Hungarian peasant songs

Béla Bartók

Hungarian peasant songs, BB 107 (Sz. 100)

Bluebeard’s Castle

Iván Fischer
Conductor
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Marta Sebestyen
vocal
Ildiko Komlosi
mezzo-soprano
Krisztian Cser
baritone

In this concert, Ivan Fisher will take us along the path once travelled by Bela Bartók. First, he will tell us about the composer’s fascination with Hungarian folk music and present recordings from 1904, registered during Bartók’s first field work expedition. Then, he will hand over to the singer Márta Sebestyén and the musicians of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, who will play Hungarian tunes in their original form, using folk instruments. Next, he will demonstrate how they were creatively used by the composer in the orchestra version of Hungarian Peasant Songs, based on an earlier piano piece. Finally, he will lead a concert performance of Bluebeard’s Castle, one of the greatest masterpieces of the twentieth-century opera, composed to a libretto by Béla Balázs, a young poet, writer and philosopher, who referred in it to Charles Perrault’s tale, Maurice Maeterlinck’s Symbolist play Pelléas et Mélisande, and a Transylvanian ballad about Anna Molnár. The dark story of Judith and her secretive husband Bluebeard proceeds to the rhythm of the Hungarian folk octosyllabic verse. However, the weight of the narration rests with the orchestra, which Bartók ingeniously employs to build up tension, the claustrophobic sense of endangerment and the air of walking eternally along the edge of a precipice. Bluebeard’s Castle emerged as a result of the composer’s deep belief that loneliness is a permanent and indelible element of human existence. [Dorota Kozińska]


Ivan Fischer
Photo: Marco Borggreve

Iván Fischeris the founder and Music Director of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, as well as the Music Director of the Konzerthaus and Konzerthausorchester Berlin. In recent years he has also gained a reputation as a composer, with his works being performed in the United States, the Netherlands, Belgium, Hungary, Germany and Austria. What is more, he has directed a number of successful opera productions.

The BFO’s frequent worldwide tours and a series of critically acclaimed and fast selling records, released first by Philips Classics and later by Channel Classics, have contributed to Iván Fischer’s reputation as one of the world’s most high-profile music directors.

Fischer has guest-conducted the Berlin Philharmonic more than ten times; every year he spends two weeks with Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; and as a conductor, he is also a frequent guest of the leading US symphonic orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic and the Cleveland Orchestra. As Music Director, he has led the Kent Opera and the Opéra National de Lyon, and was Principal Conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington DC. Many of his recordings have been awarded prestigious international prizes. He studied piano, violin, and later the cello and composition in Budapest, before continuing his education in Vienna where he studied Conducting under Hans Swarowsky.

Iván Fischer is a founder of the Hungarian Mahler Society and Patron of the British Kodály Academy. He has received the Golden Medal Award from the President of the Republic of Hungary, and the Crystal Award from the World Economic Forum for his services in promoting international cultural relations. The government of the French Republic made him Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. In 2006 he was honoured with the Kossuth Prize, Hungary’s most prestigious arts award. In 2011 he received the Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award, Hungary’s Prima Primissima Prize and the Dutch Ovatie Prize. In 2013 he was accorded Honorary Membership to the Royal Academy of Music in London. In 2015 he was presented with the Abu Dhabi Festival Award.


Budapest Festival Orchestra

Budapest Festival Orchestrais one of the major success stories of the international music scene, being rated among the world’s top ten orchestras.

Its key figure is Music Director Iván Fischer who, alongside Zoltán Kocsis, was one of the Orchestra’s founding fathers. The BFO’s unique system works to encourage the artistic qualities of its musicians to blend together, forming an exquisitely homogenous orchestral sound. Both audience and critics alike acknowledge the quality in the ensemble’s captivating chamber music performances, as well as the all-pervasive dynamism with which it shares the joy of music-making with the audience.

Over the decades, the Festival Orchestra has presented the Hungarian audience with such stars as Sir Georg Solti – until his death he was the Principal Guest Conductor of the BFO, as well as great musicians such as Yehudi Menuhin, Pinchas Zukerman, Gidon Kremer, Radu Lupu, Sándor Végh, Sir András Schiff and Richard Goode. Iván Fischer also makes great efforts to invite young, internationally-acclaimed musicians and singers to perform for domestic audiences.

The orchestra is a regular guest at the world’s most important music venues and concert halls, including Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center in New York, Vienna’s Musikverein, the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and London’s Royal Albert Hall. They have repeatedly been invited to perform at international music events such as the Mostly Mozart Festival, the Salzburger Festspiele or the Edinburgh International Festival.

The orchestra’s famous Music Marathons and its own Bridging Europe Festival, focusing on the culture of a different nation every year, are organised in partnership with Müpa Budapest, one of the leading cultural institutions in Hungary. Opera performances, directed by Iván Fischer, are also staged as joint productions; following on from the highly-acclaimed renditions of Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro, they recently performed The Magic Flute.

Since 2014, the orchestra has been dedicating itself to Community Weeks of free concerts given in nursing homes, churches, abandoned synagogues and child-care institutions.

The orchestra regularly plays to young audiences, including Cocoa Concerts for the youngest and ’Choose Your Instrument’ programmes for primary school children. They hold frequent film competitions for secondary school students, while making efforts to reach out to young adults too – not least through the highly successful Midnight Music series.

Their innovative concerts include Dancing on the Square, one of the orchestra’s priority projects, which is as much about communal creativity, tolerance and equal opportunities as it is about music and dance. The Autism-friendly Cocoa Concerts are another of their major initiatives, providing a safe environment for children living with autism and their families alike.

Over the years, the BFO has received the highest accolades. In 2008, internationally-renowned music critics rated the orchestra the 9th best in the world, bettering such prestigious ensembles as the New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In New York Magazine’s 2013 list of the city’s top classical music events, the BFO’s production of The Marriage of Figaro was voted the best of the year. The orchestra’s albums have twice won Gramophone Awards, while their rendition of Mahler’s first Symphony was nominated for a 2013 Grammy. In 2014, the recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 received wide acclaim, being awarded both the Diapason d’Or and Italy’s Toblacher Komponierhäuschen for Best Mahler Recording. The Association of Music Critics of Argentina awarded BFO as the best foreign symphonic orchestra in 2016.


Marta Sebestyenhas been captivated by music since childbirth, not least because her mother was once a student of Zoltán Kodály. Márta was especially taken by folk songs and her talents as a folk singer were obvious from a young age.

She is one of the few Hungarian performers to give an unadulterated, traditional representation of Hungarian culture both at home and around the world. She makes the almost-forgotten folk song tradition, as recorded by Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály, come alive at her concerts. Her talent, trained voice and charming personality made her a unique phenomenon. There’s barely a single country where Márta Sebestyén has not represented Hungarian culture, either as a soloist or alongside an ensemble. She has sung Hungarian folk songs for the Emperor of Japan, the King of Spain and the Queen of England. She is truly a cultural ambassador for Hungary.

She has received every possible award for a performing artist in Hungary, including: Singer of the Year (1984), the Franz Liszt Award (1991), the Kossuth Award (1999), the Prima Primissima Award (2003) and the Order of Merit Commander’s Cross of the Republic of Hungary (2005). In Italy, she was decorated with the Diploma alla Carriera and the Chinciano Fellini Award. She sang in the multiple Academy Award-winning film ‘The English Patient’ and on Deep Forest’s Grammy Award-winning world music album.

She has been named UNESCO’s Artist for Peace and she is a member of the Hungarian Academy of Arts.


Ildiko Komlosigraduated from the Liszt Academy, then continued her studies at the London Guildhall School of Music and the Scala in Milan. She won the Pavarotti Singing Competition in 1986, and made her US début alongside the world-famous tenor, conducted by Lorin Maazel. Having won a series of competitions, she met success in Vienna, Frankfurt and, since 1990, at the Scala in Milan. She is sought after by the most prestigious of opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera, London’s Royal Opera House, the Scala or the Deutsche Oper in Berlin.

One of the greatest of her recent successes was her performance of Aida, which premièred the 2006 season at the Scala and was directed by Zeffirelli; she performed the same role at the Royal Opera, directed by Robert Wilson and conducted by Antonio Pappano. For 15 years she has been a regular guest at the Verona Arena where she has performed the roles of Carmen, Amneris, Santuzza and Laura to great acclaim. In 2010, on the 125th anniversary of the Met, she was successful in the season’s première, and in December 2013 she was also celebrated for her role as the Nurse in the Met’s Die Frau ohne Schatten. As well as her many international appearances she regularly sings at the Hungarian State Opera House.

One of her favourite roles is Bartók’s Judit, which she has performed over 150 times all over the world; she celebrated her 150th performance of the role at the Scala in September 2015. Decca released a recording of that opera, which she performed with László Polgár and was conducted by Iván Fischer.


Krisztian Cserwas born in to a family of musicians in 1977. He graduated at the Liszt Academy of Music in 2008, his professor of solo singing was Éva Marton. As a student he performed a role in the operatic performance of Elektra in the Hungarian State Opera. He also attended international masterclasses of Éva Marton, Adrienne Csengery, Júlia Hamari, László Polgár, David Lutz, Alaistair Thomson and Ilona Adorján.

Krisztián Cser made his first professional appearance as an oratorio soloist in J. S. Bach’s Johannes Passion. His repertoire includes a widerange of musical styles from early baroque to contemporary music. Krisztián has worked with famous conductors as Pierre Cao, Helmuth Rilling, Peter Schreier, Tibor Bogányi, Zsolt Hamar, Zoltán Kocsis, Iván Fischer, Ádám Fischer, Zoltán Peskó, Muhai Tang, György Vashegyi and Tamás Vásáry. Krisztián regularly sings in concerts both in Hungary and abroad.

In 2004, Krisztián Cser was the winner of József Simándy Singing Competition. He was a finalist at Montserrat Caballe’s Singing Competition and was awarded a Special Prizeat Geneva’s Competition. In 2007 he got the Annie Fischer scholarship. In 2010 Krisztián was awarded the Prize for the Hungarian Youth of March and in 2011 the scholarship of the Wagner Society.

In 2008, he made his opera debut in Spoleto, Italy, as Don Magnifico, which role he also sang in Japan. Since 2008 he has been a member of the Hungarian State Opera. In 2013 he played Bluebeard in Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle in China when the opera was performed for the first time on stage and also performed it in Rouenatthe Autumn Festival in Normandy. In 2014 beside singing Bluebeard in China (Beijing and Shanghai) again and also in Kiev (with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine conducted by Kyrylo Karabyts) he went on a German tour performing Iván Fischer’s opera „The Red Heifer”with the Budapest Festival Orchestra conducted by the composer. In February2015 he performed Blue beard conducted by Gaetano d’Espinosa in the Auditorium di Milano.