Magical storytellers

10. November 2017

In the wake of Firsts and Lasts and then Turning Point, Magic Mountain, a most apt appellation similarly lifted from literature, becomes the title of the new series of kamara.hu. Many parallels can be drawn between the Thomas Mann novel and the Liszt Academy’s now well established autumn chamber music festival, but artistic directors Izabella Simon and Dénes Várjon did not choose the title purely for these similarities.

Kamara.hu has two characteristics of outstanding significance. One is that every featured artist belongs among the host couple’s select group of friends. The second is that these artists are all, without any exaggeration, ranked as some of the finest musicians of our day, artists who regularly take to the stage of the leading concert halls of the world. Several will already be familiar to audiences of kamara.hu, as they make their return appearances at the festival. Izabella Simon and Dénes Várjon plan long ahead and send out invitations to artists years in advance of the concert – and no wonder, given their intense concert schedules – so it has long been known that 2017 features the youthful and superb violinist Veronika Eberle, as well as horn player Radovan Vlatković, an artist the author of this article has fallen in love with – musically speaking, that is! Joined by Dénes Várjon to make the same trio that played Brahms at the festival two years ago, the artists appear at the opening concert performing Ligeti’s Horn Trio. There are familiar names from last year, too, with Csaba Klenyán and György Lakatos both making appearances in several concerts.

 

kamara.hu in 2016. Photo: Liszt Academy / István Bielik

 

Budapest is also not entirely unfamiliar territory for either violinist Muriel Cantoreggi or violist Andrea Hallam, since both have played here before, albeit at one of Simon and Várjon’s earlier chamber music festivals. We also have the Marlboro Music Festival, staged under the musical direction of Mitsuko Uchida, to thank for the presence of several artists. This is the venue where each year the two artistic directors of kamara.hu develop life-long friendships and acquire unforgettable chamber music experiences. Both speak of the festival in glowing terms and with nostalgic smiles. This year they have managed to tempt to Hungary Marie-Elisabeth Hecker, Kim Kashkashian, Roman Rabinovich and Escher String Quartet cellist Brook Speltz, along with the other members of the quartet. Another favourite destination of Izabella Simon and Dénes Várjon is Switzerland, where they go to play music and holiday with equal enthusiasm. This magical country is not only significant from the aspect of kamara.hu in being the setting for the novel by Thomas Mann, but also because the artistic directors have established numerous close friendships there. This is where Izabella Simon met singer Marie-Claude Chappuis, who performs works by Brahms, Schubert and Mahler at the opening concert on 16 November. Every year the pianist places special emphasis on the lieder repertoire, steadfastly maintaining that works written for vocals and piano are genuine chamber music and far from being mere piano accompanied songs. After joint performances with Polina Pasztircsák, Sarah Shafer and István Kovács, there will be no doubt in the minds of the Solti Chamber Hall audience that Simon is indeed right.

Perhaps it is also due to this concord of feeling – not to mention, of course, the seemingly endless repertoire of beautiful songs – that this year, just as in 2016, we can once again listen to two singers. Besides Chappuis, Zoltán Megyesi takes to the stage in the closing concert with Schumann’s cycle A Poet’s Love. The list of featured artists attending kamara.hu is further enhanced by other excellent Hungarian musicians, 61 including bassist Zsolt Fejérvári and violinist András Keller; Tamás Érdi performs Chopin in the Grand Hall, while Miklós Perényi showcases the broad cello repertoire, from Schumann and Janáček through to Dohnányi and Schoenberg. Naturally, the two artistic directors also have major roles in the programmes: they are on stage for all the concerts. Their piano duet is one of the highlights of the festival, along with their joint productions with invited artists; this year, they perform a Debussy and a Brahms piece.

This constitutes one of the principal hallmarks of the festival: a carefully selected, family-style group of musicians of unquestionable professional quality. Another hallmark is the delightful programme, which has been fashioned with similar precision. While previous title Firsts and Lasts made an easy connection with the oeuvres of composers, and Turning Point also clearly marked out certain works, Magic Mountain is far less specific. This time, Izabella Simon and Dénes Várjon took a twin approach. On the one hand, they sought a literary hook to the music (they highlight the importance of the harmony of the fellow arts through complementary programmes); on the other hand, they were looking for a concept that would in itself spark a whole variety of associations. Without a doubt, a similarity can be recognised between the power of the original Magic Mountain and kamara.hu to lift one above earthly reality and problems: the festival is for those aiming to relax and improve the mind in an oasis of tranquillity. Just as in the novel, here too there are complete philosophical systems to be discovered for those who arrive at the Liszt Academy with open ears and open hearts. What is more, in a metaphorical sense, kamara.hu is also a ‘mountain’ in that it represents a pinnacle of artistic standard, one guaranteed to enchant all who ascend its slopes.

The programmes for this year’s concerts are forged into units by the ‘magic mountain’ as a concept: part magic, fairy tale, fantasy and ballad, with a narration that links the works of each programme. Every concert is a story in which there are contrasts, but these contrasts form an integral part of the whole. This is how Ligeti can end up between Brahms and Schubert; why Schoenberg is placed alongside Mahler; and why a Frenchman, a Pole, a Moravian and an Austrian come one after the other. There are composers with close connections such as Bach and Busoni, or Brahms and Schumann, and one can say that, in general, the parts before and after the intermission always form a coherent block. We will come across fairy-tale figures such as the love-struck poet, the spirit, the wandering lad, the elf king, and even death and the maiden; with respect to genre, there is everything from free fantasy to strictly regulated fugues. The tale is the central theme of the literary discussion, to which Izabella Simon and Dénes Várjon have invited Ildikó Boldizsár, author and researcher of fairy tales. Meanwhile, kids can glimpse the musical world of Cinderella on 18 November. To sum up, this storybook – that is, the festival – promises everyone pleasant adventures, one that is certainly worth listening to, especially because one rarely comes across such storytellers and stories as these.

Dániel Mona