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Music museum opens in the heart of Hungary’s culture wars

BUDAPEST – A polarizing project by the government of Viktor Orban, Hungary’s far-right prime minister, to turn the historic City Park here into a museum complex has built the first building: the House of Music, Hungary.

Designed by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto, the cultural center, which opened on January 23, offers exhibitions, education and concerts. An interactive permanent performance guides visitors through the historical development of Western music; celebrate the contributions of Hungarian composers such as Liszt, Bartok and Kodaly; and traces Hungary’s folk music tradition to its Central Asian roots. A room painted in the colors of the Hungarian flag, has videos showing the country’s political history and famous athletes, with the national anthem as the background music.

However, beyond the glass walls of the House of Music, animated by the reflection of construction elsewhere in the park, this new building is mired in controversy.

Critics have said the government’s plan to develop the 200-year-old City Park into a museum complex disturbs the natural environment, deprives locals of needed public space and causes concerns about corruption. But the people behind the project say that the site has always been more than a public park, and that the project is Europe’s largest urban development. In a statement, Orban described the transformation as an “unfinished work of art”.

In 2012, Orban’s government announced an ambitious plan to turn the park, in disrepair after decades of neglect, into a complex of five museums. The Estimated cost At the time it was about $250 million, but that number has grown almost five times Originally scheduled for 2017.

There has been a virtual consensus that the park should be worked on, but the government and park conservationists disagree on the fate of the park’s natural features.

A special legal designation allows the project to follow existing development rules, meaning the city of Budapest has very little say in government plans. And legislation passed by Orban’s party placed the park under the management of a newly established state-owned company controlled by his allies. Sandor Lederer of K-Monitor, an anti-corruption watchdog, says that public records show that House of Music alone has cost Hungarian taxpayers up to $100 million.

“The project is a prime example of how public investments have worked under Orban,” Lederer said. “There was no real need and an impact assessment was done; citizens and affected parties are not consulted and planned”.

He added that poor planning and corruption have benefited companies considered Orban customers, saying, “It’s not just the present, but future generations will have to pay the cost.” for another Orban darling project.”

Laszlo Baan, the government commissioner overseeing the project, declined to be interviewed, but a spokeswoman said in a statement that the government has so far spent 250 billion Hungarian Forints, about $800 million, on the project. . Fujimoto’s office did not respond to a request for an interview.

In 2016, private security guards clashed with park conservationists at the future House of Music site. Gergely Karacsony, an opposition politician who elected mayor of Budapest in 2019, did not attend the premiere of House of Music on January 22, which took place on Hungarian Culture Day, a national celebration. He wrote on social media that the building was born not for culture but for violence.

In a radio interview, Karacsony recently likened construction in a public park to peeing in a Holy Water depot: “You can do it, but it ruins the reason at Why are we all there?”

However, Orban has sought to shape the museum district as a heritage project, and he has used it as a target in his fight against what he sees as the cultural decay of the West. Revealing House of Music, he attacked critics of the park’s transformation as leftists opposed to beauty.

“Hungary never forgets the names of those who built it,” Orban said in a speech at the ceremony, adding that detracts were not remembered, “because the country of Hungary is simply simply remove them from our memory.”

He added that April’s national elections will be “a period” that will end the debate over the future of the park.

Since returning to power in 2010, Orban and his allies have taken over the mass media, as well as most of the country’s private media, to pitch negative theories. far-right conspiracy, attacking critics of the regime and waging Orban’s culture war (which also led to academy and art.) The cities of Hungary are currently located in political ad featuring Orban’s main political rival Mini-Me from the movie Austin Powers.

Orban’s political machine interprets culture as “something that has to be occupied or conquered,” said Krisztian Nyary, an author who grew up near City Park. “They are only capable of thinking in terms of political logic, but culture is different.”

He added: “Do we need a House of Music? I do not know. I see it as a beautiful building, and I’m sure they’re going to have interesting events, but it doesn’t belong there.” Changing the park’s purpose, he said, would change its function, endangering the precious natural environment that was once the “lungs” of the surrounding residential areas.

The park borders the Sixth and Seventh districts, which Gabor Kerpel-Fronius, Budapest’s deputy mayor, says has the fewest green spaces in the city. The museum site, he added, could have been planned somewhere else, such as in a nearby rusty area.

Imre Kormendy, an architect, was the president of the Hungarian Urban Planning Association when the project for the museum complex began. He quickly learned that the government had no intention of meaningful consultations with stakeholders, he said.

“Naughty professionals like me don’t know this project has been decided on,” he said. “Even the Guggenheim wasn’t built inside Central Park. Why should a city park be burdened with such development? ”

However, Eszter Reisz, who raised her family in the area, said the park’s development was “wonderful” compared to its former squalid state.

For Klara Garay, a 71-year-old biology teacher who has lived near the park for decades, the renovation of the park is the epitome of the general climate in Hungary. She has opposed redevelopment of the park since it began.

“I feel hopeless,” she said. “This country is morally at such a low point.”

Although House of Music aims to build community and educate, the conflict over its origins is a reminder of why many of Hungary’s most famous musicians – such as Bartok, or Gyorgy Ligeti – has left the country.

Musicologist Felix Meyer, who runs the Paul Sacher Foundation in Switzerland, said: “Hungary’s political past has been problematic in several periods of its history. Many of the country’s talented musicians have chosen to live in the West, he added.

“It’s as simple as that,” Meyer said. “Hungary is a small country and can be very repressive, and not all of them feel appreciated. These are great minds, very liberal minds, who need space and opportunity, so it’s only natural that they’ve made great careers outside of Hungary. ”

Renowned Hungarian pianist Andras Schiff, who has lived in self-imposed exile for more than a decade in protest of Orban’s politics, said by phone that “The way Orban supports culture is very selective.” Schiff added that Orban “will support everything that follows him, everyone who joins the team.”

Orban’s government, Schiff said, has tried “a lot to change history and change facts, but it’s better to work on it, admitting mistakes and mistakes”.

Asked if he would consider returning to Hungary if Mr Orban was ousted in April, Mr Schiff said, “Yes, for sure.”

“I would love to come back,” he said. “This is where I was born, it’s my mother tongue, and I love Hungarian culture.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/02/arts/music/house-of-music-budapest-hungary.html Music museum opens in the heart of Hungary’s culture wars

Fry Electronics Team

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