Budapest Festival Orchestra
Date of EventThursday, 24. 5. 2018 from 20.00
Expected end of the concert 21.30
Event placeMunicipal House – Smetana Hall
- Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 2 in C minor „Resurrection“
- Budapest Festival Orchestra
- Iván Fischer - conductor
- Christiane Karg - soprano
- Elisabeth Kulman - alto
- Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno
- Petr Fiala - choirmaster
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A performance of Mahler’s visionary, remarkable Second Symphony, subtitled “Resurrection” on the basis of the concluding chorus, is always a special event. At Prague Spring, the Budapest Festival Orchestra will accept the challenge at its guest appearance. The orchestra has been attracting attention internationally for thirty-five years. As long as it has been in existence, this superb orchestra has been inspired and led by its cofounder Iván Fischer. Among the reasons for the success of this orchestra, which is numbered among the ten best in the world, has been its long-term association with a single conductor, something that is far from usual in today’s music world.
Ecstasy and repose – this is what one finds in the second of Gustav Mahler’s nine completed symphonies. He finished it in 1894, after six years of work (with long interruptions) in Leipzig, Prague, Hamburg, and Budapest as well as at his summer residence at Attersee in the Austrian Alps. In the interim, he composed his First Symphony. His concept for the conclusion of the Second first became clear to him at the funeral of the pianist Hans von Bülow. “I had long been considering the idea of using choir in the final movement,” Mahler later recalled, “and I kept hesitating merely out of fear that people would see it as a superficial imitation of Beethoven. The mood I was in at the funeral as I sat and though about the departed was entirely in accordance with the spirit of the work I had been carrying within me at the time. At that moment, the choir started singing Klopstock’s chorus Resurrection… It was as if I had been struck by lightning, and everything was revealed plainly and clearly before the eyes of my soul!” Klopstock’s ode further inspired the composer to write a lengthier text to express his feelings and thoughts not only in music, but also in words. Mahler was convinced of his mission, and in the finale he assures humanity that resurrection (in accordance with the text he used) is certain and that the suffering of earthly life has meaning. For Mahler, the text is not an object to be set to music. Rather, he has a musical and philosophical idea, for which he seeks a suitable text. For the finale of his Second Symphony, he had, in his own words, done a great deal of searching – in the world literature and the Bible. And this is what he found.
The opening movement of the Second Symphony is Brucknerian in its monumentality. The lighter second movement is in the rhythm of the Ländler, and it evokes happy memories. The third movement expresses desperation. The song Urlicht (Primal Light) is a mysterious solo about man’s journey back to God. Then the enormous finale erupts, announcing the last judgment. The graves open and the dead form an endless procession as the trumpets of the apocalypse sound… Then the choir of the saints and heavenly beings is heard singing quietly, and the symphony ends with cathartically. Richard Strauss conducted the first performance of three of the symphony’s movements in Berlin, and Mahler himself conducted the premiere of the entire symphony in that same city in 1895.
“The Budapest Festival Orchestra was not making its first visit to this country, but we perhaps have never before heard it play in the way that it had been prepared by its chief conductor and founder Iván Fischer. Especially the first concert, which ended with an incredibly expressive rendition of Bartók’s Miraculous Mandarin, literally shocked the public,” wrote a reviewer of a Prague Spring concert in 2005. The history of the Budapest Festival Orchestra is one of the most remarkable stories on the international music scene. From the beginning, Iván Fischer and Zoltán Kocsis, who were behind its founding, managed to impress upon the orchestra its characteristics of exceptional ensemble playing that approaches chamber music along with a dynamic yet homogenous symphonic sound – and in addition, they succeeded in maintaining among the players the joy of making music and the sharing of their message with the public. The orchestra also has an enormous discography. It is worth recalling the inimitable and unpretentious recording they made some years back with Iván Fischer of Brahms’s Hungarian Dances and later of Dvořák’s equally interesting Slavonic Dances.
Fischer is said to be one of the most inspirational and visionary leaders. He supports the creativity of orchestral players and respects their talents. “They must play creatively, with all of their soul, and not be afraid to take chances,” he says. According to him, the important thing is for one to love the music being played, and to make the public in the hall feel the same thing. For this reason, Fischer only performs music with which he identifies.
Participating at the performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony will be the Czech Philharmonic Choir from Brno with its choirmaster Petr Fiala. The soloists are the German lyric soprano Christiane Karg, a frequent guest at the Salzburg Festival, in German and Austrian concert halls and opera houses, at La Scala in Milan and the Chicago Lyric Opera, and Elisabeth Kulman, an Austrian mezzo-soprano who is a favourite of the Viennese public at the Vienna State Opera, especially as Carmen and in Wagnerian roles. She is now also a frequent guest on leading stages around the world.
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