Hungary has some important contributions to the field of classical music, no doubt about that. Franz Liszt is probably the greatest of all Hungarian composers: a piano virtuoso (he was a sort of rock star of his age – his contemporaries lauded him as the greatest pianist of all time) as well as a composer, inspiring forwardlooking contemporaries and even anticipating some ideas and trends that would only come in the 20th century. Head to the Franz Liszt Memorial Museum and Research Centre to find out more about him (www.lisztmuseum.hu)! The beginning of the 20th century brought about two other exceptional characters: Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály both set out to collect Hungarian folk songs all over the Carpathian Basin and incorporate them into their music.
Where should you go if you're in the mood for some classical music? Well, there's plenty to choose from. The Opera House shows all major European operas (including Hungarian ones of course), features grand classical concerts and shows beautiful ballets (www.opera.hu). Its building is one of great history: many important artists were guests here, including the composers Gustav Mahler and Otto Klemperer, both working as directors at the Opera. You cannot go wrong with the Palace of Arts either. Next to the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art it is the home of the Bartók National Concert Hall, bringing the world's top artists to your ears (www.mupa.hu), whether it's classical, world music or jazz. And the building itself is pretty amazing too (make sure to check out the organ – it's one of the biggest in Europe). In the summertime, music finds a new home at the open-air stage of Margaret Island, but the church concerts at the majestic St. Stephen's Basilica or the Kiscelli Church are a good choice as well. More into Operetta? Witness the epic loves of Romeo and Juliet or the Beauty and the Beast – some performances come with English subtitles (www.operettszinhaz.hu)!
What about folk music? In the years of communism folk culture was seen as a deviation from the mainstream ideology and was thus marginalized, so over the last decades of socialist rule the folk movement emerged as a form of resistance. Today, there are a vast number of great folk bands and dance companies. Márta Sebestyén is the name that probably pops in your head first – the former student of Mr. Kodály is practically the embodiment of Hungarian folk music today, giving sold-out concerts all over the world. For the whole folk-band experience however, book a ticket for one of the performances of the Csík Band or Ghymes
Popular music is featured at numerous festivals across the country. First and foremost: Sziget Festival (www.sziget.hu), elected to be Europe's best major festival. In the beginning of August, Budapest is deluged by a vast number of young people loaded with giant backpacks, tents and sleeping bags – they're heading to the island, in case you wondered. The festival takes place on the 108-hectare leafy Óbuda Island in the middle of the Danube, which is transformed into a gigantic party town, with numerous stages, countless party arenas and chill-out tents, as well as artsy installations.
For those who like things electronic, Balaton Sound is the place to go - lie back in one of the comfy hammocks at the lakeshore beach of Zamárdi and enjoy the pumping music(www.sziget.hu/balatonsound)! A more underground contestant in the category of electronic music festivals is Ozora, a Goa festival that labels itself a ‘psychedelic tribal gathering'. If that calls to you, check www.ozorafestival.eu for details. Hard rock and rock fans head to the Hegyalja Fesztival each year. It takes place in Tokaj, one of the biggest wine-growing regions of Hungary, so there's certainly no shortage of cooling fröccs drinks here (www.facebook.com/hegyaljafesztival)!
NEO, Irie Maffia, Anima Sound System, Zagar – do these names ring a bell? Whether pop, alternative or electronic - several Hungarian bands have made it to international recognition and thus worthwhile seeing in concert.. They are frequent guests at the ship turned into a concert hall called A38, voted best club by Lonely Planet!
Jazz life is quite popular in Hungary as well. Since their formation in 1957, the Benko Dixieland Band has won numerous international prices and festivals, was praised by President Ronald Reagan and gives about 250 sold-out concerts a year – make sure to see one of them! Called ‘one of the best drummers around' by Pat Metheny, Elemér Balázs is one to watch out for as well. He has his own Jazz band touring the country (and the world) – check them out. Where do you find all that jazz? At the Budapest Jazz Club, the Columbus Jazz Club and the Jazz Garden, for example.