Fischer blames Hungarian government for major orchestra shakedown

Fischer blames Hungarian government for major orchestra shakedown


norman lebrecht

November 20, 2019

A gloomy press release from the Budapest Festival Orchestra:

Cutbacks at the Budapest Festival Orchestra
The Budapest Festival Orchestra (BFO) has learned that it will only receive HUF 200
million in additional grant from the Hungarian government designed to replace the
discontinued corporate tax grant, which accounts for less than 50% of the average
corporate tax subsidy the orchestra was granted in previous years. 

Having planned its next seasons in reliance on this compensation and based on the
average of the previous years, the BFO is now obliged to cancel several projects to be able
to maintain stable operation. The main consideration for selecting events to be cancelled
was the possibility of late cancellation.

As a result, new opera productions, a four-year-long collaboration with the Geneva opera
house, and a tour of the Baltic states will not take place from next year. Some of the
orchestra’s community outreach and educational programs in Hungary such as the
“Choose your Instrument” in schools, the See What You Hear! film competition for high
school students, the BFO Reaches Out! project, church concerts, chamber music concerts
at elderly homes and “Music Castle” concerts for underprivileged children will also be

In the absence of stable and predictable financial background, Martin Hoffmann, the
Budapest Festival Orchestra’s managing director, has resigned and the Board of Directors
is searching for a replacement. The BFO staff is also forced to make staff cuts.

All over the world, the Budapest Festival Orchestra is regarded as the pride and the most
successful cultural ensemble of Hungary, a unique ambassador of the country’s culture and
reputation. The BFO hopes that the restoration of its grants on previous years’ level will
facilitate the continuation of the programs suspended as of January 2020, in particular the
hugely popular outreach and youth programs.



  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    It is a big shame, but predictable. Ivan Fischer, as a principled idealist, is no match to Gergiev in protecting his self interests and that of his orchestra. It is a miracle that his orchestra still survives in that political environment.

    • mmm says:

      you’re wrong. Fischer protects the orchestra well, e. g. this press release is part of the political manoveur. bye, a fella from hungary

  • Tamino says:

    Indeed, politically predictable and sad. The Hungarian government does not like Ivan Fischer’s principled humanistic stance.
    Also, it is always a problematic position to comment on political issues, if one does live abroad, no matter how justified the comments are.
    I wish it were different and artists in Hungary were not depending on this narrow minded political climate that has infected Hungary.
    At the end of all this, Hungary needs artists like Fischer more than he needs Hungary. The BFO is the unfortunate collateral damage in this.

  • sam says:

    There are the Furtwanglers and Gergievs and Dudamels, and then there are the Toscaninis and Rostropoviches and Fischers. History keeps score.

    • Atilla says:

      There is no comparison between Fischer’s criticism of a budget decision and two artists who were vocal about their discontent with fascist regimes. Regardless of what you think of the current state of politics in Hungary, Orban et al., are hardly committing genocide or waging war against the rest of Europe.

      • V. Lind says:

        Maybe not, but they are espousing the sort of attitudes and creating the kind of climate that did. And not meeting all that much resistance.

    • Tamino says:

      You mean armchair moralists and relativists like you keep score.

      (all the names above are so incomparable in their history. they only have in common, that some people who have no fucking idea how it is to live in totalitarian structures of varying degrees, put them in one basket and consider themselves superior, superior only by birthplace and -time.)

  • Gustavo says:

    Get Hungrexit done!

  • barry guerrero says:

    Meanwhile, Ivan’s brother Adam – a man deeply rooted in Haydn – continues to perform and record what might be the most consistent Mahler cycle to come out in decades. I thought I’d just make a plug for Adam. I have no idea if there’s any real sibling rivalry there.

  • Patrick Gillot says:

    So much for this “terrible government” , elected ,we have to remind everybody with more than 60% of the vote, but why on earth public money should be systematically used to replace failing contributions from the private sector? Fischer himself acknowledge an additional contribution from the taxpayers to the tune of 200 million HUF. I live in HK and while I enjoy very much the taxpayer sponsored HK Philharmonic, I would prefer much more than we can elect our government like the Hungarians do.

    • PeterSD says:

      Except that the ruling party received only some 48% of the popular vote but still maintained a supermajority in parliament.

  • fflambeau says:

    We are seeing from Baltimore to Budapest a world-wide crackdown on the arts and music. This is due to the failing economic system and the problems it spawns and to a failing political order which is not democratic and not far sighted. In my view, it will get worse.

  • Karajon says:

    OK. Here are some facts.
    – All orchestras in Hungary were affected by the change in the tax redistribution. The government decided to end the system named Tao, and to design a new one.
    – All orchestras in Hungary had to redesign their budget according to the new circumstances
    – Festival Orchestra made a budget assuming they will get the same amount of tax-based subsidy as before. The question is: why? What would be the point to change the subsidy system, if the amounts are remaining the same? This is simply inappropriate planning.

    As a side note: professional orchestras in Hungary are the employers of their musicians, paying their taxes, health care, pension, etc, which is large percent of the salary. In other words, they have to pay back almost 40% of government subsidy in form of taxes. Festival Orchestra has no musicians as employees, their productions are project based, their musicians are entrepreneurs. In this form, Festival Orchestra is paying back hardly any percent in taxes. Meanwhile, they have so far received as much state funding, as National Philharmonic Orchestra, where all the musicians and staff are employees.

    While some people call for Hungrexit here, people don’t seem to have any problem with the continous cuts, merges and elimination of Dutch orchestras, for example. Festival Orchestra not getting 700000 Euro extra funding from Hungarian government, what nobody has promised anyway, is a “shame” somehow.

    • Tamino says:

      I don’t understand your point with other orchestras paying taxes and health insurance and pensions, and BFO not.
      Clearly the BFO musicians will have to pay all that too, just by themselves individually.
      In the end of the year it doesn’t matter if individuals pay that back to the state or if an employer does it for them. The state gets his share back either way.

      Actually BFO musicians pay much more taxes than other orchestra musicians, since they also have income abroad from touring, which they also tax in Hungary, no?
      Which means BFO is a much better investment for the goverment for their subsidies, since they get more return revenue for the same buck.

      • Karajon says:

        It is important, because BFO as an organisation receives the state subsidy – and as an organisation, it pays significantly less taxes than any other orchestra organisation in Hungary: orchestras, which have their players on monthly pay cheque, all year long, etc. It this sense, it does not really matter, individual players pay how much taxes.
        About touring: the amount of taxes, and where they are payed, are always a question of what sort of agreement the participating countries have. It can be rather complicated, so I would not expect huge tax-income in such cases.
        Anyway, the taxation was just an example showing, that while BFO operates on a very special base, it expects same (and more) subsidy, as other, state or municipality owned orchestras.
        Also, the way they communicate these cuts I find very odd. Imagine, if you would receive a scholarship for 5 years, then there is no more such scholarship, and you would complain to the government, that you should get the same amount of money somehow, since you such got used to it and planned to spend it already. Does not this sound strange to you?

        • Tamino says:

          No, it doesn’t sound strange to me at all.
          Your comparison is again off.
          A scholarship is usually given for a time limited personal education project which ends with a graduation or doctorate.
          But you don’t finance an orchestra of professional musicians with the intent to only invest into it for a few years. That’s not how it works with an orchestra. Orchestras need long term perspectives and support.
          The fact that governments can guarantee the support only for a few years ahead, is bad enough and an administrative reality, as well as an exercise in keeping things under certain control. But nobody gives money to an orchestra while thinking that after the grant runs out the orchestra ceases to exist.
          Everybody assumes that all sides have the intent to keep the orchestra running.

  • Rob says:

    I ditched the few recordings I had made by this conductor. He’s stated he doesn’t understand Mahler’s 8th Symphony and won’t perform or record it. As that’s the case, he will never understand Mahler as the two main climaxes that frame the end of Accende lumen sensibus are the key to what happened in the Summer of 1906.