Budapest comes alive in spring, the cold winter fast giving way to sunny skies, green parks and stunning views across the Danube. Every March sees a cultural awakening, too, in the form of the Budapest Spring Festival: the city’s leading cultural festival starts on 21 March this year and runs for over two weeks. The varied programme stretches from theatre to pop to contemporary circus, and classical music, opera and dance are all very well represented.

Chain Bridge © Hungarian Tourism Ltd
Chain Bridge
© Hungarian Tourism Ltd

The festival takes place at a variety of locations around the city – mostly in Pest, on the eastern bank of the river, though with a couple of visits to Buda’s Millenáris Park too. Plenty of Hungarian artists feature, including rising conductor Gergely Madaras, a native of the city, who will conduct the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in a mostly Hungarian programme. They are joined by Moldovan violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja for Péter Eötvös’ concerto DoReMi. The Hungarian State Opera also features, with two performances of Tosca falling within the festival period.

An impressive array of international talent is visiting the city as well – most notably of all, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, who are bringing Brahms, Schoenberg and Saint-Saëns to the festival under the vastly experienced baton of Zubin Mehta. The French period group Ensemble Matheus, with conductor Jean-Christophe Spinosi, perform Handel’s Orlando in concert, and top singers Simon Keenlyside and Erwin Schrott both give recitals – the former in extracts from opera; the latter in an eye-catching set of tangos and folk songs from his native South America. Closing the programme is a tribute to Jean-Philippe Rameau in the 250th year since his death, with a concert performance of his opera Les Fêtes de Polymnie, with a cast including Véronique Gens and Mathias Vidal.

Palace of Arts © Hungarian Tourism Ltd
Palace of Arts
© Hungarian Tourism Ltd

Not to mention Maxim Vengerov, who is performing with the Polish Chamber Orchestra, and leading percussionist Martin Grubinger – his concert with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra should be another highlight.

On top of all this, various events in mixed media show the innovative side of the festival. The Philip Glass Ensemble appear, with the man himself, to perform La Belle et la Bête, in which live music – including lip-synching vocals – accompanies the classic film. And the opening “Bartók and Strauss Evening” sees the Szeged Contemporary Dance Company perform interepretations of works by these composers, culminating in a “stage drama” version of Also Sprach Zarathustra – all with the music played live as well. That renowned genre-straddler Rufus Wainwright will perform an evening of song, and the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw accompanies the renowned “jazz-pop” group Matt Bianco.

Ferenc Liszt Square © Hungarian Tourism Ltd
Ferenc Liszt Square
© Hungarian Tourism Ltd

Boris Eifman’s recent but renowned ballet Rodin is coming to town as well, telling the sculptor’s tragic love story in an unusual but compelling way. There’s a host of other events on offer too, including the hilarious MozART Group and Hungary’s leading contemporary circus company, Recirquel. The wide, extensive programme aptly highlights the cultural vibrancy of the city of Budapest, and makes spring the time of year to make your trip.

You can see our listings for the Budapest Spring Festival here, and visit their own website here.

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