Edinburgh International Fest - Budapest Festival Orchestra performing Bartok and Stravinsky (SkinnyFest2)

Feature by Sean Michaels | 14 Aug 2006

Bela Bartok wrestled with his government for the right to perform his music; Igor Stravinsky fled a premiere when fistfights filled the aisles. It's difficult, today, to imagine the role that classical music once played in the popular imagination. Difficult, that is, until you sit before one of the world's finest young orchestras as they play pieces by two of the 20th Century's finest composers. For all its reputation of stuffiness and complexity, orchestral music is often a profoundly visceral experience, the swell of sound, the soar of melody, the stab and stroke of woodwinds, strings and brass in harmony.

As one of its three performances at this year's Edinburgh International Festival, the Budapest Festival Orchestra will be performing works by both the Russian Stravinsky and the Hungarian Bartok a mixture of hurtling folk-influenced suites and the strange, primitivist atmospherics of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring". Despite only being founded in 1983, the BFO has achieved an international reputation and appears here with the American pianist Richard Goode a Grammy-winner in his own right.

More exciting still are the strong flavours of what they've chosen to play. Bartok is with Zoltan Kodaly one of Hungary's most famous composers, renowned for his adaptation of peasant folk melodies and his explorations of tonality, he often eschewed conventional major/minor chords for the broader palette of dissonance and bitonality. Stravinsky is of course the avant-garde Russian composer behind such works as "The Firebird" and "The Rake's Progress", but "The Rite of Spring" written early in his career is his most well known piece. Originally designed as a ballet, it was conceived as a series of episodes in a Pagan spring ritual, a young girl to be sacrificed to the God of Spring, Stravinsky said, "in order to gain his benevolence". In practice this makes for strange, sporadic melody, long moments of stillness and then juddering, almost violent scatterings of sound. An abridged version of the work was used for a scene in Disney's 'Fantasia'. By this time Stravinsky was living in New York (and among other things teaching music to a young Warren Zevon); he described the Disney sequence as "execrable".

The Budapest Festival Orchestra, however, are not Walt Disney and when Ivan Fischer raises his baton, it will doubtless be a performance of thrills and chills, the old-fashioned technicolour of music reverberating in an unamplified hall.

The Budapest Festival Orchestra with Ivan Fischer (conductor) and Richard Goode (piano) perform Stravinsky's ""Rite of Spring"" and Bartok's ""Rumanian Dances"" and ""Piano Concerto No 3"". August 23, Usher Hall, 20.00, Tickets from £7.50