Béla Bartók is one of the most significant composers of the 20th century. His oeuvre is the shared treasure of both Hungarian and universal culture. There is no doubt that his art and scientific studies are of epochal importance and have had an impact that is still evident to this day; works by Bartók are ranked among the most precious in music literature. His research into the roots of folk music and use of traditional motifs in modern music marked out a new path at the beginning of the 20th century. The most distinguished orchestras, instrumentalists and chamber ensembles regularly perform Bartók pieces throughout the world. In fact, the very name Bartók is closely associated with Hungarian music culture, and wherever his works are played they reveal their inimitable Hungarian origins while being of universal relevance to audiences. It is the intellectual obligation of Hungary to nurture and pass on the Bartók heritage while focusing attention on his art with global events worthy of the position this great composer occupies in the history of music.
Why a music competition?
Music competitions are key events in international music and vital catalysts in the professional development of gifted young artists, in bringing them to world attention and in connecting them to the concert scene. Any music competition bearing the name of a composer can serve as a vehicle for the global popularization of the art of the composer and may promote the more frequent appearance on concert programmes of his/her oeuvre containing the most difficult pieces of the performance repertoire. Performing Bartók and entering a competition with any of his works is a true measure of competence for any artist. It is not by chance that most competitions do not set Bartók pieces as part of the compulsory works and until now there were no competitions of international significance at which the majority of the repertoire was formed by Bartók works. This, however, is exactly what the Bartók World Competition and Festival has undertaken.
Why the Liszt Academy?
Organizer of the competition is the Liszt Academy and its venue is the Art Nouveau main building of the university on Liszt Ferenc Square. This was Bartók’s alma mater, he studied here, presented many of his works here, performed on countless occasions here, and it was from here that he departed Hungary for the United States. The Liszt Academy is one of the most recognized institutions of music higher education in the world as well as being a concert venue with enormous traditions; all artists consider it a great honour to make an appearance here. Since the renewal of the building and institution as a whole (2013), the Liszt Academy has become a key player as a concert organizer, with its international presence being extraordinarily strong and direct. By establishing and organizing to a very high standard the Éva Marton International Singing Competition, the Liszt Academy has proved that it is capable of arranging and carrying through a true world-class music competition.
Not just one among many
Besides featuring a repertoire demanding the very highest musical expertise, the Bartók World Competition and Festival achieves – also in its structure – something totally new compared to traditional music competitions. The competition is built around the most characteristic strands of the Bartók oeuvre, that is, piano, violin, chamber music and composition, in a six-year cycle. The individual instrumental competitions are organized every other year, with composer competitions in between, which always tie into the forthcoming instrumental category (later on the competition will be extended with a review of folk music). This distinctive structure is effective both at drawing the attention of the best instrumentalists of the upcoming musician generation to the works of Bartók and at the same time inspiring young composers to create new works written in the spirit of Bartók.
Positioned among the very best
The status of a music competition is determined by several factors: the personality of the competition eponym, the members of the jury, the degree of difficulty of the repertoire, the number of rounds, the sum of prize money on offer, how the careers of winners are followed and assisted. And last but not least, it is also absolutely decisive in the modern information age how the competition finds its way into the global media space. Any international competition that does not make news around the world remains, despite its international motivation, within the country of origin as far as impact is concerned. All these criteria were given extreme priority in the course of the development of the newly launched Bartók World Competition and Festival. The image of the Bartók World Competition and Festival is puritan, but it orchestrates Bartók’s world in an extremely powerful way around the concept of the famous Bartókian bridge structure and at the same time makes Hungary and the world apparent through Bartók’s musical bridge. The striking image created by the Communications Directorate of the Liszt Academy – the section that also developed the International Éva Marton Singing Competition and which has won numerous global awards for the music academy – positions the competition in the vanguard of global music events; as such, the promotional campaign features in several of the top music publications (The Strad, Gramophone etc.) as well as in opinion-shaping media giants (Le Monde, Spiegel, New York Times).
More than just a competition
The Bartók World Competition and Festival is much more than just a music competition: it is at the same time a scientific event and festival targeting a broad audience. Every other year, beside the competitions in instrumental categories there will be a scientific conference held in the Institute of Musicology, with the focus firmly on Bartók in a scientific context where the theme is always topical and illuminated by the very latest research from Hungary and abroad. This creates an ongoing dialogue whereby Bartók can feature not only in the life of performers but in musicology as well. For many, even today the music of Bartók is so modern that they are averse to listening to it. The purpose of the festival built around this great artist is nothing less than breaking down this barrier with family concerts, lectures, games, films and effective communication mobilizing wide sections of the listening public, and for audiences less versed in music to attain a fluency in the language of Bartók.