TRAVEL with pat and lew

concert celebrates Soviet departure

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

The Budapest Festival Orchestra, conducted by Ivan Fischer, performs an outdoor concert at Heroes Square, a monumental open space flanked by glorious museums on either side. There is a sense that this space has been the scene of many events central to Hungarian history, often tragic.

At the center stands a 120 foot high Corinthian column, topped by the Archangel Gabriel. At the base of the column are six ancient Magyar warriors, fierce even as statues. But on this night, there is joy instead of tragedy. Swarms of happy young people are precariously perched on each available ledge of the soaring column.

We had wondered where we would sit on this great open space. The solution to the problem is ingenious. Cardboard seats, sponsored by local businesses, are free for the taking, and they are remarkably comfortable.

Before the concert, Budapest Mayor Demszky Gabor speaks movingly of the departure of the last Soviet soldiers from Hungarian soil on June 19, 1991. Most of those attending have personal memories of the Soviet era. Some still look over their shoulders. The mayor presents a sober but reassuring presence. We are ok. We will succeed.

The concert begins with a selection of delightful sketches by the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok, and the pride of his countrymen is seen in their smiles. The  main selection, Beethoven’s Seventh, one of the most exultant of all symphonies, is played with soaring enthusiasm. The Maestro and orchestra appear to enjoy every note. The featured flutist sways her entire body as she plays.

The night has reached full darkness before Fischer brings Beethoven to his thunderous conclusion. We feel the exultation of Hungarian freedom in the wild joy of the final movement, understand why it was chosen. The audience cheers on and on, and the flutist, in appreciation perhaps of the feelings she has shared with us, as well as her fine performance, receives a standing ovation.

Everyone is permitted to take the cardboard chairs with them. One family unfolds their chairs and makes a pile of what seems to be a dining room set for fourteen people.

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