Looking Back On The Liszt Year In Hungary - In A Nutshell

  • 27 Mar 2012 9:00 AM
Looking Back On The Liszt Year In Hungary - In A Nutshell
"In 2011 hundreds of concerts, sereval exhibitions, publications and commemorating events were dedicated to Ferenc Liszt, born 200 years ago. Although we could not be present everywhere, we have covered most of the events in narrative or in pictures.

January: opening concerts

2011 January was the beginning not only of the Liszt Year, appointed an international anniversary by UNESCO, but also of the 6-month-long Hungarian presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Several concerts were organised around Europe for the double occassion: the most renowned musicians of Hungary played in Lisbon, Helsinki, Madrid, Berlin, Paris, London, the Baltics, Vienna and Brussels. It would be impossible to try and list the hundreds of artists who featured in the concerts, from Zoltán Kocsis and Iván Fischer to the Honvéd Male Choir, the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra, Gábor Farkas, Károly Mocsári and Dezső Ránki, to mention only a few.

The opening event of the series was the concert of the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zoltán Kocsis on 22th January. The programme included three of Liszt’s masterpieces: the symphonic poem Ce qu'on entend sur la montagne, which is one of the less often heard compositions, followed by an extremely popular one-movement piece, Hungarian Fantasia and finally, the Coronation Mass, which was written for the coronation ceremony of Franz Joseph I and his wife Elisabeth, King and Queen of Hungary. The concert CD was released last summer.

February: UMZF, EUphony, Budapest walks

The second month of the year focused on the young musician generation. The second edition of the UMZF Composition Competition was organized by the Budapest Music Center, the Palace of Arts Budapest, Concerto Budapest, and the UMZE Chamber Ensemble with the support of Hungarofest Klassz Music Office. The aim of the competiton was to promote and support the composition of new Hungarian pieces which were inspired by Liszt or his music. The final took place on 8th February at the Palace of Arts, with 7 young composers' competition pieces performed in front of an illustrious jury.

On 26th February, the region’s musical youth launched its new orchestra, EUphony, at the Palace of Arts, initiated by the Liszt Music Academy and led by conductor Zoltán Kocsis. Five prestigious academies in the central European region (in Budapest, Graz, Vienna, Zagreb and Ljubjana) joined forces to launch an orchestraic concert tour, delegating fifteen students altogether, who formed the Central European Youth Formation project.

The orchestra played works by four of the most influential Hungarian composers of the 19th and 20th centuries, including a Kocsis trancription of one of Liszt’s best known piano pieces, Vallé d'Obermann. The concert featured István Lajkó as soloist, who had given us several more apropos to talk about in an interview. The EUphony project will continue in 2012.

Agnes Watzatka's historical guidebook, Taking walks with Liszt in Budapest, which was published at the beginning of the year, presents more than a hundred places which are in one way or other related to the great Hungarian composer. The book was published in Hungarian and English as well.

March: Budapest Spring Festival

The Budapest Spring Festival, starting on 18th March offered a Liszt-related event for each day. The Csokonai Theatre Debrecen put the Christus oratorio on stage, on the same day with the Contemporary Ballet Szeged's Dante-symphony. Excelsior!, the new opera about Liszt, mixing historical facts with fantastic elements, written by Gyula Fekete and directed by Péter Gothár, was premiered at the BSF.

March also saw the launch of many exhibitions presenting the life of Liszt or contemporary artwork pieces inspired by the celebrated composer. The starting point of the Liszt and Gypsy music exhibition, displayed in the Museum of Ethnographywas Franz Liszt’s book On Gypsies and Gypsy Music published in Hungary in 1861, more precisely on the part of the book that deals directly with Gypsy music.

In the Liszt Memorial Museum, the building of Liszt's last residence in Pest, a temporary exhibition entitled Liszt and Budapest was launched on 18th March, displaying Liszt’s longer periods of time spent in Budapest. There were also other exhibitions organised in honour of Liszt - click here for the details.

April: Ferihegy, Coffeehouse concerts

Although the re-naming of the international Budapest airport had already been decided a month before, it only came into effect in a visible way in April, when the signs and information boards were changed.

At the Coffeehouse concert series, the splendid Lotz Hall of the Paris Department Store offered the atmosphere of an old world coffee-house for those who wished to come closer to the imposing figure of Liszt, at once virtuoso and devout, sophisticated man of the world and boldly experimenting artist. At the second one of the many concerts in the series, Kristóf Baráti and Ákos Hernádi performed Paganini, Schumann and Liszt-works.

May: church music and marathon

Three of Liszt's masses (Missa solennis, Szekszárd Mass, Coronation Mass) were performed in the first month of the Musica Sacra concert series in the Inner City Parish Church. The special feature of the masses was that they were performed in an environment corresponding to their original liturgical use, incorporated into the Tridentine rite mass. We asked Tamás Bubnó, artistic director of the programme series about the secrets of Liszt's church music.

The Vatican City hosted one of the most important events of the Hungarian EU presidency and the Liszt Year: Pope Benedict XVI attended a concert given in his honor by Zoltán Kocsis and the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir. Before the concert, the Head of Church, who greatly appreciates music, called Franz Liszt "a truly European artist" in his opening speech.The concert was a great success not only with the audience and the Hungarian diplomacy but also with the Holy Father.

A whole series of concerts in a lighter mood and relaxed atmosphere, as well as interactive performances, craft activities and delicious treats awaited visitors of all ages from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. at the Liszt-marathon on 22nd May at Millenáris. In the morning, Károly Mocsári and Erzsébet Kerek, masked as Tom&Jerry played the well-known Liszt tunes from the popular cartoon story, followed by - among other great performers - Concerto Budapest and Muzsikás later in the day.

Budapest Bár and the widely acclaimed Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra closed the marathon evening with a joint concert. We have a photo gallery as well as a detailed report to evoke the memories of the full-day programme.

June: Miskolc

Due to financial problems, the programme of the Miskolc Opera Festival had to be cut much shorter, unfortunately. The most promising performance out of the Liszt-works was going to be Don Sanche, the opera written by Liszt at the age of 14, which was this time staged in a partly modernized version by a young German group. The remarkable performance raised several questions, but some were left unanswered - we tried to help the viewer to unravel the mysteries by going deeper into the story of the opera.

July: Alan Walker

Right on the first day of the second half of the bicentennial year, we published our interview with Alan Walker, music historian, radio editor, professor, but above all, probably the most knowledgeable Liszt-researcher. Alan Walker knows everything about Liszt Ferenc, and he has shared a good part of this knowledge with the world in his fascinating biographical books. We asked him about his personal experiences in the profession and about the Liszt Year. His finishing sentences might have even served as the motto of the year: "He [Liszt] has waited a long time for his important place in music history to be acknowledged. Let us enjoy it!"

August: Esztergom Liszt Week

The Esztergom Liszt Week was organised for the fourth time between 21st and 28th August this year. The festival began with Nicolas Namoradze's opening concert, then continued with Gergely Bogányi's concert in the Bazilika. A young local artist, Renáta Konyicska played with the Esztergom Symphony Orchestra, while László Fassang gave an organ concert with the St Efraim Male Choir and the National Széchenyi Library Choir, conducted by Mária Eckhardt.The Ránki-Klukon couple also gave a wonderful concert, and the festival closed with the Esztergom Mass, which Liszt composed for the consecration of the Bazilika in 1856.

September: semester launch, piano competition, Liszt and Europe

Hungarofest organised a special semester launch event on the first Sunday of September by the Kopaszi-dam. There were concerts, sing-alongs and instrument presentations for the youngest generations, and all of this was centered around Liszt, naturally, so that the children and their families could learn all kinds of interesting bits and pieces about one of the greatest Hungarian composers.

The International Liszt Piano Competition lasted for almost two weeks. According to the illustrious jury (including Károly Mocsári and Péter Nagy), the aim of the competition was for the competitors to discover and promote the less frequently played Liszt-pieces. Apart from the compulsory pieces in the final (Sonata in h-minor, Piano concerto in E-flat major and in A-major, Dance macabre, Hungarian Fantasy), and two songs of their choice from the given list in the semi-final, the competitors were free to perform whatever they chose from the Liszt-oeuvre. You can watch our interview with the first three prize-winners, including third-prize winner János Balázs Jr here.

The end of the month was about the Liszt and Europe Chamber Music Festival, which offered a wide range of Liszt-pieces for chamber orchestra along with some of his well-known piano pieces, and also presented numerous pieces which inspired or were inspired by Liszt. We asked Dénes Várjon, artistic director of the festival, about the untypical basic idea that this 4-day-long festival had grown out from, and we also talked with Nike Wagner, perhaps the only descendant alive of the Liszt-Wagner family on the Liszt-side, who gave a short but thrilling presentation about the relationship of her two great ancestors at the festival. You can read our detailed report, illustrated with lots of photos of the festival by clicking here.

October: Music Academy new building inauguration, Sons of life, birthday festival, World Liszt Day

Although the students already started using the building in September, the official opening ceremony only took place on 1st October, the World Day of Music. The new building in Wesselényi Street bears the name of György Ligeti, the late Hungarian composer. Unfortunately, the completion of the main Academy building at Liszt Ferenc Square has been postponed from last year October to two years later.

Sons of life - Scenes from the disorderly relationships of Sand, Chopin and Liszt is László Bognár's new drama, directed by Monika Balatoni, featuring three excellent actors and Tamás Érdi on the piano, presenting the 10-year-long story of the friendship between the three artists. We were there at the premiere on 13th October.

The aim of the 3-day-long Birthday Festival was to join together in celebrating Liszt’s birthday in his former home, in the Old Academy building. The musicians played mainly in the concert hall, but for some performances they used the saloon, where Liszt once lived and which now functions as a museum, and the original instruments of the composer. Zsuzsanna Domokos, director of the museum told us everything about the festival, and we made a video-recording of the closing concert.

For 22nd October 2011, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Liszt, Hungarofest and the Hungarian Music Council initiated an international cooperation, the World Liszt Day project. The aim of the project was for Liszt’s Christus oratorio, a monumental work in the composer’s oeuvre, to be performed in concert halls around the world. There were several performances around the country in Hungary, too, and we had a chance to record the events in pictures in Budapest, Paris and Bayreuth.

November: Liszt and the Arts - Conference and exhibition

When the last sounds of the birthday concerts had faded away, it was time for science to take over. The Institute for Musicology organised the Liszt and the Arts exhibition, which presented the image of the always open-minded Liszt, who was in continuous interaction with the contemporary arts scene, and whose oeuvre is a great example of the close connection and interdisciplinarity between the different branches of art.

A month after the opening event of the exhibition, the identically named International Interdisciplinary Conference was organised by the Institute for Musicology of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the Liszt Ferenc Memorial Museum and Research Centre and the Liszt Academy of Music between 18th and 20th November. As Mihály Szegedy-Maszák pointed out in our interview, the Liszt-oeuvre is many-sided, therefore the aim of the 3-day conference was to bring together musicologists and researchers of other disciplines in order to foster research and the cooperation between experts of different arts.

The conference focused on the following main topics: Liszt’s ideas on the interaction of different branches of art, Liszt’s participation in his contemporary art scene, his relations with art movements and individual artists, literary and fine art inspirations in Liszt’s music, Liszt’s personality and art as the inspiration for works of art. The members of the programme committe were prominent experts of the Liszt-research field and of comparative culture science.

December: to be continued...

Apart from the bicentennial events coordinated by Hungarofest, various other music institutions, festival organisers and concert venues joined the celebrations with their own Liszt-programmes, many of which were supported by the Balassi Institue's grant programme, encouraging the implementation of cultural events of a Liszt-theme. One of the most memorable series of events were the organ concerts taking place in the Pester Fransiscan Church, the Inner City Parish Church, the St Joseph Catholic Church and in a number of other churches throughout the countryside, as well as the concert series organised by the Palace of Arts and by the Bartók Radio.

Even though Monika Balatoni, creative director of Hungarofest strictly claimed that the Liszt Year has not finished with the end of the year, our report has to come to an end here. Summing up the whole year, we can say that we have seen - and heard - an extremely colourful programme series, including seldom played symphonic works, masses, songs, piano and organ works, oratorios as well as children's concerts and crossover performances - like the Chocolate Concerts, popular with the youngest music-fan generation, which will continue in 2012 as well."

Source: liszt-2011.hu

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