Photo: Bálint Hrotkó / Müpa Budapest

06. 09. 2023.

Premieres That Make Music History, Legendary Ensembles and Contemporary Productions Evoke the Spirit of Liszt – Here’s the Complete Programme of the Liszt Fest

Not only did Ferenc Liszt transform the music history of the 19th century, his influence continues to be felt two centuries on, whether in classical, contemporary or popular music, or even jazz, literature and dance. ‘This is our third Liszt Fest, and looking at the list of performers, it is a pleasure to see how Liszt’s validity has remained unchanged since the 19th century, how his art and œuvre continue to exert a strong influence on today’s performers,’ writes Csaba Káel in his words of welcome in the programme guide of the Liszt Fest International Cultural Festival. And indeed, the guests of this festival of the arts, held between 11 and 22 October, are all modern-day standard-bearers of the Liszt experience.

One of the most hotly anticipated performances of the festival is undoubtedly the Hungarian premiere of Liszt’s unfinished opera. Sardanapalo, which was inspired by Byron’s tragedy and has survived as a fragment, was restored to a performance-worthy state by British music historian David Trippett and his team, and will be performed for the first time in a Hungarian concert hall by the Staatskapelle Weimar, together with one of Liszt’s most important orchestral compositions, the Dante Symphony. 

If Liszt shaped 19th-century Romanticism, the same is true of György Ligeti, György Kurtág and 20th-century contemporary music. In addition to this attribute, the two geniuses were also bound together by a friendship of six decades, and the 2023 Liszt Fest pays tribute to their work with several of the performances. ‘It is after many years of organization that the premieres of Sardanapalo and Fin de partie now take place, which makes these two rare moments in music history a particular delight to see,’ says Janina Szomolányi, Operative Director of the festival. The Hungarian premiere of the 97-year-old György Kurtág’s only opera, which is based on Samuel Beckett’s drama, will be a concert performance, featuring a cast almost identical with that of the Milan world debut. György Ligeti’s 100th birthday will be celebrated by three accomplished Hungarian interpreters of modern music, László Borbély, Gábor Csalog and János Palojtay, who will perform selected piano pieces from Ligeti’s Musica ricercata and the series of études. 

In all periods throughout his long career, Liszt created enduring works, leaving behind an incredibly rich œuvre. The Clayton–Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, which has a legendary standing in jazz circles, has also enjoyed a career spanning decades. The Budapest concert of the stylistically innovative big band features two talents who also stand out in their own genre, Japanese virtuoso of the Hammond organ Akiko Tsuruga, and Hungarian soul diva Gigi Radics. The Kronos Quartet, which has redefined the concept of the string quartet and rewritten the rulebook of the genre, is to synthesize the lessons of half a century at a concert that features Iranian singer Mahsa Vahdat. Polish pianist and composer Hania Rani is still too young to own a career of such length, but her softly falling melodic fabric of jazz and electronic music has made her one of the most sought-after performers of the genre. Unsurprisingly, her Budapest concert has been sold out for months.  

Liszt’s virtuosic piano pieces have challenged many a performer, but Gergely Bogányi is up to the task, and the programme of his joint concert with the legendary Angelica Girls’ Choir and choirmaster Zsuzsanna Gráf even contains pieces that are not exactly part of the popular Liszt repertoire. In addition to a closed cycle created from the composer’s lesser-known piano pieces and accompanied choral works, the programme includes a piece originally written as a duet with piano accompaniment. The German Offenburg String Trio also seeks to bring such chamber music back from oblivion that has unfairly fallen out of favour with the public. The programme of their concert at the festival selects from the serenades of Hungarian composers whose careers started in the first half of the 20th century.

Yet it would be a mistake to define Ferenc Liszt solely as a pianist, because the world-renowned musician was a much more versatile artist: a conductor, a highly influential teacher and writer on music, a boldly innovative composer. A similar artistic daring characterises János Feledi, whose productions never fail to make a stir in the Hungarian dance scene with their unique ideas, atmosphere and visuals. He now brings dance productions to the Liszt Fest that were inspired by the music of two contemporary composers, Roland Szentpáli and György Orbán, and on this single occasion the dancers will perform to live music. 

Like Liszt’s œuvre, the centuries-old tradition of Hungarian folk music, dance and song is an integral part of the Hungarian cultural landscape. The Hungarian National Dance Ensemble is among those who are most committed to keeping it alive, and they come to the festival with a new production, based on Benjamin Eredics’s composition, Castles, Warriors, Frontiers, which had its premiere in the spring. Four different sides of the world of Roma music are united in the joint production of the Boban Marković Orkestar, the Parno Graszt, Mónika Lakatos and the Romafest Gypsy Dance Theatre, conjuring up the traditional moments and atmosphere of Hungarian and Roma weddings on the stage. 

Just like the composer long ago, the mini-festivals of the Liszt Fest are constantly looking for new angles. Held at Akvárium Klub, Isolation Budapest fills a gap in the capital’s autumn programme with some of the hottest artists and bands of progressive popular music. With meet-the-author events, expert discussions and interviews, the Margó Literary Festival and Book Fair will bring the latest contemporary authors closer to the reading public, and last year’s winner of the Margó Prize, Diána Vonnák will also appear, as it is now a tradition, at a show dedicated to her. Art Market Budapest, the region’s most important international contemporary art fair, focuses on contemporary Roma art this year, while the PONT Festival will again seek to bring the wonders of the world to Budapest by making cultural values an experience.