Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Been here, seen this...at last. I've been wanting to go to Budapest for decades. Friends who studied there would return with tales of stylistic expertise, pedagogical inspiration, extraordinary traditions, cheap music, cheaper opera tickets and excessively good cakes. Violinist friends flocked to Hungarian-born teachers living abroad (here or Canada); the great 19th-century violinists and the traditions they left behind sprang almost wholly from Hungary, including Josef Joachim and Leopold Auer and later Jelly d'Aranyi, who was Joachim's great-niece. As for Gypsy fiddling traditions, have you ever seen anything quite as astonishing as Roby Lakatos?
Now the place is an extraordinary melting pot of old and new, 19th-century Art Nouveau grandeur alongside communist-era concrete heaps, bullet-scarred, soot-covered buildings in downtown Pest contrasting with sleek, renovated, olde-worlde central Europe for tourists - but exquisite nonetheless - in Buda. Cranes everywhere. This is a city on the up, enchanting, atmospheric, disturbing, magical and irresistable. Grand yet gentle, forbidding yet vulnerable, the poetic soul of Budapest has got under my skin, and its continuity lies not least in its music.