Moscow beckons Hungary to send cash-strapped orchestra

July 12, 2016

Budapest Festival Orchestra conductor Iván Fischer

In April Budapest Festival Orchestra conductor Iván Fischer took to the streets in protest over the Budapest city council’s sudden decision to strip the orchestra of HUF 200 million (USD 725,000) in support for the 2016-2017 season. The 76 percent cut in Budapest’s annual contribution to the world-renowned orchestra “without warning or prior consultation” prompted Fischer to announce that the orchestra would have to cancel numerous cultural outreach programs and concerts, including music festivals in Ravenna, Vilnius, Riga and St. Petersburg, and calling on Budapest residents to protest the City’s decision. The flashmob drew hundreds but failed to convince Budapest to return the funding.

According to Hungarian online daily, the orchestra’s withdrawal from the St. Petersburg performance prompted the festival’s organizers to turn to the Russian foreign ministry for help. The Russian foreign ministry, in turn, reportedly sent a high-level missive to Hungary’s foreign minister Péter Szijjártó saying that Russia would appreciate the government of Hungary making it possible for the orchestra to participate in St. Petersburg’s White Nights Festival.

The move by Russia’s foreign ministry apparently worked. Hungary’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade made some HUF 60 million (USD 220,000)  available to the Budapest Festival Orchestra, prompting Fischer to announce that it would be able to attend the four international music festivals.

Without getting into specifics, Hungary’s foreign ministry confirmed to that it had indeed received positive feedback about the orchestra from several high-ranking foreign politicians.

According to the foreign ministry, Szijjártó and Fischer met personally in recent weeks to discuss a closer cooperation between the ministry and the orchestra, details of which are being worked out now.

Fischer has been an outspoken critic of the the second and third Orbán government’s “illiberal” policies.  Now that his orchestra is almost entirely dependent on funding provided by the national government, it remains to be seen whether he is willing to bite the hand that feeds him.