Star harpists perform for festival anniversary celebrations
Starting today, in the sumptuous Royal Palace in Gödöllő just outside Budapest, an annual music event is being staged for a record 20th time. Always attracting the finest exponents in the genre – and always in October – the ten-day International Harp Festival brings the likes of Jana Boušková and Ben Creighton Griffiths to Gödöllő this year. The event closes with the traditional gala night at Budapest’s Liszt Music Academy on 14 October. Festival founder and director Andrea Vigh looks back on two decades of performances by world stars – and reflects on the raised profile of this singular instrument in the land of Bartók and Kodály.
When Andrea Vigh sits down at her trusty harp at 7pm this evening to open the International Harp Festival for the 20th time of asking, as the applause slowly ripples away in the splendour of the gala hall of the Royal Palace in Gödöllő, she might well reflect on the enormity of her achievement. It was back in 1999 that accomplished harpist Vigh first mooted the idea of a festival focused on this most elegant of instruments.
“Like many Hungarian children, the piano was my first instrument,” begins Vigh. “When I was at music school I switched to the harp. At the time there was no tuition across Hungary at elementary level, only advanced. That was why relatively few youngsters here were choosing to take it up.”
In order to rectify this problem, to promote the instrument she loved, to bring world stars to Hungary and to take advantage of the complete renovation of the Gödöllő Royal Palace, Vigh hit upon the idea of setting up a festival that focused on purely on the harp. Having already played sold-out solo shows at Budapest’s Franz Liszt Music Academy, she knew there would be ample demand. What she needed was a name to establish the event on the international stage.
“To this day, I’m eternally grateful to Marielle Nordmann for accepting our invitation to appear at the inaugural festival,” says Vigh.“It set the tone and the standard for all festivals to come.” The famous French harpist, also known for her master classes, also performed for Hungarian audiences in 2001, 2003, 2006, 2008 and 2013 as the festival gained its global reputation. Another returning guest has been elite Czech harpist Jana Boušková, who first appeared in 2003, then four times since. Next week, Boušková will be joining Andrea Vigh and the Budapest Strings Chamber Orchestra for the gala night at the Liszt Music Academy on 14 October to bring the festival to a close.
Boušková is also the face of Lyon & Healy, the world-famous harp makers based in Chicago. October’s annual festival provides manufacturers with a showcase to present their wares – harps come in various shapes, types and sizes. The famed concert grand is only produced in limited numbers.
Another aspect to the festival is tuition. “For all the stars who have appeared here every year,” says Vigh, “I’m equally proud of the fact that the harp is now taught in Hungary at elementary level, and more and more young musicians are coming through”. On the first morning of this year’s event, on Saturday, 6 October, the Fiatal tehetségek hárfakoncertje offers the stage to these talented youngsters, while the next day, it is the turn of beginners to shine at the Kezdő Hárfások Tücsökfesztiválja.
Mention should also be made of Ben Creighton Griffiths and Gyula Fekete. On Saturday, 6 October at 2pm and 7pm, Cardiff-born Griffiths, who has performed at harp festivals in Rio, New Orleans and Hong Kong, takes the stage for the Concert for Harp Ensembles in the afternoon and a solo show in the evening. And for the gala night at the Music Academy, a piece written by Gyula Fekete, the Harp Concerto, will be given its first airing.
20th International Harp Festival
District VI. Liszt Ferenc tér 8