Richard Bratby

Imagine a school concert hosted by Bela Lugosi: Budapest Festival Orchestra and Ivan Fischer, at the Proms, reviewed

Plus: at Opera Holland Park a bright, fast, funny production of Gilbert & Sullivan's Ruddigore

A superb one-woman show on the Mitfords by Emma Wilkinson Wright. Image: Richard Daniels / Ardquoy

‘Audience Choice’ was the promise at the Budapest Festival Orchestra’s Sunday matinee Prom, and come on – who could resist the chance to treat one of the world’s great orchestras like a colossal jukebox? Actually, this wasn’t the latest wheeze of some clueless BBC head of music: it’s a favourite party trick of the BFO and its conductor Ivan Fischer. The audience has a ‘menu’ of some 275 individual works and symphonic movements; they vote for six of them and the BFO plays their selection, unrehearsed, on the spot. Orchestral musicians never do anything unrehearsed. They hate it. But the BFO does it anyway, because they’re the best, and they know they are.

Later, Fischer pitched a beachball into the arena: the Promenader who caught it got to choose a piece

So the full orchestra basically winged it before our ears. In between, Fischer oversaw the voting in his deadpan Magyar growl. Imagine a school concert hosted by Bela Lugosi: ‘Please, make this a beautiful programme,’ he implored, as he stuck his hand down a tuba and drew out the numbers of three seats whose occupants would each get to choose a work. Fischer put the results to a show of hands. ‘Thank you. That is very…long,’ he observed as the Andante of Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony won by acclamation. Off scuttled the orchestra’s librarian to fetch the sheet music; meanwhile mini-ensembles from the BFO – a violin duo, a klezmer band, a vocal consort (they sang Monteverdi) – noodled away while we waited. Later, Fischer pitched a beachball into the arena: the Promenader who caught it got to choose a piece.

With great power comes great responsibility. As a critic, my heart is black as tar, so my instinct was to pick the gnarliest available options – the Sacrificial Dance from Le Sacre du Printemps, Hans Krasa’s Overture for small orchestra – to see if I could make them crash.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.


Unlock more articles



Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in