HUNGARY has been in the news a lot lately and little of the coverage has been positive. But away from the ongoing row about the workings of the country’s democracy is another story, one much less reported: this central European nation’s dazzling cultural and musical heritage is now enjoying a renaissance. Budapest is both drawing world-class performers and nurturing its own home-grown stars.
Culture in Budapest: City of festivals
Apr 1st 2012, 21:09 by A.L.B. | BUDAPEST
Click here to read the article on the website of The Economist
HUNGARY has been in the news a lot lately and little of the coverage has been positive. But away from the ongoing row about the workings of the country’s democracy is another story, one much less reported: this central European nation’s dazzling cultural and musical heritage is now enjoying a renaissance. Budapest is both drawing world-class performers and nurturing its own home-grown stars. Apparently aiming to brand itself the region’s cultural capital, the city appears to be hosting a new gala or celebration every month, particularly as the weather gets warmer. Hungarians may be known for their sometimes gloomy temperament, but the flip-side is a great love for partying.
The Budapest Spring Festival, now in its 32nd year, drew to a close on March 26th with a bravura performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D minor by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Charles Dutoit (pictured below).
Kristóf Baráti, a young and internationally garlanded Hungarian violinist, brought the house down with his performance (playing a 1703 Stradivari). The festival has been cut from 17 to 11 days, but still features an impressively varied programme. One of the more sought-after tickets was for "The Infernal Comedy" (pictured top), a show by John Malkovich based on the autobiography of Jack Unterweger, an Austrian serial killer.
Next month sees the Titanic International Filmfest, which breathes welcome life into the city’s surviving art-house cinemas and showcases Hungary’s own rich cinematic tradition. Also in April the city hosts Budapest 100, a celebration of city's impressive architecture. Organised by the Open Society Centre and the Hungarian Contemporary Architecture Centre, Budapest 100 takes groups of up to 40 people on guided tours through the city’s hidden gems, such as the Paris Courtyard, an atmospheric and now sadly dilapidated former bank and shopping arcade (which made an appearance in the recent film "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"). Those who prefer more alcoholic pleasures should head to the Budapest Pálinka festival in May, where producers will showcase more than 300 varieties of the country’s famed fruit brandies.
Smaller festivals continue throughout the summer including the Budapest Summer Festival, on Margaret Island in the Danube, Budapest Pride, and the increasingly popular Night of the Museums, when more than 100 museums and galleries stay open until 2:30am.
Hungarians have always been rightly proud of their rich cultural and literary heritage. The collapse of Communism has given them the means and opportunity to showcase this legacy to the world; the country has been steadily investing in culture since 1990. More prosaically, the rise of the budget airlines has helped to make Budapest an easy international destination. The city is now served by numerous carriers from all over Europe, and it is fairly easy to enjoy on a budget.
All this builds to the granddaddy of Budapest’s festivals: Sziget, now an essential stop on the European festival circuit. Hungarian for "island", Sziget takes place in August on the Old Buda Island in the Danube. It has grown from a ramshackle student gathering in 1993 to a multi-stage extravaganza that attracts headline acts from around the world. Organisers are still working on this year’s line-up, but confirmed acts include LMFAO, the Ting-Tings and Bebel Gilberto. Sziget has evolved into a highly organised Mittel-European Woodstock, where tents and stands offer everything from spiritual salvation to world cuisine.
Budapest’s Jewish Summer Festival, also in August, is much smaller in scale but is heavily promoted and steadily growing in size each year. The Hungarian capital is home to around 80,000 Jews, one of the largest communities on mainland Europe. The Jewish quarter in downtown District VII is now the hippest part of town, and the festival is boosted by a growing revival in Jewish culture. This year’s programme is not yet public, but your correspondent attended a memorable concert last year by the Boban Markovic Orchestra in the Great Synagogue on Dohany street.
Reinforcing the theme of local cultural continuity, Budapest's international airport was recently renamed for Franz Liszt, better-known locally as Ferenc Liszt, a 19th-century Hungarian composer.