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Piano legend András Schiff: No return to Hungary

Ahead of two concerts at the Helsinki Music Centre, the celebrated Hungarian-born pianist András Schiff says he cannot return to his homeland due to the prevailing political attitude there.

András Schiff
András Schiff Image: Yle

“I can’t take what’s happening there now. It’s very, very sad," he says. "The right and the extreme right are so prominent and so strong. And there is so much racism, hatred, anti-Semitism and nationalism.”

Now a British subject at age 58, he says he will remain in self-imposed exile from his homeland.

Bartók in exile

Schiff is the headliner at the Radio Symphony Orchestra’s Bartók festival, playing on Friday 14 December and Wednesday 19 December.

In a taped discussion with the RSO’s American bassoonist Darren Acosta, Schiff has harsh words for Hungary’s current right-wing government.

“At the moment there is no real alternative in the middle and no real alternative on the left,” says Schiff. “There is an alternative on the extreme right, which is, you know, going into the direction of Adolf Hitler, so welcome to that. And people say, ‘oh, well, it's not so bad, it's not like Hitler’. Yes certainly – there are no gas chambers.”

You can't go home again

While he is one of the world’s leading classical performers, the outspoken Schiff says such criticism means he would be unwelcome in Hungary, adding that he has received death threats.

“It would be suicide for me to go there,” he says. “They would chop off my hands. But I will never keep quiet.”

During Friday’s sold-out concert conducted by Sakari Oramo, the pianist will perform Bach’sKeyboard Concerto in D Minor and two works by fellow Hungarian exile Béla Bartók: theConcerto for Orchestra and the Piano Concerto No. 2.

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