Five of the most unusual Budapest Festival Orchestra concerts

Ahead of its Prom tonight, we round up some of the more unconventional concerts the Budapest Festival Orchestra has put on in recent years


Founded in 1983, the Budapest Festival Orchestra (BFO) has made a name for itself as one of the most distinctive orchestras in the world. Credit for this is largely due to Iván Fischer who co-founded the orchestra with the late Zoltán Kocsis, and has conducted the orchestra since its inception. Here are five of the more unusual innovations to the traditional concert format that the orchestra has come up with.


1. The audience chooses the repertoire…

Iván Fischer has been known to put his conductorial fortune in the hands of audience members with the BFO’s ‘audience choice programmes’. The concept is pretty much what it says on the tin: concert attendees – selected through a lottery drawn from slips of paper in a tuba – decide the line-up for the evening from a menu of chamber, jazz, folk and even vocal pieces.

2. The concerts start at midnight...

Starting at 11.30pm at the earliest, the BFO's midnight performances are aimed at young Hungarians and tourists alike. The nocturnal concerts are intimate and informal, with the audience encouraged to lounge on the bean-bags provided.

3. The concerts include free hot chocolate…

Over 20 years ago, the Budapest Festival Orchestra began a series of children's concerts, which provide a taste of classical music performance for 5-12 year olds. At the end of the session, audience members can enjoy a free cup of hot chocolate. Unsurprisingly, they've become known as 'Cocoa Concerts'. The BFO has also established ‘Autism-Friendly Cocoa Concerts’ which encourage autistic children to experience the joy of music in a safe environment. 

4. A tree becomes one of the orchestra members…

When Fischer and the BFO perform Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, there's often an unexpected extra on stage – a tree. It came to London in 2011, and was placed at the heart of the orchestra. And there were further surprises: the woodwind left their usual seats and were scattered throughout the string sections.

5. The orchestra performs in abandoned synagogues…

As a musical protest against the growth of exclusionary politics and anti-semitism in Hungary, Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra embarked on a tour of abandoned synagogues in 2014. The visits are now an established part of their season. The hope is to fill synagogues that have laid empty since the Holocaust with music and life again. 'With the beauty of our music and those stories we hope to bring the memories of the former Jewish community closer to those who now live near the building,' says Fischer.

What's on at the Proms tonight?

Prom 54: Wednesday 22 August 2018, 7.30pm

Enescu Suite No. 1 – Prélude à l'unisson

Bartók Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta

Mahler Symphony No. 4

Anna Lucia Richter (soprano)
Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer


The Prom will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.