How the Hungarian National Philharmonics saved the day for Philippe Herreweghe

The last few months were so weird. Like some hybrid species from mythology, there were pandemic restrictions and there weren’t because “economy has to work”, and economy worked and didn’t work because “the virus has to be stopped”. Until recently, it seemed like even theatre plays, concerts and other mass events can be held with the necessary restrictions, but by the time I write this, it seems like we were wrong, unfortunately: it is only the most severe restrictions that can really stop the spreading of the virus.

Müpa has reacted to the pandemic swiftly and flexibly, both in March and, as we will see, now. When live concerts were forbidden, they broadcasted old videos, and when restrictions eased a bit, they started a drive-in cinema. In summer it seemed that nothing can stop the concert of the Belgian conductor Philippe Herreweghe, who was supposed to come with his two formations, the French Orchestre des Champs-Élysées and the Belgian Collegium Vocale Gent. He was happy to come to Budapest in the autumn.

And then September came, first with the closure of Hungarian borders, then with the many new covid cases around Europe. The Collegium Vocale Gent resigned from this concert early. Although the French orchestra kept preparing for the visit for longer, by the time restrictions came back in their country, they also decided to stay home. But the organisers didn’t give up, as the 73-year-old master was still ready to travel to Hungary, go through the testing procedures and the home quarantine, if there is an orchestra he can work with.

Philippe Herreweghe. (c) Michiel Hendryckx

The concert was saved by the National Philharmonics of Hungary in the end. That’s a huge thing, as they otherwise also cancelled their own total-staffed concerts until at least mid-December. So, Herreweghe came, rehearsed with the orchestra, and he is going to perform. And after so much energy and worries, it could not change anything anymore that meanwhile, severe restrictions have been reintroduced in Hungary as well. We can listen to the audience-less concert with the Belgian conductor and the Hungarian orchestra as a live broadcast in our homes all around the world.

This is an interesting case, as Philippe Herreweghe is one of the world’s most renowned and famous early music conductors, but the pandemic created a situation where he will conduct a non-early-music orchestra. How will that sound different? And what is early music, anyway? Is Beethoven early, for instance, who was born 250 years ago, an innovative composer of his time with whom many current things started, but still, 250 years are 250 years…? But that might not be the point anyway. A jubilee concert dedicated to Beethoven’s birth year cannot be postponed to next year. That would not be the same. This event has to happen now, even if the circumstances are unusual.

We are going to hear the Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36 and the Symphony No. 5 in C minor (‘Fate’), Op. 67. It will worth joining the live broadcast on the evening of 17th of November and see what Beethoven, Herreweghe and the Hungarian National Philharmonics can do together. Well, if fate wanted this way… 

You can watch the concert on the Müpa website, the Facebook site and the YouTube channel.