ANDRAS KELLER AND CONCERTO BUDAPEST
by Christopher Morley
Cheltenham Town Hall will be the venue on September 15 for a six-concert whistle-stop tour of Great Britain from Concerto Budapest. This follows a successful tour to the UK last year, returning to public performance after carrying out valuable work online during lockdown.
Conductor Andras Keller tells me about the orchestra’s history.
“It was following an application process in 2007 that I came to be the head of this orchestra with its history dating back more than 100 years, which we renamed as Concerto Budapest in 2009 (it was previously known as the Post Office Symphony Orchestra and the Magyar Telekom Symphony Orchestra). Since then, it has earned considerable international respect for the city of Budapest and brought many global stars here – I hope the time will come one day when the Hungarian capital will also recognise our successes as is appropriate, as we consider ourselves ambassadors for Hungary.”
The orchestra also has an impressive roster of affiliated artists and composers. How did this come to be achieved? Andras talks me proudly through the roll-call.
“Péter Eötvös joined Concerto Budapest as its first resident composer in 2022, as did Mikhail Pletnev as resident soloist – these outstanding artists consider the orchestra to be world class and believe its broad and profound repertoire to have its own sound, viewpoint and distinctive playing style in any genre. But they were perhaps most attracted to the fact that there are few orchestras in the world that are able to play with such joy, passion and heart... György Kurtág is the orchestra’s honourary president, one of my most important teachers, my relationship with him is fundamental and defining.”
Concerto Budapest certainly boasts a lively repertoire. Andras tells me how he came to devise the programme for the forthcoming tour.
“Of all the factors to consider, the one I am most interested in and believe to be the greatest challenge is how the works set alongside each other are able to influence one another. For me, it is a question of whether the unique situation of having them played at the same time and in the same place can open up new dimensions.
“For this tour, Concerto Budapest will present the audience with a classical, romantic programme. Primarily, it will be one of Mozart’s most special works, his Symphony No. 40 in G minor (K. 550), and Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 3, which is also the final work he completed and will be performed in collaboration with Pierre-Laurent Aimard, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 Eroica) that provide the spine of the programme.
“I always felt an extraordinary connection between Bartók and Beethoven: Bartók is in my opinion a direct descendant of Beethoven in the 20th century.
On certain dates of the tour, we will present Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 and, at the start of the tour in Croydon, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concert No. 2, the latter with the talented young Hungarian soloist Mihály Berecz.”
Concerto Budapest is obviously a hard-working orchestra, I observe.
“I think so too”” is Andras’ response. “We actually had gone online during the Pandemic years. This meant not only realizing nearly all of the planned concerts of the seasons but also creating a new way of reaching put to an even wider audience. Together with Imre Szabó-Stein, my chief advisor of international strategy, who is also a music film director from time to time we had grand scale, film-like live online streams on the opening page of Hungary's largest news portal of our thematic projects like Beethoven Day or Mozart Day and many others receiving a total of 1.5 million reach of audience... Besides we created a film for MEZZO TV which won the New York Festivals TV&Film Awards Silver Award with " Carpathian Rhapsody" which is still in Mezzo's prime time programme.”
Not only is Andras Keller a visionary conductor, he is also a violinist, and holds positions at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, as he tells me.
“I was a professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama for many years. I am currently holder of the Béla Bartók International Chair, which is the school’s most prestigious accolade, and I also run violin masterclasses in addition to working with the school’s orchestras as a conductor.”
Andras concludes by telling me how pleased he is to be programming the Third Piano Concerto by Bartok, Hungary’s greatest composer.
“I am delighted that we will perform Bartók’s final great work, which can be regarded as both closure and summary of his life’s work, with Pierre-Laurent Aimard, one of the world’s finest performers of Hungarian music. In a musical sense, we consider Pierre-Laurent to be an honorary Hungarian!”
*Concertp Budapest perform at Cheltenham Town Hall on September 15