On The Avenue

Hungry—and Hungary—for Music

by Lee Fryd Photographed by Sean Zanni/PMC
Thursday, January 11, 2018

“Half of us here claim to be Hungarian,” Stephen Benko, Chairman of the Friends of the Budapest Festival Orchestra told supporters at Susan Gutfreund’s Fifth Avenue Duplex last night. Actually, many of the Slavic socialites in the Dynasty-era home were claiming to be half Hungarian. Gutfreund’s grandparents were born there.

The cocktail party, in anticipation of the Orchestra’s performance gala this Sunday, at David Geffen Hall, was hosted by Co-Chairs Kathryn Livingston Forgan, Christine Schott Ledes, Kati Marton and Honorary Chairman Daisy Soros.

Kathy Abrams, Steven Aronson, Judy Auchincloss, Tony Bechara, Tony Bowles, Janna Bullock, Halim Bulos, Cece Cord and Charles Holmes, Dr. Keith Durante, Ray Fitzmartin, Michele Gerber-Klein, Kathryn Livingston, Steve and Rebecca Greenwalk, Eva Haller, Peter Hay Halpert, Silvia Hemingway, Kathy Horvath, Geoffrey and Caron Johnson, Richard John Hussein Khalifa, Yerelyn Cortez Hidalo, Kristina Alegra Kingson, Andrew and Heidi Komaromi, George Ledes, Congressional Candidate Mike Levin, Monica McLennan, Liz Peek, Kathy Roder, Peter Thomas Roth, Sana Sabbagh, Dame Jillian Sackler, Elizabeth Segerstrom, Beverly Schreiber, Jean Shafiroff, Laine Siklos, Stephanie Stokes, Barbara Tober, Conor Tochilin, Sandra and Stanford Warshawsky and Laura Wilmott were also among the guests.

Two fireplaces bookended the room overlooking Central Park. The temperature thaw — finally out of frostbite territory — lent extra warmth. “Thirty-seven degrees is the new 70,” someone pronounced. 

Soros, who was born and raised in Budapest, created the Friends of Budapest Festival Orchestra nine years ago. She said Hungary has produced great conductors, composers, the scientists who led the Manhattan Project and so many directors and producers. There was once a sign in Hollywood that said, ‘It’s not enough to be Hungarian, you have to have talent too.”

They learned perseverance through persecution. “Occupations by the Turks, Austrians, Russians and the Nazi’s,” Soros told AVENUE. “We had them all and we survived.”

Programs unique to the Budapest Festival Orchestra include concerts for autistic children. Their first such New York concert, this Saturday, sold out within 12 hours. They hold emotionally charged performances in abandoned synagogues in Hungarian villages. A yearly Dancing in the Square concert features a thousand children, many of them gypsies, in Budapest’s Central Park, Hero Square. And they present a Secret Christmas Concert, where even the orchestra doesn’t know what they will play. Seat numbers are drawn. Occupants nominate favorite selections. And the audience votes. “There’s a program with all of the possible pieces that could be played and a truck outside with all of the scores,” said Benko. If the tempo runs a little slower than usual, all is forgiven.



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