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Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila Overture, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 and Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 are included in the season-opening OPERA186 concert at the Hungarian State Opera on 24 September  2023. The concert tying in with the Slavic Season features pianist Ádám Balogh, the OPERA Orchestra is conducted by Pinchas Steiberg.

The Hungarian State Opera Orchestra is about to begin its 187th season this year – through its legal predecessor, the symphonic ensemble of the Pest Hungarian Theater/National Theater founded by Ferenc Erkel. The season opener concert is traditionally kicks off with an opera overture, this time with that of Ruslan and Lyudmila by the 19th-century creator of Russian national opera and musical tradition, Mihail Ivanovich Glinka, premiered in 1842. The rarely performed opera is based on Pushkin's poem of the same title and tells the story of the daughter of the Grand Duke of Kiev and the knight of Kiev who saves her, which ends in a tumultuous but ultimately happy meeting. The overture by the composer, whose statue is also located on the sculpture terrace of the Opera House, is a popular concert piece. The whirlwind virtuoso work might be familiar from the American comedy series Mom even to those who are not frequent guests of concert halls.

It is followed by Piano Concerto No. 2 by Sergey Rachmaninov, written in 1900-1901, after a creative crisis of nearly four years following the unsuccessful premiere of the late Romantic composer's Symphony No. 1. The melancholic chords of the 2nd movement of the 40-minute three-movement work, one of the composer's most successful pieces, inspired Eric Carmen's 1975 popular hit All by Myself, but it is also well-known that the star tenor José Carreras owes a lot to the famous slow movement, which kept his spirits up during the treatment of cancer: it is therefore a piece of music with a truly special effect.

Piano Concert No. 2 features pianist Ádám Balogh. The young pianist, who is in his mid-twenties, has already received the Junior Prima Award and the Cziffra Talent Award, and is considered the most talented Hungarian pianist of his generation. He has performed successfully at numerous European, American and Australian music competitions in the past decade, and after his debut in 2010 with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, he has appeared with almost every important Hungarian orchestras. It is now his debut with the OPERA Orchestra at the Opera House.

After the interval, Symphony No. 5 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the romantic composer who also inspired Rachmaninoff, closes the evening's programme. Also immortalized on the sculpture terrace, the composer is mostly represented in the repertoire of the Opera House through his operas an ballets. The work first work presented in 1888 belongs to the last creative cycle of his career. The four-movement, almost one-hour piece was originally intended as programme music and, like Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, would have dealt with the one-sided struggle of man with his fate and destiny. Although its musical theme returns in every movement, Tchaikovsky finally discarded this idea and created a varied work, rich in wind instruments, culminating in a triumphant finale, which, despite all its previous ominousness, reflects a raucous joie de vivre at the end.

The concert is conducted by Israeli-born Pinchas Steinberg, who has been a recurring guest of the Hungarian State Opera Orchestra for a decade now. The internationally renowned conductor of both concerts and operas has a distinguished career of nearly five decades, during which he has conducted every famous ensemble of five continents, made a number of records, was a permanent guest conductor of the Vienna State Opera, and acted as principal conductor at the head of the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. For many years he also worked as the president-conductor of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra comprising the musicians of the OPERA Orchestra.

Photo by Valter Berecz