Hungarian folk group entertain in Botanical Gardens
6 Jul 2017
Atmos – as we are now meant to describe the magical feeling around any performance – the sensation we used to call ambience – is everything. Without it, the best catered party, swankiest wedding or grandest gathering is a wash-out. Atmosphere can work or wreck a do. Last night’s concert in the Botanical Gardens in Cambridge, part of the regular Sounds Green series to run through July for the Cambridge Music Festival had bags of it built into the billing. Set in 40 acres of the world’s finest plant and trees, the Botanical Gardens have a relaxed feel, despite being more or less a scientific site of special interest all set up by Charles Darwin and friends to celebrate the plants he and his confrères hauled back from the Empire and the worlds of mystery beyond even that.
Sounds Green has set up there with a light touch. The Directors of this long admired institution have brought in an ice cream stall (Jack’s Gelatos – amazingly gorgeous sorbets and ices, I recommend the Elder Flower) and a large old fashioned beer wagon which served up some choice ales all evening. Families picnic from rugs and the odd deckchair and the entire event is so child friendly they have had to put up a rope surround to stop the keenest junior music goers actually dancing among the bands. It is a delightful scene and full marks to the current day Director for allowing what was a rather formal institution to fling open its gates to families.
The action starts at six but do not under any circumstances be late for any of these concerts as the action all over by seven and the Botanical Gardens staff were herding people out of the garden more or less straightaway. On a wonderfully hot night it did seem a bit harsh since so many times the Sounds Green has been a dreadful wash-out from which people were only too happy to flee.
Last night was gorgeous. The small combo from Hungary assembled under the little awning by some priceless collection of plants and launched into their set. There is no interval. Do the Botanical staff turn into vampires after sunset? The eagerness they displayed tipping us all out of there in short order would suggest that they are not happy with life after dark. At one moment two people circled around the lawns on bicycles ringing bells. We got the message. But the Hungarian ensemble managed to pack their entire set into one solid hour.
The band were from Szeged, a flourishing town in Southern Hungary twinned with Cambridge for 30 years. In fact this year is their 30th anniversary. In case ‘southern Hungary’ sounds warning notes of a people on the fascist side being appalling to Syrian migrants on their borders, it’s important to remember that Segred is an island of tolerance and sophistication in this landscape of fierce nationalism-their values chime harmoniously with those of Cambridge and they are delighted with their long standing twin status. That few people actually know about this partnership is a shame since it clearly means a lot to the Szegedians and they have much to offer in the world of culture. They will be here for the entire summer, spreading the word and holding workshops for children to teach the traditional dance which is their signature and lead wider discussions on how to run our mutual cities.
The group representing them last night was a folk ensemble with a lovely and harmonious feel.
There was a gifted player on flutes various and a singer, with brilliant range and power who not only spoke fluent English but who translated for the others. This music was indeed traditional. Our host told us some of it stretched back ‘two or three thousand years’ which frankly seemed a bit unlikely but it was certainly unembellished by modern developments. The group was very proud of this and it is something of an achievement to keep your music ‘pure’ as they put it, but it also has its drawbacks. Hungarians are some of the most gifted musicians Europe has produced and much of the work of stars like Béla Bartok and famous conductors and composers since is based on the melodies of their tradition and childhood. Few European composers have not done a Hungarian gypsy style sequence in their oeuvre. So why keep out influences? And why not include an acknowledgement of the amazing musical work produced since these lovely but simple melodies were first heard?
Nevertheless it was a lovely evening and the garden played its part in creating the kind of atmos that any performer would wish for.That one enthusiastic music goer attempted to actually climb one of the prize specimen trees and plunged off it into a pond is rather like the ant at Wimbledon today, an event which is unplanned and over which there can be little control however hard you try.