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The National Philharmonic facing a move

2003. 05. 02.

The National Philharmonic Orchestra, Choir and Bibliotheque Kht must move from its Vörösmarty Square office complex by the end of the summer, where it has functioned for the past thirty years. Because the new National Concert Hall, which is being built as part of the Millennium City Centre will only be inaugurated in the summer or autumn of 2004, the orchestra and choir must spend the next season in rented accommodation.

In 1971, one of the legal predecessors of today's National Philharmonic Orchestra, Choir and Bibliotheque Kht (National Philharmonic), the Hungarian State Orchestra led by János Ferencsikm moved into the Vörösmárty Square office building. In 1985, the newly formed Hungarian State Choir, founded by Miklós Pászti, joined them. The Kht (Public Benefit Company) which operates the ensembles as well as the former Philharmonic music library (known as the Bibliotheque which also fulfils an important public service function) currently rents more than two thousand square meters of space from the Vigadó Irodaház Kft, who run the building, paying it nearly 60 million forints a year. By the end of the summer – similar to the other musical institutions – they must move out because the owner, the Művészeti és Szabadművelődési Alapítvány (Foundation for Art and Community Culture) has sold the building (see our boxed item). It has yet to be decided finally how the Vigadó Irodaház Kft who rent out the property, will compensate the current tenants and to what degree.

Since the National Philharmonic needs not only offices but a suitable rehearsal room for large scale musical ensembles, finding a new – true, it will only be temporary – home is by no means easy. Géza Kovács, the director of the Kht, says that negotiations are not yet closed. Recently they have been studying plans and blueprints, but a solution is close. Magyar Hírlap has learned that probably the National Philharmonic will spend the next season in the Castle District at the headquarters of the Hungarian Cultural Foundation at Szentháromság Square, the Corvin hall of which is largely unused and suitable as a rehearsal room.

Uncertainties about the new concert hall

It seems that the residence in the Buda Castle district is planned for only a year; in the summer of 2004 or early autumn (with a few months delay to the original plan), the new National Concert Hall, built near to the National Theatre as part of the Millennium Centre on Soroksári Road, will be opened. The Philharmonic's offices and rehearsal rooms are to be located in the upper levels of this building. The new 1700 capacity concert hall is still surrounded by a great deal of uncertainty: it has not yet been decided who or what organisation will operate the hall, and what will happen there on the (according to current estimates) one hundred to one hundred and fifty evenings, when the Hungarian orchestras and concert organisers do not wish to make use of it.

Return to world status

Looking at the program plan for the 2003-2004 season, no one can assert that the National Philharmonic Orchestra does not play enough Hungarian compositions and contemporary music, said music director Zoltán Kocsis at the press conference, reacting to some earlier criticism. The orchestra has announced three large orchestral subscription series for the following season in “rental accommodation”. The venue for all the concerts except one will be the  Music Academy. In the subscription series, three French conductors will appear (Jean-Claude Casadesus, Serge Baudo, Philippe Entremont), as well as the winner thirty years ago of the legendary Budapest conductors' competition, the Japanese Ken-Ichiro Kobayashi and the third placed  Lenard Ondrej. Besides Zoltán Kocsis, Zsolt Hamar, György Vashegyi and Kálmán Berkes will all conduct the National Philharmonic Orchestra which will play works by 39 composers in the new season.

The season begins on September 25th with a Bartók evening: this will be the opening concert of the 45th Budapest Music Weeks festival. Two of their autumn concerts have been selected for inclusion in the Hungarian French Cultural Season, FranciaArt, and they will also give two performances at the 2004 Spring Festival. The young persons' concert series, devised by Zsolt Hamar, will continue at a new venue, the Millenáris Theatre, and the hosts will again by music historian András Batta and former pop luminary Péter Geszti. In the 2003-2004 series, the Philharmonic Orchestra will visit seven provincial towns, give one concert each in Zagrab and Linz as well as embark on longer tours of Great Britain and Spain. In early November, they will officially open the English Hungarian Cultural Season.

 Five and a half years ago, the National Philharmonic Orchestra, Choir and Bibliotheque became so-called national cultural basic institutions, following the termination of the National Philharmonia. The orchestra then named Zoltán Kocsis to lead it. This happened when Bálint Magyar was cultural minister (two parliamentary cycles ago), although the settling of the ensemble's financial circumstances only occurred during the Fidesz government in the summer of 2000. Since January 1st 2002, the ensembles have operated as a public benefit company (Kht) – and by Hungarian standards – have enjoyed boosted financial support. According to Géza Kovács, last year they received 1.5 billion forints while this year, they will be given 1.750 billion from the Ministry of National Heritage and Culture. From this, they can finance the 50 percent increase in wages granted to all public employees. Although according to the written law, the National Philharmonic would not have been entitled to this money as a Kht, they received it as did other orchestras – even though there was only money available for a 20 percent rather than 50 percent increase. Their revenue was supplemented by nearly 200 million forints from foreign tours and ticket sales. However, precisely because of their significant budgetary support, they have not yet succeeded in finding a sponsor.

According to Géza Kovács, the settling of the financial circumstances of the orchestra and choir has resulted in a significant rise in standards. Thanks to the quality improving program initiated by Zoltán Kocsis in 2000, the National Philharmonic Orchestra again attained world status. Their two month tour of America which finished in May was accompanied by numerous approving and indeed ecstatic reviews in the American press. “No one has a God given right to be a member of the orchestra and this motivates everyone, as does the charismatic personality of our music director, Zoltán Kocsis” says Géza Kovács.

Attila Retkes
(Magyar Hírlap)