Charles T. Downey, Conductor Ivan Fischer’s melodic return
Washington Post, October 28, 2011
It was mildly surprising that the Hungarian ambassador decided to attend this concert, although it was exactly the sort of national celebration that ambassadors want to attend. Mildly surprising only because András Schiff, the concert's star soloist, has been so outspoken this year in his criticism of the Hungarian government currently in power, and what he sees as its indulgence of racist, anti-Semite, and nationalistic attitudes in Hungary. Schiff has made rare public statements and published letters to newspaper editors, for example, on this issue, urging the other governments of the world to make the Hungarian government change those attitudes. For his trouble, according to Schiff, he will likely never return to his native country, having received what he calls a "symbolic death threat" from friends of the current prime minister, Viktor Orbán. Schiff has joined the elder brother of Iván Fischer, Ádám Fischer, in forming a group called Artists Against Racism, and Schiff has claimed that government support of the Budapest Festival Orchestra was cut in response to critical statements made by Iván Fischer. Fortunately, nothing was said on either side before or during the concert.
Ivan Fischer is back in town. The Hungarian conductor, familiar to Washington audiences from his many years as a guest and principal conductor with the National Symphony Orchestra, is on a North American tour with his main band, the Budapest Festival Orchestra. There was no doubt after his superb performance Wednesday night at the Kennedy Center that audiences here have every reason to miss him.
Schubert, Symphony No. 9 / Five German Dances, Budapest Festival Orchestra, I. Fischer
As members of the orchestra had done Tuesday night in an equally fine concert of chamber music at the Library of Congress, the Hungarians were here to celebrate Bela Bartok, born 130 years ago. Fischer paired selections from the “Hungarian Peasant Songs” and the Second Piano Concerto with the immense, melodically rich Ninth Symphony of Schubert.
It is rare to hear an orchestra sound so unified, so energized and so polished. All sections contributed solidly and, more important, all merged cohesively, even with the unusual seating arrangement; in the first half, winds and brass were in the front row and the violins, standing, were on opposite sides. The strings gave a lush opening to the “Ballad” from the “Hungarian Peasant Songs,” and in the short series of “Peasant Dances” that followed, the ensemble moved as one in spontaneous, even mercurial, fluctuations of tempo. [Continue reading]
Jessica Duchen, Interview: András Schiff (Jewish Chronicle, October 6)
An Interview with András Schiff (Jewish Daily Forward, February 11)
András Schiff, Hungary's E.U. role questioned (Washington Post, January 1)