Budapest Autumn Festival: A Musical Journey

This piece ran in the Budapest Times in October 2004.  Images via Zemanta.

Budapest castle by night.
Budapest castle by night. Image via Wikipedia

Budapest (Őszi) Autumn Festival

A Musical Journey


Alison Boston

October can be bleak.  The leaves and temperatures fall, and the days get shorter.  But if you live in Budapest and you feel like hibernating, forget it.  The Őszi Festival starts on October 15thand goes on for 10 days.  Jam packed with over 80 different events, this year’s fall arts festival is heavy on participation by E.U. Scandanavian countries: The Netherlands, Sweden and Finland – including a four-day Swedish children’s festival hosted by Kolibri Theater.

Tickets go fast for the lead acts, and chances are, by the time you read this, you’ll be lucky to get standing room only for things like Sir Peter Maxwell Davis (October 24th, ZeneAkadémia).  Indeed some of the dance performances are already sold out.  But there are many other events worth seeing, some need tickets and some don’t! Here’s an overview with my picks:

In addition to the concerts, theatre and dance, eight visual art exhibitions will open during the festival.  Most of these run through to mid-November.  PONT:ITT:MOST is a sculpture exhibition installed at seven different public squares: Batthány, Blaha Lujza, Deák Ferenc, Ferenciek, Kálvin, Moszkva, and Nyugati.   These are the prize-winning works selected from 123 designs submitted to the 2003 public statue competition. Expect to see bizarre and provocative art: everything from pink mushrooms to automated beggars.  Located at metro stops, free of charge to view, and open virtually 24 hours, there’s no excuse not to see them!

Another visual art event worth checking is Cinemascope.  This multi-media installation opens in the Átrium Cinema (Margit Körút, 55) on October 16th at 8:00 PM with a sampler concert by American composer David Shea. When Shea performs he selects and plays clips from his computerised music library – which ranges from John Cage to the Sex Pistols.  Shea’s audio installation will remain in the main screening room till the 24th, with a multi-media installation by Finnish artists in the cinema’s mirror-lined hall.  The Átrium is open from 4:00 PM till 10:00 PM daily.

Avant Gard Bus Tours with e-Xplo.  In conjunction with Cinemascope, e-Xplo will perform every evening at 10:00.  e-Xplo, whose members are based in Berlin and NYC, creates unique bus tours of the city they are visiting.  While on the bus, they perform sound scores and scripts created specifically for the route they tour. e-Xplo bus tours start from the Atrium every evening throughout the festival.  My guess is that the latter performances will be the better ones, though you may want to book your ticket now.

Dance lovers will want to forgo David Shea on Saturday evening, and grab tickets for Japanese dancer Saburo Teshigawara performing at Trafó.  Teshigawara’s training includes classical ballet and sculpting and he has designed costumes, set and lighting for this solo performance.

Contemporary music is the main thrust of the Öszi Festival.  There are concerts every evening, sometimes too many to choose from.  Perhaps the most accessible concert on opening night, Friday the 15th, is 20-year-old ensemble, Amadinda playing traditional music from Uganda and Ghana, as well as some new compositions by Hungarian father and son duo, Győrgy Liget and Lukas Ligeti. This is the opening concert of the percussion festival, which continues on the 16th with three concerts in the afternoon and two in the evening, including marimba and tabla.   The percussion concerts are at the Uj Szinhas (Paulay Ede u. 35).

O famoso (e bizarro) Coral de Grito de Oulo: M...
Mieskuoro Huutajat Image by Improve It via Flickr

On Sunday, October 17th, two concerts catch my eye, both of which cater to the musical adventurer.  At 7:00 PM, The Merlin Theatre hosts Hungarian experimental vocalist Agens, who – accompanied by a quintet – will sing works drawing inspiration from Shostakovich.  If you don’t like Agens, you can dash over to the A38 to catch an all male choir from Finland.  Mieskuoro Huutajat performs at 9:00 PM. The programme states that “…it cannot be foretold whether it will be a positive or negative experience!”  These men shout verses and words drawn from regional culture; in this case, BKV rules, and rhymes from the Hungarian War of Independence.  It’s a toss-up.

On Monday, October 18th,the choice is easy.   There is one concert at 7:30 PM, but one not to be missed by serious music lovers. Most notable on the evening’s repertoire, is a Dutch poem translated into Hungarian and then translated into music by Budapest Festival Orchestra conductor Ivan Fisher. ‘Forditasok’ (Translations), will be performed by the Dutch Ensemble ’88 at the Petofi Irodalmi Muzeum (Károlyi Mihály u. 16). Following the Oszi Festival this ensemble will tour Holland, performing the same repertoire.

Choosing a concert for Tuesday, the 19th  is definitely a matter of taste. String quartet or opera?  

Barbara Hannigan

For strings, go to the Magyar Radio at 7:30 PM.  You are sure to hear some good playing by the prize-winning Asasello String Quartet from the Basel Conservatory. These musicians will start studying with the Alban Berg Quartet this fall.

For chamber opera, go to Trafó (Liliom ut. 41). ‘One’ composed by Michel van der Aa of the Netherlands, is billed as a musical multi-media drama that incorporates voice (soprano Barbara Hannigan), electronic sound and video. My curiosity is piqued by the opera, but they say it is about a confused woman unable to find herself, and that sounds a bit too much like psycho drama for my taste, so I opt for the strings.

One of the rare two-night billings is a performance by the Lausanne-based Philippe Saire Dance Troupe at the MaFilm III-IV Studio on the 19th and 20th at 8:00PM. This company experiments with freedom of expression. ‘[ob]seen’, which they will present to Budapest audiences, aims to show ‘…the richness of intimate, pure movement’.

drMarias performs at the A38 on Wednesday. Marias is undefinable – a bit of a cult figure in the Hungarian avante-garde performance poetry scene, he is noted for his saxophone, low, growling voice and video backdrops of questionable taste. ‘Junk Clearance’ – his performance for the festival – promises to be an evening of words, sound, movements, screams and images.

Thursday, the 21st at 8:00 PM, the Stockholm Saxophone Quartet plays pieces composed expressly for them.  Their performance is teamed with a drama by Swedish playwright, Sofia Fredén.

Although I love sax, I’m drawn to the jazz vocal performance by Mariann Falusi at the A38 at 9:00 PM. She says: “Let’s sing some jazz.”  That’s pretty hard to resist.

Vienna’s anima mundi concert on Friday, the 22nd at 7:30 PMat Mafilm’s III-IV Studio (Róna U. 174) could prove interesting.  They will perform a new composition by Brice Pauset, which will premier in Berlin the week preceding the festival. anima mundi is a unique contemporary ensemble, which places performer, conductor and composer on equal ground. They perform classical modernism as well as contemporary jazz and free improvisation.

Cover of
Cover of Dime Grind Palace

My first pick for Saturday, the 23rd is Sex Mob, from New York City.  They will promo their new CD ‘Dime Grind Palace’ at 9:15PM at Trafó. Guaranteed to generate a party atmosphere, this 4 piece jazz band blends everything from Duke Ellington to Nirvana to New Orleans jazz to James Bond soundtracks.

But if tickets are sold out, or you really don’t like jazz, go for ‘Italia anno Zero’ at the Hungarian Railway Museum (Tatai u. 95.) This multimedia music performance is presented by Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth, teamed with Italian Visual Artist Roberto Paci Dalo.  A five-member ensemble presents music, dance, poetry, performance and video. The show premiers in Vienna a week before the Őszi Festival, and after Budapest, goes on to tour contemporary art festivals throughout Europe.

Late Night Parties on A38  After the concerts are finished on Saturday evening, if you’re up for late-night partying, the A38 will be grooving until the wee hours with DJ party ‘The Pussyfoot Meets Budapest’. Howie B. is the lead act. He’s worked with Massive Attack among others. Starts 10:00PM. Not likely. Don’t worry if you don’t get there till midnight. A38 is notorious for running late when they host these kinds of parties.

Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, Hungary
Zeneakadémia, BudapestImage via Wikipedia

Closing night, the 24th,brings, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies at the Zeneakadémia, conducting the Danube Symphony Orchestra,  playing four of his own compositions. If you don’t have a ticket, try for the Vienna Art Orchestra on the A38. They are top-notch musicians and their new production is based on quotations from various big band leaders, hence the name ‘Big Band Poésie’.

Tickets and Info

For tickets phone 486-3311, or email  For more detailed information and full festival programme visit the festival website:  Everything is explained in English, and it’s an easy site to manouver.

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