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Pianist Andras Schiff joins with Budapest Festival Orchestra in Bartok/Stravinsky concert

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Hungarian pianist Andras Schiff will be the featured soloist when the Budapest Festival Orchestra presents a concert of music by Bartok and Stravinsky at 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 26 in Hancher Auditorium on the University of Iowa campus.

Under the direction of founding conductor Ivan Fischer, the orchestra will perform two of Igor Stravinsky's famous ballet scores, the 1919 version of the "Firebird Suite" and "Jeu de cartes." Schiff will be featured in performances of Bartok's second and third piano concertos, which he performed on acclaimed 1996 recordings with the Budapest Festival Orchestra on the Teldec label.

Schiff, a native of Budapest, is Hungary's best known classical pianist, recognized worldwide for his thoughtful and inspired interpretations of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Bartok. He was the New York Philharmonic's Artist-in-Residence for the 1997-98 season.

A two-time Grammy Award winner, Schiff has also won England's Gramophone Award, Italy's Premio Abbiati, the 1991 Bartok Prize, "Instrumentalist of the Year" in the International Classical Music Awards, and the inaugural Claudio Arrau Memorial Medal from the Robert Schumann Society. In 1996 he was honored with Hungary's highest distinction, the Kossuth Prize. Schiff's discography now totals nearly 75 releases.

The New Yorker has described Schiff as "the ideal pianist -- warm, witty and cultivated, subtle and detailed but never affected."

The Budapest Festival Orchestra was founded in 1983 by conductor Ivan Fischer and pianist Zoltan Kocsis (who performed with the Warsaw Philharmonic in a 1990 Hancher concert), and it has become the city's leading classical-music institution in demand to play at the world's leading music festivals and in major concert venues.

"I knew what I had to do," Fischer says. "I broke with the great orchestras and I came home, my vision was to create the great Hungarian orchestra -- on top of the world, in demand everywhere."

One of the orchestra's goals when it signed an exclusive recording contract with Philips Classics in 1995 was to record the complete orchestral works of Bartok, and its set of the complete Bartok piano concertos with Schiff was a substantial step toward that goal.

Schiff told the British journal Gramophone: "When you hear a Bartok concerto it is immediately gripping and accessible." But, he says, the experience is more challenging for the pianist. "These are unbelievably demanding concertos, physically, technically, instrumentally . . . Honestly, there's probably no more difficult work in the whole piano literature to play than the Bartok Second Piano Concerto."

The Stravinsky ballet scores on the concert are two of the most colorful works in the orchestral repertoire. Along with "Petrushka" and "The Rite of Spring," "Firebird" was one of the ballet scores that collectively transformed both orchestral music and ballet in the early 20th century and marked Stravinsky as one of the century's creative geniuses.

The playful "Jeu de cartes" comes from a much later period of his career, and yet it conveys an atmosphere of childlike fantasy and humor. It was written in 1936 for choreography by Georges Balanchine.

The Clarion Hotel and Conference Center is the corporate sponsor of this event through the University of Iowa Foundation.

Tickets for the Budapest Festival Orchestra with Andras Schiff are $38, $36 and $33. UI students and senior citizens qualify for a 20-percent discount, with Zone 3 tickets available to UI students for $10. Tickets for audience members 17 and younger are half price.

Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and 1-3 p.m. Sunday. From the local calling area or outside Iowa, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.

People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158. This number will be answered by box office personnel prepared to offer assistance with handicapped parking, wheelchair access and seating, hearing augmentation and other services. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

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