The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: Report 2 about the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra tour in Europe: Days 3 and 4 include extensive sightseeing and a successful performance in Budapest.

July 11, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

As you may already know, the Madison-based Youth Orchestra (below), the premiere performing group of the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras, conducted by James Smith, is on a concert tour of Prague, Vienna and Budapest from July 7 through July 17.

Here is a link to an earlier entry with details about the tour including venues:

Last month, Mikko Utevsky agreed to blog for The Well-Tempered Ear from his tour, which is also his fist trip abroad.

Utevsky, as you may know from reading this blog, just graduated from East High School in Madison and will attend the University of Wisconsin and the UW School of Music this fall. He has been featured in this blog and also writes comments about its postings. (You can check him out using the blog’s search engine. He is a discerning listener and critic, and a fine writer.)

Utevsky (below), who plays viola in the WYSO group, is also the founder and director-conductor of the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO), which has already performed its first summer concert this year and will perform another on Saturday, Aug. 18 at 7:30 p.m. in Music Hall.

For more information about WYSO pus a link to this blog and Utevsky’s entries, visit:

Here is Utevsky’s second report, with photos and videos by WYSO’s executive director Bridget Fraser, covering the concert and sightseeing in Budapest. More will follow:

By Mikko Utevsky


Monday began with a tour of the city by bus, including stops in Heroes’ Square and the Vajdahunyad Castle (below). The latter was actually designed for Hungary’s millennial celebration as a cardboard model, featuring a hodgepodge of architectural styles borrowed from other famous buildings, but was so popular that a real brick-and-mortar copy was later constructed. (And yes, you read that right — millennial. The Hungarian state was founded in 896. America is just a toddler on the world stage next to nations like this.)

After lunch in the Great Market Hall, a cavernous building full of local vendors (I hear Madison is considering something like it – it’s great!), we headed up to the Military Museum for a rehearsal before our first concert.

The performance at the Military Museum (below) was a smashing success with the audience, who applauded furiously after every piece.

Receiving the European unison clap was a puzzling experience for many used to the American custom of random, discordant applause. Personally, I rather liked it. The applause continued long enough that the orchestra actually simply left the stage down the center aisle while the ovation continued. It was a very cool feeling. (Below is a snippet of an encore, Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance No. 1, taken by Bridget Fraser.)

Monday night ended late, finishing with dinner at the Citadella Restaurant (below top) overlooking the Danube, serenaded by a trio (growing into a quintet) of Gypsy musicians. The cimbalom (below below) player was especially impressive, in my opinion, as was the first violinist. They played a broad range of music, including colorful renditions of two pieces of imitation Gypsy music — Vittorio Monti‘s “Czardas” and Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5 — probably more authentic than the originals.

Tuesday was an early start, beginning with a long drive in the country out to the Esztergom Basilica (below), a beautiful edifice that serves as the seat of the Catholic Church in Hungary. It is the tallest building in the country, holding the reliquaries of two martyrs. It also contains a massive organ, which we did not get to hear, which was played by Franz Liszt.

There were a couple of musicians outside the church busking – a young cellist delivering some lovely Bach in the open air, and a recorder player dressed as a jester with an immense repertoire ranging from Mozart and Handel to the themes from “Star Wars” and “The Pink Panther.” I confess to singing along with a few of them.

We then drove to Visegrád Castle (below), which unfortunately did not weather a 1544 siege by the Ottoman Turks terribly well; the building is more or less in ruins, and was indeed totally buried for many years before a recent excavation uncovered much of it. It is set up somewhat like a museum now, with rooms exhibiting reconstructed suits of armor and weapons and, of course, a gift shop.

Another little culture shock for today — I’m still not used to the total lack of bubblers or public toilets; those of the latter at museums and such are invariably only accessible for a fee. It’s a slick racket.

After Visegrád, we drove a bit more to the town of Szentendre, where we stopped for lunch. We were then turned loose for an hour or two to shop and explore the town in small groups.

It’s a lovely little place: hilly, with winding cobblestone streets and some admittedly touristy shops. Notably, the rather reckless Hungarian drivers are no less so in a small town than in Budapest, although they’re a bit slower. Not a good place to be in the habit of jaywalking, Hungary; I don’t know that anyone would slow down for you.

For the evening, we split up — half explored Moscow Square (below), near the Hotel Budapest where we’re staying (a big, cylindrical building in which every room, true to form east of the Iron Curtain, is exactly the same size), and half went to the Széchenyi Baths in City Park. I chose the latter option, which I do not regret in the slightest.

The bath complex (below) is built on two hot springs rich in minerals, which are reported to possess prodigious medical properties. I can’t report to their efficacy, but I can testify that the waters, which can be sampled at a wide range of temperatures in pools of varying size, are wonderfully relaxing. I checked out almost every pool and two of the saunas. The water did wonders for a sore neck and shoulders — totally worth the admittedly steep price of admission (about 15 euro, or 4,300 HUF).

Tomorrow is another early start, driving into Vienna (below). I can’t wait for our next concert!



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