Bartók Spring International Arts Weeks
© Anett Kallai-Toth | Bartók Spring | Mupa Budapest

In pandemic-hit 2021, a new festival was created, filling the gap left by the departed Budapest Spring Festival: the Bartók Spring International Arts Weeks. The scale was smaller, at least as measured in sheer number of events, but the variety and artistic richness was undimmed. The new format is to return in 2022, with a programme of a couple of dozen events in a wide selection of genres running from 1st to 17th April. This preview will focus on the classical and dance events – but if you’re visiting, look out also for other shows: circus, world music, art exhibitions.

The festival is kicked off with a set of major international stars: violinist Julia Fischer joins the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra and conductor Vladimir Jurovski for a Slavic programme of Suk, Dvořák and Rachmaninov.

Easter time is Passion time and on 8th April, a week before Good Friday, you can head for the sumptuous setting of the Liszt Academy’s Grand Hall to see one of the finest exponents of Bach: Philippe Herreweghe and the Collegium Vocale Gent will play the St Matthew Passion with a fine group of soloists including Reinoud Van Mechelen, Florian Boesch and Tim Mead. On Easter Saturday, another of the great Bach conductors visits Müpa: Ton Koopman and his Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra take on the great Mass in B Minor. Baroque lovers will also have the chance to hear Anthony Roth Costanzo, one of the hot countertenors of the moment, singing Handel and Gluck opera arias on 7th April.

The new opera by Peter Eötvös, probably Hungary’s greatest living composer, presents a “no room at the inn” story of a very different kind from the Christian one. Sleepless is a harrowing tale of a young couple on the run; it was commissioned by Staatsoper Berlin and its world premiere there has impressed with music that is “always dramatic, rich in imagery, vivid and theatrical” – albeit you will need a strong stomach for the plot that is “as despondent as the November weather in real life” for the Hungarian premiere on 12th April. It will be a concert performance, with Eötvös himself conducting the same cast as in Berlin.

Two concerts by András Keller and Concerto Budapest promise rather more uplifting fare, in the shape of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5 on 7th April and his Symphony no. 3 “Eroica” on 12th April. Each concert will also feature works by Béla Bartók including a piano concerto to be played by top Hungarian pianist Dénes Várjon, no. 3 to accompany Beethoven’s Fifth and no. 2 to accompany the Eroica.

More Beethoven comes on April 14th, when French pianist David Fray plays the Piano Concerto no. 3 and joins star Hungarian soloists Kristóf Baráti and István Várdai for the Triple Concerto in C major, with Várdai conducting the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra.

Péter Sárik’s jazz version of Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

While the festival now bears Bartók’s name, it’s by no means dedicated solely to his work. Still, there’s a substantial amount of Bartók content, one of which is very surprising indeed: jazz pianist Péter Sárik has collaborated with classical conductor Gábor Hollerung to create a jazz version of Bartók’s psycho-thriller opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, to be performed on 3rd April. It sounds improbable, but on the basis of the teaser video, it sounds phenomenal and may well achieve its aim of making the opera accessible to a wider audience. Bluebeard is sung by one of the top young basses of the moment, Krisztián Cser, who was described by our reviewer Ako Imamura as singing the role “with quiet ferociousness” at Carnegie Hall (in a straight concert version of the opera).

The Signum Saxophone Quartet play Ab Ovo by Joep Beving

There’s other jazz, of the more conventional “major international star” variety, early in the festival on 2nd April, when Branford Marsalis and his Quartet play Müpa. And there’s more saxophone music – but not jazz – on 11th April from the Cologne-based Signum Saxophone Quartet, who have been making a career out of expanding the possibilities of their instrument: to listen to them is to hear a plethora of timbres and textures beyond any expectations of what four wind players might be able to create.

Another fresh take on a major Bartók stage work comes on 8th and 9th April in the shape of a new choreography of the ballet The Miraculous Mandarin, to be danced by Pál Frenák Company. To get a refresher on the music a couple of days earlier, you can head for the Concert Hall of Budapest Music Center on 6th April for an intriguing all-Bartók concert by Ensemble Mini, who specialise in reduced arrangements of large scale pieces for very small orchestras and have tackled such behemoths as Mahler’s and Bruckner’s ninth symphonies.

An Ode to Time from Mária Páges Compañia
© David Ruano

“Neither the sky nor the earth rest unchanged after María Pagés has danced,” José Saramago has written about the Sevillan star whose mission is to bring new ideas and modern artistic language to the ancient form of flamenco. The María Pagés Compañia visits the festival on 8th April with their latest work An Ode to Time. Israeli contemporary company Batsheva’s THREE, to be danced on 13th April, is an established work, but there’s an even newer dance work on 3rd and 4th April: the world première of Parade by the Székesfehérvár Ballet Theatre. It’s the latest in a string of creations by Budapest-born choreographer Attila Egerházi, who moved in 2018 to Székesfehérvár, the royal capital of Hungary in mediaeval times, to set up the company.

The Easter Sunday performance of András Almási-Toth’s new production of Parsifal for the Hungarian State Opera falls under the aegis of the festival, bringing it to a close with a work deeply steeped in the religious mysticism of Easter.

You can see the full programme listings here.
This preview was sponsored by the Bartók Spring International Arts Weeks.