for local pupils to Hungary and Europe. Márta Horváth, Hungarian puppeteer and puppet-designer presented different European folk-tales and shared the secrets of how to make a puppet-show or cartoon, and the children could also try their creativity and talent for fable-illustration.
In Brussels, the successful series of performances by Hungarian artists also continued. Accord Quartet played the Erkel Award-winner Gyula Fekete’s second string quartet for the first time at the international festival Ars Musica. First they proved their talent on the stage of the Royal Conservatory (Conservatoire Royal de Bruxelles) on 22nd March, then they fascinated the public of the Hungarian Institute. It had not been the first time in Brussels for Péter Mező (violin), Csongor Veér (violin), Péter Kondor (viola), and Mátyás Ölveti (cello), and they had great memories connected to the Hungarian Institute, too. At the beginning of their career, prior to making their first record, they played Gyula Fekete’s first string quartet at the institute’s inauguration ceremony.
Strange as it may seem, we must also mention the Danube Strategy in the list of cultural programmes, as apart from having been one of the priorities of the Hungarian EU presidency, the Strategy also has important cultural aspects. Hence the Hungarian Danube Cultural Cluster’s initiation to organise its first international conference in Vienna, Danube+. New dimensions, new synergies. The idea of the conference belongs to Márton Méhes, the director of Collegium Hungaricum in Vienna, but the need for a new cultural network of countries along the Danube was already there during the strategy planning. This need shows very well in the participation at the conference, which was beyond expectations: 21 countries came with almost 300 delegates altogether. Romania and Bulgaria, the coordinators of the cultural programme within the Strategy were also present with a larger number, drawing attention to the significance of the event.
After an eventful month of March, April was to bring yet more exhibitions, conferences, developments – and more music as well.