Budapest rolls out the red carpet for Kurtág on his 90th
By Alexandra Ivanoff February 2016

To celebrate the 90th birthday of Hungarian composer György Kurtág, Budapest rolled out the red carpet for an eight-day retrospective, Kurtág 90. On Friday, the Concerto Budapest Orchestra and international soloists performed six of his orchestral works at the Franz Liszt Academy for his birthday.

(Photo: Judit Marjai)

This concert revealed to what extent Kurtág, as the last of a long line of esteemed 20th-century Hungarian composers, is recognized and revered. As a prelude, the Berlin Philharmonic’s maestro Sir Simon Rattle appeared on a giant video screen, sending his felicitations: “You made us listen differently,” was Rattle’s closing sentence. The music that followed demonstrated Rattle’s sentiment.

Messages for Orchestra, Op.34, one of Kurtág’s few large-scale works, was written for an orchestra with an unusually high number of large percussion instruments, plus two pianos, two harps, organ, celesta and synthesizer modules – so most of the strings and winds played from the balconies. The Budapest Concerto Orchestra performed under the baton of András Keller, whose attention to both the general architecture and the minutiae was extraordinary. The score revealed a rich, fascinating orchestration that glowed with intimacy and affect, despite such grand forces onstage.