Franz Liszt, one of the most influential musicians in the history of music, was born 200 years ago, in 1811. A fantastic pianist, a composer and conductor open to everything new, a colleague very generous to his contemporaries, a charismatic master of the next generation of musicians, he created an exceptionally rich and varied oeuvre. Not only his music but also his fascinating life and magnetic personality made him one of the emblematic figures of the 19th century. It is almost impossible to show so many facets and such wealth at a single festival but the Budapest Spring Festival intends to try.
The première of Gyula Fekete's new opera Excelsior! promises to be exciting. It is based on a tense and critical period in Liszt's private life. The new work, which boldly combines historical facts with the imagined has been commissioned by the Budapest Spring Festival and can be seen in the Thália Theatre.
A number of our concerts evoke the memory of the inimitable pianist. Liszt's second piano concerto, one of the most challenging piano concertos ever written, can be heard at the Budapest Festival Orchestra's Liszt evening for example. Among the grand oratorios, the Csokonai Theatre of Debrecen is presenting Christus in a semi-staged version. We offer special treats, not only for connoisseurs, at our chamber evenings in Kogart House. The Esterházy Trio has compiled a programme of rarities and interesting transcriptions, we can recommend the evening with Jenő Jandó and Judit Havas also for lovers of literature, while the song recital by Bernadett Wiedemann accompanied by Virág Emese gives a glimpse into the workshop of the master who reworked and polished his works over and over.
In addition to programmes embracing all branches of the arts and giving a broad international outlook, it is a tradition that each year the Spring Festival is host to a city, region or country. But this year we are counting on more guests than ever before. In conjunction with Hungary's EU Presidency, all 27 Member States of the EU will be guests of the festival in 2011. We are not aiming for the usual representative and often empty presentation of the European Union; we trust that our programmes will enable visitors to experience the spirit of the EU and the opportunities inherent in co-operation. We live in an age of international co-productions, so there is nothing unusual in the fact that Mischa Maisky who was born in Latvia and currently lives in Belgium will be performing with the Prague Chamber Orchestra, and the German-Japanese Alice Sara Ott with the Vienna Symphony.
It is only natural that in the year of the Hungarian presidency we are again hosting the European Union Youth Orchestra. After their earlier concert here with Vladimir Ashkenazy, they will be conducted on this occasion by Claus Peter Flor. The European Union Youth Orchestra that made its debut in 1978 under the direction of Claudio Abbado, was established with the aim of setting up a music workshop where talented young European musicians could create productions under the direction of leading conductors and present them on a concert tour of European cities. Each year over four thousand musicians apply for admission: in the 2010/2011 season four young Hungarians also won a place in the European "team".
This year's festival will see a whole series of world stars. Among others, Pepe Romero will enchant the public once again with his guitar playing, Thomas Quasthoff will appear with the Camerata Salzburg and Zubin Mehta will conduct one of the best Italian orchestras, the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. The performance of Vivaldi's opera Orlando furioso by a star-studded international cast, including Philippe Jaroussky who has already won the hearts of the Budapest public, will be a special occasion. We will be able to welcome back Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester with his inimitable elegance and dry wit. The Slovak Philharmonic Choir who have participated in recent years in such international productions as the Vienna Opera's staging of Boris Godunov and a performance of Mahler's 8th symphony conducted by Pierre Boulez, are bringing a splendid programme to Budapest.
We are continuing the International Theatre Festival launched two years ago. Among others we will be able to see the Macbeth production of the London company Cheek by Jowl, and the Schauspielhaus Graz production of Liliom directed by Viktor Bodó. The Mini teater of Slovenia will be our guest. The Hungarian public can see their performance of Bergman's Persona with an excellent cast.
Among the dance programmes we will be able to admire the cult version of Carmen by the legendary Antonio Gades Company in the Thália Theatre. The now world famous performance was first hailed by critics as marking the return of Carmen from France to Spain.
In the frame of our now traditional folk dance programmes, under the motto: "Hear the word!" emblematic figures of the dance house movement, at home in both small clubs and on major festival stages, present a cross-section in music and dance of the changes over close to three decades in the genre. Featuring, among others, Márta Sebestyén, Ferenc Sebő, the Muzsikás Ensemble and the Csík Orchestra.
The Fringe Festival returning to Budapest in 2011 could best be described as a festival within the festival. For six years now the Budapest Fringe Festival has brought a refreshing splash of music and theatre colour to the final weekend of the Spring Festival. The three-day programme gives aspiring and already known talents an opportunity to perform before an audience. Join us for the 2011 Fringe in the centre of Budapest!
I wish you fine weather for the open-air programmes and a warm atmosphere for the theatre and concert evenings.