Concerto Budapest preview (fuller version)


by Christopher Morley
After two years of pandemic lockdown concert life is gradually getting back to normal, and on June 9 Symphony Hall welcomes Concerto Budapest on its debut tour to this country.
Andras Keller, Concerto's Chief Conductor and Artistic Director, is thrilled at the prospect.
"Going on tours again is crucial for us.. It was before the lockdown when we last went on a tour, which took us to France. We can travel again only after two years of being in lockdown, and to the UK at that! The mere fact that we are among the first orchestras to tour there is a great honour, and we are very happy to visit Britain first. I much look forward to our performance in the Birmingham Symphony Hall, which the Hungarian Radio will stream live."
Concerto Budapest's programme combines one of Hungary's greatest masterpieces (Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra) with masterpieces by Mozart and Beethoven, as Andras explains.
"In Birmingham, we'll take to the stage with some emblematic pieces of the classical repertoire, as Bartók's Concerto is perhaps one of the greatest symphonic works of the 20th century. It is both national and European music, addresses everyone and incorporates the ideal of the fraternity of peoples.
"Bartók is the heir and successor of Beethoven's revolutionary art and legacy. It is, therefore, a great experience to play Beethoven and Bartók at the same concert. Beethoven's Symphony No.5 hooks both the audience and the performers every time since the content and expressivity of the composition gets at our guts. There are no words to say something new about it, but hopefully, with our hearts and our expression, we'll be able to.
"Mozart's marvellous Piano Concerto in A major, K488", can delight anyone anywhere in the world. In today's turbulent world, when the fundamental values of humanity are questioned, we might need classical values and art more than ever. Basically, this programme doesn't resemble other programmes I usually compile, but this time, I've decided to delve into a classical repertoire.
"As to your question regarding openness, I can only claim that contemporary music lovers have met me worldwide. I am the artistic director of several contemporary music festivals, and as the head of the Keller Quartet and Concerto Budapest, a number of world premieres of contemporary works are linked to my name.
In my opinion, both Beethoven and Mozart can be our contemporaries if we can hear them in a genuinely authentic performance, which we need more and more."

We live in such difficult political times, never mind the pandemic. Does this affect people's approach to music-making (not just you and the orchestra personally), is my next question to Andras.
"As to the political part of your question: culture may never and in no case be subject to politics. We are all influenced by the world around us, but music-making itself is not, as the musicians turn into the music they play and articulate. Notes are not affected by wars and pandemics since they stand above it all. All a performer has to do is perform compositions of the highest possible quality."

Soloist in the Mozart piano concerto is the renowned Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt, originally coming to our attention with her amazingly insightful performances of the keyboard music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Was it anything of a struggle moving away from that perception?

"I've always had a huge repertoire," Angela replies.
"Of course Bach has always been a major part of it, but ever since I was a young pianist, I've played works from the Baroque to the contemporary. That's part of being a good musician! When I was a teenager I was actually more well-known for my interpretations of the big Romantic works of Liszt (B-minor Sonata, Dante Sonata) and Schumann (his Sonatas Op. 11 and 22 among other works) than for Bach. Or at least everyone knew that I could play Bach—they just took that for granted since I grew up with an organist father. So for me it was never a struggle to move away from Bach. Of course many people still think that's all I play, but they're just lazy. If they look at my discography alone for Hyperion they will see the wide range it covers—from Couperin to Messiaen, and including the complete Beethoven Sonatas, a ton of French repertoire, and many albums of Romantic music. To this day I still play a wide range of composers in concert, though of course I'm asked a lot to play Bach and that will stay with me until my dying day."
Angela then goes on to tell me about her relationship with the wonderful Mozart A major Concerto.
"This was, I think, the first Mozart Concerto I played, along with the No.9 K271. So they both occupy a special place in my heart and my mind. It's also very easy to play them (well not easy, but…!) because when you learn a piece so young it stays with you in a way that a piece learned much later in life doesn't.
"|So I don't have to spend days and days or weeks and weeks studying it beforehand. I can pick it up in two days - no problem (in fact, I once picked it up in a matter of hours when I was asked to fill in for a pianist who never arrived for Edward Heath's 80th Birthday concert at Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath with the English Chamber Orchestra—they called me at 5 pm and the concert was at 7:30 pm…!).
"Perhaps that's one reason why it's really not a problem to keep it fresh. Plus the freshness is in the music… if you play this music with the joy it demands, then it will always be there for you. I'm not worried about playing this six times on the upcoming tour with Concerto Budapest and Andras Keller: I'm sure it will be a wonderful experience every time. If a piece of music is good (and this is not just good but sublime), then you never get tired of it."
*Concerto Budapest Symphony Orchestra perform at Symphony Hall, Birmingham on June 9 (7.30pm). Details on 0121-780 3333 and

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