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Iván Fischer conducts Beethoven cycle in NYC

Over four consecutive days in early spring, conductor Iván Fischer – the founder and music director of the Budapest Festival Orchestra – will lead two remarkable ensembles in performances of all nine Beethoven symphonies in New York City.  “Beethoven: Then and Now” takes place between March 25 and 28 at Lincoln Center and features Fischer’s celebrated Budapest Festival Orchestra – now in its 26th season – sharing the spotlight with one of the world’s leading period-instrument ensembles, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE).  Performances of the complete Beethoven symphonies with world-class conductors and orchestras are always highly-anticipated events, and, in recent decades, interpretations of Beethoven – perhaps more than of any other composer – have been a lightning-rod for the period-instrument versus modern-instrument performance debate.  With Beethoven: Then and Now”, Iván Fischer offers concertgoers the unique opportunity to hear and compare side-by-side performances, both under his direction, from these two very different internationally-acclaimed orchestras.

Fischer and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment open “Beethoven: Then and Now” in Alice Tully Hall, with Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3 (“Eroica”) on March 25 and Symphonies Nos. 1, 5, and 8 on March 26.  Next, also in Alice Tully Hall, Fischer leads the Budapest Festival Orchestra in Symphonies Nos. 4 and 7 on March 27.  Finally, on March 28, Fischer and the BFO move to Avery Fisher Hall for the last concert of the series, pairing Symphony No. 6 (“Pastoral”) with the great Symphony No. 9.  Scottish soprano Lisa Milne, American mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor, Finnish tenor Jorma Silvasti, and Icelandic bass Kristinn Sigmundsson are the vocal soloists.  A panel discussion, “On Interpreting Beethoven”, will precede the final “Beethoven: Then and Now” concert.  Moderated by Ara Guzelimian, Dean of the Juilliard School, the panel will address issues of interpretation, composer intention, historical accuracy, and “authenticity”.

Fischer’s approach to performing Beethoven’s symphonies with the Budapest Festival Orchestra can be previewed on a recording by Channel Classics, issued in April 2008.  That album features Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony paired with music by Rossini, Weber, and Johann Wilhelm Wilms, all of which may have been performed in the same year as the symphony’s premiere.  Fischer’s goal in this pairing was to illuminate the musical environment in which Beethoven’s work was first heard and to emphasize what he calls “the strikingly original quality” of the composer’s music.  In the liner notes, Fischer underlines his point about Beethoven’s revolutionary language with a colorful question: “How did audiences of the time respond to the finale of the Seventh’s obsessive rhythmical drive, which must have seemed like the rock music of the 19th?”

Critical response to the recording was enthusiastic.  ClassicsToday observed, “Iván Fischer’s Beethoven Seven surely ranks with the best among recent performances.”  Britain’s Guardian went so far as to class it “among the greatest ever recorded,” noting, “With the Budapest Festival Orchestra playing as if their lives depended on it, it’s superbly articulated, thrillingly elated, and emotionally exhausting.”  In fall 2010, Channel plans to issue a second Beethoven recording from Fischer and the BFO, this time pairing Symphonies Nos. 4 and 6.

Fischer and the BFO are one of the great success stories of the orchestral world.  From the beginning in 1983, Fischer’s vision was to transform musical life in his native country and to make the new orchestra a star on the international stage.  Working with the crème-de-la-crème of his country’s musicians, Fischer’s intensive rehearsal methods and his emphasis on chamber music are just two key elements that have kept the orchestra focused on the art of interpretation and the singular joy of music-making.  Innovating programming, “Cocoa Concerts” for children, and other audience development initiatives have shown Fischer to be a uniquely inspired – and inspiring – music director.  Critically acclaimed at home and on tour, the Budapest Festival Orchestra was selected by an international panel of critics assembled by Gramophone magazine as one of the world’s Top Ten orchestras, an extraordinary achievement for any ensemble, and even more noteworthy for such a young one.  This season, Fischer and the orchestra are heard on two new recordings from Channel Classics: a performance of Brahms’s Symphony No. 1, paired with his “Haydn Variations”, issued in October 2009, and a recording of Dvorák’s Symphony No. 7, due for release this spring.

Fischer has enjoyed a long and productive association with the OAE and is a Principal Artist of the orchestra.  Ten years ago, he was one of five conductors who led the ensemble in a complete Beethoven symphony cycle at London’s Royal Festival Hall.  His conducting of Beethoven’s Fifth drew comparisons to Furtwängler; the Independent, one newspaper to note the similarity, commented: “Fischer released a torrent of orchestral excitement.”

Fischer is currently in his second season as Principal Conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.  This spring he will lead the orchestra in two extraordinary programs: Bach’s monumental Mass in B minor (April 1-3), and an all-Russian program pairing Rimsky-Korsakov’s colorfully exotic Scheherazade with Stravinsky’s potent Le sacre du printemps (June 3-5).


Iván Fischer conducts Beethoven’s nine symphonies in NYC

March 25-28, New York, NY
Lincoln Center
“Beethoven: Then and Now” – The Complete Symphonies
Budapest Festival Orchestra and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Symphonies Nos. 2 and 3, “Eroica”
OAE, March 25 at Alice Tully Hall
Symphonies Nos. 1, 8, and 5
OAE, March 26 at Alice Tully Hall
Symphonies Nos. 4 and 7
BFO, March 27 at Alice Tully Hall
Symphonies Nos. 6, “Pastoral”, and 9
BFO, March 28 at Avery Fisher Hall

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© 21C Media Group, February 2010

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