City guide

Introducing the 2014/15 performance season: Liszt Academy

Photo : György Darabos/Liszt Academy
Briós Kávézó

As the days start to get shorter and the weather a little bit colder, we can take comfort in knowing that Budapest’s many venues are just starting to warm up with varied productions of music, dance, opera, and more. With the 2014/2015 performance season beginning now and entertaining audiences through May, we take a look at some of the bigger venues and their exciting shows happening over the coming months.

Budapest’s prestigious Liszt Academy is not merely the namesake institution of Hungary’s most outstanding 19th-century maestro – when the university was founded in 1875, Franz Liszt personally served as the school’s inaugural president, teaching lessons to this region’s most promising young musicians while living on-site. After Liszt’s passing in 1886, the Academy continued to grow in both reputation and size, and to accommodate this harmonious development amid an appropriately magnificent ambience, one of the city’s premier Art Nouveau buildings was completed in 1907 to become the Liszt Academy’s new headquarters.

For over a century this ornate edifice – decorated on every surface with innumerable statues, chandeliers, stained-glass windows, gold-plated fixtures, and many other brilliant embellishments – fostered such Magyar musical greats as Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály, and Sir Georg Solti, along with many other accomplished instrumentalists, vocalists, conductors, and composers. However, Hungary’s tribulations of the 20th century left the building in a state of severe disrepair, so when an extensive renovation to the Liszt Academy was completed last year, Budapest residents and global music aficionados were overjoyed to return to the institution’s monumental performance halls, featuring incredible acoustics now enhanced with modern technology.
Photo: György Darabos/Liszt Academy
For the second post-renovation performance season beginning today at the Liszt Academy, an impressive mix of top-notch domestic and international talents will stage concerts in a variety of genres – while classical symphonies remain as the dominant productions here, this venue increasingly gains esteem for modern performances of world music, jazz, and many other contemporary musical styles. Additionally, Liszt Academy students often perform here as the culminating moment of their higher education, allowing audiences to hear members of the next generation of musical luminaries before their careers even begin.
Classical greats of today and tomorrow
The Liszt Academy’s sumptuously ornamented Grand Hall – able to seat 800 people, and housing a beautiful pipe organ – is regarded as the pinnacle performance venue for most Hungarian musicians, due to a great extent because of the incredible acoustic quality; every audience member can hear each note distinctly. Although the Liszt Academy hosted major concerts here for decades, the institution’s management only began organizing complete concert seasons after the recent renovation, increasing the frequency of quality performances considerably.
Photo: Liszt Academy
Naturally, performances of classical symphonies and opera concerts are particularly dynamic in the Grand Hall, and many of this season’s most eagerly anticipated shows include presentations of these genres. This month, the first-ever International Éva Marton Singing Competition (founded by the global opera world’s acclaimed Hungarian dramatic soprano, who studied at the Academy and is now a professor emerita there) is happening to promote the professional development of more than 130 singers from 30 countries; the final event is open to the public in the Grand Hall on September 20 at 6pm.
Later this month, astounding Japanese violinist Akiko Suwanai performs works by Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky on a legendary 1714 Dolphin Stradivarius along with the Liszt Academy’s resident orchestra Concerto Budapest on September 27 and 28 at 7:30pm each night. Other significant international performers in the Grand Hall include Germany’s Isabelle Faust and the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra on October 27 at 7:30pm, Russian virtuoso Mikhail Pletnev conducting the Budapest Festival Orchestra on November 20 and 21 at 7:45pm and 22 at 3:30pm, and a duo of outstanding British talents – tenor Ian Bostridge with noted composer and pianist Thomas Adès – performing Schubert’s Winterreise on December 7 at 7:30pm.
Photo: Liszt Academy
Additionally, talented renditions of iconic classical compositions performed by graduating Liszt Academy students are often presented in the Grand Hall for no charge, with prior ticket registration – the next opportunity to enjoy such a free spectacular is the concert of works by Mozart, Beethoven, and Dvořák played by Concerto Budapest under the baton of fledgling conductor Andrea Daru on September 5 at 7pm.
Global sounds
Concerts at the Liszt Academy often shine the spotlight on diverse musical styles from all corners of the planet, as well as from Hungary’s countryside. Upcoming world-music attractions include venerable Argentinean clarinetist Giora Feidman playing klezmer tunes with the Munich-based Gitanes Blonde ensemble on September 6 at 8:30pm; world-famous sitar player Anoushka Shankar performs classical Indian melodies on October 2 at 7:30pm; and Hungary’s best-known folk singer Márta Sebestyén – whose father used to conduct concerts in the Grand Hall – returns for a special homecoming show on December 11 at 7:30pm.
Jazz, acoustic concerts, and more
Further diversifying the Liszt Academy’s musical repertoire, several ongoing concert series provide audiences with impressive performances in varied genres. This autumn’s “Jazz It!” concerts include Magyar pianist Kálmán Oláh playing his compositions with an international ensemble on October 9 at 7:30pm, the Brussels Jazz Orchestra on November 19 at 7:30pm, and Hungary’s own Snétberger Quartet on December 14 at 7:30pm. Other interesting series include the unplugged “Acoustic, Authentic” concerts and the “Voice, So Close” performances of accomplished choirs.
Photo: György Darabos/Liszt Academy
Getting to the Liszt Academy
Located directly on Liszt Ferenc Square in the bustling heart of downtown’s District VI, it is easy to reach the Liszt Academy by multiple means of public transportation; the closest metro point is the M1 Oktogon stop, while the nearest streetcar access is the tram 4-6 Király Street stop. With a huge selection of restaurants and bars nearby, the Liszt Academy is an ideal centerpiece to a wonderful evening out. Log onto www.lisztacademy.hu for complete English-language program information and to purchase tickets.