Celebrating Mozart - Concerto Budapest

Ahead of a special livestreaming partnership with Gramophone, Jack Pepper introduces one of Hungary’s rising star orchestras…

Presenting over 80 concerts a year, including 25 new pieces annually, the Concerto Budapest Symphony Orchestra is one of Hungary’s most prolific – and one of its oldest, dating back to 1907. They’ve been edging ever more loudly onto the international scene, especially since the celebrated Hungarian violinist András Keller (founder of the Keller Quartet and recipient of over 70 international prizes) took the helm as Artistic Director and Chief Conductor in its centenary year back in 2007.

photo: László Mudra

They’ve been prominent on the touring scene since, including two critically acclaimed UK tours in 2022 and 2023. As Keller said: ‘the UK hosts the world’s leading musicians day after day, and the audience is a highly knowledgeable one. So, the fact that we were welcomed with such sincere love was extremely inspiring and moving for us.’

Imre Szabó-Stein, their chief advisor on international strategy, agrees, commenting how a British tour in particular proves a key litmus test: ‘during the 2022 tour, with Angela Hewitt as soloist, the challenge was to stand out as one of the best orchestras in the world despite being relatively unknown. I think we did so with their unexpected energy and the evident joy they have of playing together.’

The inspiration clearly went both ways, as they were invited back for the 2023/24 season by IMG Artists London, joined by pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard in Guildford, London, Cheltenham, Edinburgh and Dublin and Mihály Berecz in Croydon. Critics noted especially that Keller’s background as a chamber musician shaped a particular instinct for musical detail.

Keller himself acknowledges this influence. ‘A quartet cannot play well if the musicians do not know all the parts thoroughly. Only by endlessly polishing them together can the pieces be made to sound authentic,’ he explains. ‘In the case of an orchestra, the key is having them learn the entire musical fabric in detail, so that they can hear it and experience it together as if they were creating the piece at that moment. This is the greatest adventure in the world!’

Adventure maybe, but it has been a long road for Keller, who describes the orchestra he inherited in 2007 as ‘a disintegrating ensemble in a seemingly hopeless situation, on the verge of disbanding.’

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