Enjoy the Budapest Music Scene

I am a firm believer that life does not stop when grad school work begins. (If for you it did, you are doing it wrong. Your grad school productivity is a function of how much rest and off time your brain has. Give it the time it needs to get things done efficiently, in less time. More on this in another post.) So, sparked by a conversation with one of you, students, on the departmental trip, I asked two of the pros, Juraj Medzihorský and Natalia A. Peral who recently left our PhD program to write up some tips and tricks for you. (Many thanks for the contribution.) This is our first guest post. There should be more coming. If you think you have something to offer to students, talk to me about posting it here.

The (mostly) classical music scene of Budapest (by Juraj Medzihorský)

One of the many great features of being a student in Budapest is the chance to see a lot of great music for really cheap. There are two principal venues for classical music Müpa Budapest (Palace of Arts) and the Liszt Academy.

Müpa is where the CEU graduation ceremony usually takes place, so as a CEU student you’ll get there eventually. There’s no reason to wait for your graduation to visit Müpa.

With a student card, such as the CEU ID, you can buy student tickets for 500 HUF. (Levi: Lets hope the Hungarian government did not mess this up as well allowing only the government issued student IDs. I would not put it past them.) These tickets are sold on the spot before the concert. Usually, the tickets are for the uppermost balcony. However, in case there are still unsold seats minutes before the concert, these are sold as students tickets as well. You can guess your chances of getting a good seat by checking which seats are already sold on Müpa’s website. A note of warning: for the majority of concerts it is easy to get a student ticket, and often with a pretty good seat. However, for high-profile performers and orchestras–think Daniel Barenboim or the Berlin Philharmonic–there will be a cue for the student tickets already hours in advance, and many will still not get a ticket. Just the same, you might get lucky as your humble correspondent did on an occasion or two, and end up paying 500 HUF for a 10 000 HUF seat

You can see the list of performances at

As you can see, Müpa’s program is by no means limited to classical music. Jazz and world music is also on feature there regularly.  On some days there are two concerts in parallel–this is possible because Müpa has two concert halls. One of the biggest attractions regularly appearing in Müpa is the Budapest Festival Orchestra. BFO is often ranked among the top 10 world leading orchestras, and it has a distinct character.

Perhaps the easiest way to get to Müpa, especially if you are going from the CEU campus, is to take the tram number 2.

Finally, a note on the dress code. While most concertgoers at Müpa dress up a bit, no one is going to stare at you for wearing smart casual.

The Liszt Academy is a different type of venue, with a central role in Hungarian musical education. It is also placed in the center of Budapest, about 20 minutes walk from CEU. Alas, the Academy does not offer student tickets of the same type as Müpa. However, performances there are often priced reasonably (think 1-2 thousand Forints), and quite a few of them are for free. That being said, tickets at the Academy often sell out days if not weeks before the performance. So plan ahead. You can find the program here. http://zeneakademia.hu/en/all-programs

Just like at Müpa, it includes also jazz and occasionally other genres as well. And just like at Müpa, you can do no wrong attending in smart casual.

For Opera Lovers (by Natalia A. Peral)

Do you love Opera? Budapest is your place!

In Hungary, the costs of the tickets are a bargain for the quality of the Opera you will see. You must know that the Opera season runs from September to May every year, June being mostly a month with a program for kids, specific events and one or two Gala nights. By early March the Opera also launches the season tickets so keep this mind if you are willing to get those!

As for the season 2017/2018 the Opera house will be closed and a shorter program will take place in Erkel Teather.  The Opera building is under renovation so you will have to wait until 2018/2019 season to really enjoy the full spirit of Opera in Budapest.

Do you want to know how to access to cheap tickets, even free performances? Here are some tips.

  • The cheapest seats are not necessarily the cheapest option.  Although there is a fixed price you can see online (my favorite website is hereor at the cashier in the Opera house, sometimes you can also access to even cheaper tickets through the following options
    • Get the ticket just few minutes before the Opera starts. I have done that many times paying 1000 HUF for a ticket that normally costs 17,000 HUF. Yes, it is possible and you need to be lucky! Generally, in every Opera day there are some empty seats of the seasonal tickets (people goes on holidays, get sick etc.!). People with seasonal tickets donate them to the Opera house so for the house to be able to re-sell them and collect extra money.
    • Ask for rehearsals and morning Opera performances: there used to be some at 11am, and rehearsals timing also varies. Just ask for these options at the cashier at the Opera house. I know, you have to be a true opera lover to find any charm in an Opera at 11am! Yet, tickets are very cheap, I recall paying 400 HUF, and even nothing at all!
    • Know a dancer, a staff member, a singer!  They are not only the best people to hang out with but also sometimes the best and only option to get access to performances that are easily sold out.  This is a win-win option, you not only will learn a lot and turn into a great fan of your talented friend but also you will be able to access to tickets for a very decent price, or to gain access to tickets that are not available otherwise!
  • The most expensive seats at best prices are lately more difficult to find since Erkel Theater opened its doors again. However, you can still try some options:
    • Ask for a last minute season ticket or last minute specific seat that you know is expensive due to its better location.
    • Check the various cultural events that take place in Budapest: for example, in September each year the official buildings are opened to the public and the Opera house sometimes distribute tickets on first come first serve basis for any performance on that specific day. This might change this year as only Erkel Theater is running the Opera performances!
    • Buy Season Tickets as early as possible. Know that most of them are sold out on the very first day they are announced, that happens on the same day that the Opera house announces its program for the year. This requires that you stay in tune with the cultural life in Budapest, or the Opera website! Remember that is generally in March when this takes place.

The dress code in Hungary is extremely free so don’t let the prejudices related to dress code and the Opera of the 19 century traditions deter you. However, keep in mind that the holders of season tickets in Hungary are generally traditional families and well experienced Opera lovers. So if you plan to get a seat that is part of the season tickets then, be aware that some might make you feel uncomfortable with their gaze – if you are just reaching the opera with your sport clothes, for example. Traditional season tickets holders are very protective of Opera traditions, everywhere, not only in Hungary! Nevertheless, except for the specific gala nights with specific dress code (generally thematic as well), you are free to reach the Opera with any outfit you want.

Whether is your first time at the Opera or not, there are two main performances I will always recommend in Budapest “La Boheme” and “La Traviata”. Performance, music and scenography are of an impeccable taste and level! This is just a personal viewpoint. I still truly believe that the best performances I have seen in the world of those two pieces are from my beloved Opera in Budapest!

Nevertheless, the Opera in Budapest is of high quality so keep exploring anything there is in the program until you build your own favorites!

If this is indeed your first time at an Opera performance, keep in mind that no necessarily you will get the flavor of the whole art-form in one opera day.  I particularly do not enjoy much Wagner but I do love Verdi and Puccini. So, I was very lucky that my first time at an Opera house was to see Tosca. My advice, your first time deserves the company of an Opera lover, so get someone next to you with the right passion to make of this an unforgettable memory!

As a disclaimer, keep also in mind that if this is your first time at an Opera performance, do not prejudge it through your experience at the Erkel Teather this year. Opera performances at the Opera house are sublime!  However, that might not necessarily be the case at Erkel Theater. I still resist returning there after it ruined the acoustic of “Aida”. I can tolerate the ugly building but I cannot tolerate the bad acoustic!  I haven’t returned since then, 2 years ago, maybe this has been fixed already!

Again, this is just a personal taste, do not let it deter you! Try it out! The quality of the Opera in Budapest is supreme and the cheapest in the world! No kidding!