Budapest’s Russian Music Festival celebrates Mussorgsky anniversary


  • Peterjon Cresswell

10/7/2019 5:33 PM

The Russian Music Festival is being staged for the second year running, this time focusing on Mussorgsky and five other composers. We speak to festival founder, renowned Hungarian pianist Marcell Szabó.

Hosted at prestigious venues such as the Franz Liszt Music Academy, St Stephen’s Basilica and the Russian Cultural Centre, the week-long Russian Music Festival returns, even more ambitious than the first.

Photo: Szilvia Csibi

“I’ve been a little braver this year,” says festival founder Marcell Szabó, a pianist of international renown. “This time the concept is six Russian composers with certain artistic themes.”

Budapest-born Szabó grew up listening to Russian music, describing long car journeys with his parents playing Ashkenazy recordings of Rachmaninoff piano concertos. Winning piano competitions as a teenager, Szabó began to perform abroad, with Russia one of his first destinations.

Photo: Misi Kondella

Given Szabó’s affinity for Russian composers, it was no surprise that for his debut show at the Müpa Palace of Arts in 2017, he chose Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto.

As Szabó puts it: “His unusual, Russian melodies, forms and world of harmony are especially close to my heart”.

Photo: Szilvia Csibi

In 2018, Szabó set up the inaugural Russian Music Festival, its success leading to this week’s ten-concert extravaganza.

Tonight, Monday, 7 October, Szabó himself plays the festival curtain-raiser, starting with two lesser-known pieces by Prokofiev, a symphony and a piano concerto, and followed by popular excerpts from Romeo and Juliet. The venue is the Grand Hall of the Franz Liszt Music Academy, where Szabó studied as a 12 year old at its Special School for Exceptional Young Talent.

Photo: OZF

The festival also celebrates the 180th anniversary of the birth of Mussorgsky with a screening of Boris Godunov, an exhibition and a reading of the composer’s letters, all at the Russian Cultural Centre on Andrássy út.

A special performance of Tchaikovsky’s Vespers in St Stephen’s Basilica bookends the week’s events on Saturday.

Russian Music Festival

7-12 October

Various venues

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