The feisty unapologetic tone in the Cafe Budapest brochure previewing the children’s Bartok concert made for refreshing reading.
Bela Bartok’s music is not ‘modern’, not some difficult and disonant stuff. Adults are the only ones for whom this still has to to be spelt out – embarrassing as it is. For children, by contrast, it is evident that Bartok’s works reveal complete fairy tale worlds, clearly and in magical colours.
Those in attendance were excitable, smartly dressed and, when the music and drama started, impeccably well-behaved, attentive and engrossed; their parents beamed with pride. This was a special event for both parties – made clear by the number of posed shots in the Vigado Concert Hall’s lavish interior.
This was an inventive performance of excerpts from Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, the Miraculous Mandarin Dance Suite (and, if I’ve got my research right, an excerpt of Bartok telling the story of Nine Enchanted Stags – the starting point for his Cantata Profana). A narrative written by Hamor Matthew and spoken by the conductor in between excerpts of the work was combined with ingenious choreography devised by Balázs Pálfi and performed by the MOHA Dancers at the front of the stage.
The story set in a post-apocalyptic world where human civilization has conquered the rest of the natural world, destroying everything except itself. The story’s protagonist – a young boy ‘different’ from the rest of the world – sets out on a strategy to reconquer the natural world doing so with the help of various ‘superheroes’.
Members of the orchestra were called upon to participate in the production in addition to their primary contractural obligations, donning eye-catching headgear ingeniously creating cityscapes and forest scenes – Balázs Pálfi set design was a real treat. I can’t imagine any UK orchestra agreeing to do the same whilst playing. Making use of a space which in most concerts remains a rather static and visually uninteresting for audiences who don’t have the benefit of raked seating was a striking move.
Not a concert to change the world, nor one which shone new light on musical expression necessarily. But that wasn’t really the point of it. What was striking from a British perspective was the level of attention amongst the audience, the warmth of the storytelling and the effortless way the audience was introduced to a considerable amount of Bartok’s repertoire. At no point did this feel like a worthy exercise. An incredibly charming affair.