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A Self-Aware Orchestra

A more colourful example of the ability of music to transcend cultures could hardly be found: Columbia, Uzbekistan, and Austria meet in Budapest, in the spirit of Beethoven, Bartók, and Stravinsky. An orchestra dear to our hearts, but once barred for decades from performing in the Hungarian capital, arrives in Budapest conducted by Andrés Orozco-Estrada, in partnership with the pianist Yefim Bronfman. The Vienna Philharmonic gave a successful concert in the Müpa Budapest lately.

(c) Lois Lammerhuber

Much can be said of this legendary orchestra, founded in the Austrian capital in 1842: it maintains a close symbiosis with the symphonic orchestra of the Vienna State Opera; that it is the long-established, illustrious trustee of the most authentic Viennese musical traditions; that it has been conducted by the greatest conductors of every era, from Bruno Walter to Bernstein, from Furtwängler to Carlos Kleiber – and that despite its proximity to Hungary, during the decades of socialism Budapest audiences were not able to hear them. In recent times this has changed for the better: through the productive collaboration between the Müpa Budapest and the Vienna Philharmonic the orchestra is now a regular visitor to this concert hall, and it comes with a highly varied programme.

One thing less often mentioned is the orchestra’s proud autonomous set-up. The Vienna Philharmonic function not under a chief musical director, but the leading officers are elected from the ranks of the orchestra, so that deciding everything jointly, they operate in democratic fashion. This also means that the orchestra decides who they invite to conduct them. So if a conductor can direct the Vienna Philharmonic, it is a challenge indeed – and of course it can be a great springboard for a young conductor’s career to appear with the VPO, as it is now for Andrés Orozco-Estrada (1977), born in Medellín in Columbia. True, for nearly two decades he has been looked on as an „honorary Viennese”, because he graduated in Vienna, and ever since he has forged strong links with Austrian orchestras and the music life of Vienna, Graz, Klosterneuburg, while naturally also appearing in many other places worldwide, from London, to the Basque country, to Houston.

The concert’s soloist Yefim Bronfman was born in Tashkent as a Soviet citizen, but became Israeli-American, and is one of the most virtuoso pianists of our time, with amazing stamina. Here too he plays two difficult works: Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 is a joy because it brings us a work that shows the Viennese Classical tradition, and Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 2 because in this Bronfman shows his skill in a field he is generally considered to be at home: the most challenging works of the twentieth-century repertoire.

“I performed a duo recital with Isaac Stern and also played Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra in 1991. This visit was particularly memorable since I met the great Annie Fischer. I am always honored to be in this wonderful city.”

Yefim Bronfman

We should add that Bronfman was awarded a Grammy in 1997 for his recording of the three Bartók piano concertos. The last item on the programme, Stravinsky’s Petrushka, is a real treat for both the orchestra and the conductor. With virtuoso solos, and orchestration that crackles and sparkles like fireworks, it is a work that straddles the border between the Russian tradition and the nascent modern style, with a marvellous richness of character.

Kristóf Csengery

This article first appeared in BSF Magazine, published by Budapest Spring Festival. To view the magazine in full, please click here.