The MÁV Symphony Orchestra was founded during the final days of World War II in 1945 by László Varga, the president and chief executive officer of the Hungarian State Railway (MÁV) at the time, aiming to foster culture as well. It was his conviction that after the peace treaties, besides building materials and food products, people will need a cure for the emotional wounds caused by the war. He believed that an orchestra travelling the country can serve as such. To implement his idea, special sleeping cars were developed for the musicians, and the musical instruments occupied another railway carriage. The anniversary is the 1st of May: this is when the first formation of railway brass band played as the MÁV Orchestra. In the following months, Tibor Szőke, the first chief conductor formed a real symphony orchestra from the mostly amateur musicians, inviting more and more highly qualified musicians to the troupe.
In time, the orchestra became one of the most famous art ensembles of the country, to which generations owe their first real classical musical experience; the Gördülő opera, a series of concerts traveling the country, was a crucial part of the cultural programs of major provincial towns for decades. The program series starring the most famous singers of the opera house debuted in 1947 at Sárospatak with Aida, and continued to travel the provinces until the end of the 70s.
The MÁV Symphony Orchestra is regarded as one of Hungary’s most prominent official orchestras. Its repertoire ranges from baroque to modern, contemporary music. Its concerts have more than fifty thousand visitors a year, and due to its regular radio and television appearances, it has significantly larger audience.
The orchestra has been organizing its seasonal concerts to the world-famous concert hall of Budapest, at the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music, the music university in Budapest. Following the four year gap due to the renovation of the building, the MÁV Symphony Orchestra returned here with 6 concerts for both the Miklós Erdélyi and the Miklós Lukács season passes, and continues its László Varga season pass in the Italian Cultural Institute. Since its 2005 spring opening, the orchestra organizes its representative concert series, the Tibor Szőke master season pass to the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall of the Müpa Budapest. It holds its chamber orchestra season pass concerts in the Mirror Hall of the Festetics Palace, while the juvenile concert series (age 8-14), Concerts for grandchildren and grandparents, is held from this year in the Kristály Színtér and Eötvös10.
The musical education of the next generation of concert visitors is one of the priorities of the MÁV Symphony Orchestra’s mission. It awaits families with little children with the Humming Top concerts, and it organizes workshops that introduce musical instruments to preschoolers and schoolchildren, the Music-Map. The previously mentioned Concerts for grandchildren and grandparents series belongs here as well. This adds up to approximately 45-50 juvenile concerts per season.
Besides its own concert seasons, the orchestra gives about 100-120 national and international concerts annually, and is an important contributor to the Budapest Spring Festival, the Miskolc Opera Festival, the Budapest Festival Orchestra, the Müpa music marathons and the Filharmonia Hungary concerts in the capital and in provincial towns.
The records of the orchestra are available everywhere in the world, released by the most renowned record production companies (HUNGAROTON, NAXOS, SONY, TOCCATA CLASSICS). The 2013 record won the award of the most prestigious musical magazine of the United States, the American Record Guide.
The chief conductors of the MÁV Symphony Orchestra has been: Tibor Szőke, the founder of the orchestra, then Miklós Lukács, István Pécsi, Géza Oberfrank, Ferenc Nagy, Mark Gorenstein, Tamás Gál, Imre Kollár, Gábor Takács-Nagy and Péter Csaba - the two latter are guest conductors of the MÁV Symphony Orchestra to date. In seasons 2019/2021, Daniel Boico was the chief conductor and music director of the orchestra. Since July 2021 Róbert Farkas is the chief conductor of the MÁV Symphony Orchestra.
During more than seven decades of operation, the orchestra has worked with numerous world-class musicians in national and international concerts. Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Kiri Te Kanawa, Roberto Alagna, Ruggiero Ricci, Dudu Fischer, Lucia Aliberti, Lazar Bermann, Jeanne-Marie Darré, Endre Gertler, Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi, David Geringas, Jevgeni Buskov, Ramzi Yassa, János Starker, György Cziffra, Dezső Ránki, István Ruha, Csaba Onczay, Jenő Jandó, Erika Miklósa, Andrea Rost, Tamás Vásáry, Zoltán Kocsis, Miklós Perényi, Kristóf Baráti, Gergely Bogányi, Alexander Markov, Péter Frankl, Menahem Pressler, Helen Donath, Maxim Vengerov – and the list goes on
Countless internationally recognized conductors have directed the MÁV Symphony Orchestra. Some of the many outstanding artists: Kurt Masur, János Ferencsik, Zoltán Kodály, Miklós Rózsa, Lamberto Gardelli, Franco Ferrara, Uri Mayer, Nikolai Anosov, Roberto Benzi, Angelo Ephrikian, Franz Konwitschy, Ottmar Suitner, Arwid Janszonsz, Vladimír Válek, Hans Swarowsky, Carlo Zecchi, Herbert Blomstedt, Moshe Atzmon, Jurij Szimonov, Irwin Hoffman, James Levine, János Fürst, Carlo Ponti Jr., Jesús López Coboz, Charles Dutoit.
The orchestra’s outstanding artistic achievement was recognized in the course of numerous foreign guest appearances. The MÁV Symphony Orchestra has given concerts in almost every European countries in the most renowned concert halls. In the past years, it also achieved successes in Brazil, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Columbia, Lebanon, Japan, China, Hong Kong, South-Korea and Oman. It is a returning guest at the prestigious Musikverein concert hall in Vienna.
In 1988, the orchestra gave a concert at the Assisi Festival in Castel Gandolfo, at the pope’s summer residence, in honor of Pope John Paul II. The MÁV Symphony Orchestra was the sole Hungarian orchestra to participate in the legendary Three Tenors production. In 1999, in Japan, at the Tokyo Dome, it performed for an audience of 32 thousand, as a partner of José Carreras, Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti.
A zenekar hagyományokban gazdag művészi munkásságának elismeréseképpen 2011-ben az egyik legjelentősebb zenei elismerésben részesült, megkapta a Bartók Béla-Pásztory Ditta Díjat. Kétszer kapta meg a Széchenyi emlékérmet, 2013-ban pedig szakmai munkássága, kiemelkedő közösségi és közéleti tevékenysége elismeréseként az MSZOSZ díját vehette át. 2013 augusztusában az államfő a Magyar Érdemrend Lovagkeresztjét adományozta Lendvai György, a zenekar ügyvezető igazgatója számára „Magyarország egyik vezető szereppel bíró, közel hetvenéves kultúramegőrző és kultúrateremtő múlttal rendelkező együttese sikeres irányításáért, az ifjúság zenei nevelésének előtérbe helyezéséért”. 2019-ben a MÁV Szimfonikus Zenekar Artisjus-díjban részesült a kortárs magyar darabok minél szélesebb közönséghez való eljuttatásáért.
In July 2013, the MÁV Symphony Orchestra was commissioned by the International Olympic Committee to record the original, Erkel-version of the Hungarian National Anthem. From then on, this version will be played at the Olympic Games when a Hungarian champion takes the podium.
The Orchestra has had a long-standing, warm friendship with Ken-Ichiro Kobayashi, who won the Hungarian Television’s International Conductors’ Competition in the spring of 1974. The MÁV Symphony Orchestra was the first orchestra that he directed outside his home country, thereby starting his international career. The Master still has a special connection to our orchestra. He directed dozens of MÁV Symphony Orchestra concerts in our different series, on numerous occasions in Japan, thereby enhancing the reputation of our country and the founder of our orchestra. The MÁV Symphony Orchestra deeply values Kobayashi’s friendship. As a token of mutual appreciation, since the 2014-15 season, we welcome him to the podium as honorary guest conductor.