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Saturday, March 5, 2011

At the Philharmonic: Hungarian Echoes

Esa-Pekka Salonen. Photo by Stefan Bremer
Starting March 10, the New York Philharmonic will open the three-week Hungarian Echoes festival. Led by Finnish conductor-composer Esa-Pekka Salonen, the festival will feature the music of Haydn, Ligeti, and Bartok.

Franz Joseph Haydn lived in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and was the court composer for Prince Nikolaus Esterházy. Living and working in the Prince's two residences of Eisenstadt and Esterházy from 1761 to 1790, Haydn set the standard for string quartets and symphonies, ushering in the so-called "classical" period.

Franz Joseph Haydn
At Esterházy, Haydn had access to his own orchestra, theater, and opera company. Since the Prince constantly demanded new music, Haydn obliged, writing over 80 symphonies, more than 50 string quartets, and 126 chamber trios featuring the baryton, an unusual member of the viol family with a set of sympathetic strings. (And yes, that was the Prince's instrument.)

Haydn is represented on the program by his 6th, 7th, and 8th symphonies, a tryptich nicknamed Le Matin, Le Midi and Le Soir.

Béla Bartók was crucial to the development of Hungarian music and national identity, Traveling into the rural parts of his country, Bartok made field recordings of songs and folk music, and then wrote music based on those recordings. Later, he fled the Nazis and emigrated to New York City, where he died from leukemia in 1945. He is considered the most important composer in modern Hungarian history.
Béla Bartok

Bartok represented at the Festival by the Concerto for Orchestra, the First Piano Concerto, the Suite from the ballet score The Miraculous Mandarin and three performances of the one-act opera Duke Bluebeard's Castle.

György Ligeti (1923-2006)continued where Bartok left off, writing compositions that explored the power of microtones, music that uses intervals that are between the notes of the standard 12-note scale. He received tremendous exposure from the film composer Stanley Kubrick, who used Ligeti compositions in his films 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut.

Györgi Ligeti
His music is well known to Philharmonic subscribers after last year's performances of the opera Le Grand Macabre, which had never been staged in New York until music director Alan Gilbert brought it to Avery Fisher Hall. This festival features Clocks and Clouds (written for 12 female voices), the Piano Concerto, and the Concert Românesc.

For more information on the Hungarian Echoes Festival and to order concert tickets, visit the New York Philharmonic's official web site at

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