„I am driven by the joy of giving” – Interview with the guitarist and Head of the Strings Department, József Eötvös

2017. november 02.

Besides his teaching activity at the Liszt Academy and his position as the Head of the Strings Department, József Eötvös organises festivals and competitions, devotes himself to the careers of young people and to the furtherance of guitar music. The Liszt Award-winning musician spoke to us in detail about the history of the Guitar Sub-Department, artist management and the Budapest International Guitar Competition.

Although you are a guitarist yourself, you lead the Strings Department of the Liszt Academy – it is common practice at the music universities of the world today that professors are not necessary appointed to lead the department of their own instrument. How do you feel about this position?

I founded the Guitar Sub-Department of the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music in 2002, which initially belonged to the Strings, then to the Keyboard and Harp Department, then again to the Strings Department. In January, 2015 I was appointed Head of the Strings Department, which meant of course great honour on the one hand but, and a big challenge on the other hand. I am a perfectionist, so I try to do whatever I do a hundred percent. Naturally, it is quite a challenge in itself. Throughout the 142-year history of the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music, all other heads of the Strings Department were violinists, so the established practice of the department head’s job had to be re-organised, and in professional issues, the leaders of the Sub-Departments were granted a greater autonomy. At the same time, not being a string player myself, I am in a position to see the activities of the department and its academic staff from a distance and another perspective. Being able to help my colleagues – the academics of the department – in one way or another represents hard work but also lots of joy.  

What are your views on artist management and on leadership skills in music higher education?

I wouldn’t elaborate too much on leadership skills, for as to me, I always seek to be humane, fair, sincere and just. I believe in these values and I try to practise and observe them at all times, but only the teaching staff of the department could tell to what extent I actually succeed. As to the first part of the question, teachers are holistically responsible for their students as individuals. The relationship between them isn’t restricted to two lessons a week; we must see the problems of these young people, who occasionally need our advice and opinion. Of course, we also play a crucial role in helping them on their career path. Each student requires a different kind of assistance; a future soloist needs other assets than a future teacher. Art and artist management are both important things and many people make a big effort to make these areas work. I also do my best – as far as my modest capacities allow – to support music and musicians, this is why I have founded the Eötvös Musical Talent Support Foundation whose purpose is to help the professional musicians of the future as well as to make guitar music more popular and widen its audience by organising concerts and competitions.

You established the Foundation five years ago.

My wife, Zita Eötvös and I brought about the Foundation together. We form an excellent team; she is the heart and soul of the entire venture. One of our objectives is to provide talented young guitarists with high-quality master-crafted instruments, which do not only inspire them but are now a „must” at all international competitions.  Presently, we have twenty such guitars, which we don’t lend to the young musicians in exchange for money, but for self-management. In other words, after having „earned” the valuable instrument through an audition, the students must organise ten concerts for themselves per year. By doing so, they will learn to manage themselves, and the audience will have the opportunity to attend ten additional concerts both in Hungary and beyond. If we multiply this by the twenty instruments, we come to 200 concerts annually. We also encourage the awardees of these guitars to participate in competitions. Alone in this past year, we have had 31 medallists, out of which 19 were 1st prize winners. We are very proud that one of our students, Lotti Szalai – who is under my tutelage at the School for Exceptional Young Talents – was presented with the Junior Prima Award.  I hope that the support of our Foundation contributed to this recognition to some extent.

 

József Eötvös.

 

I have some exceedingly touching stories related to our Foundation: for example, our first six instruments came from Japan beautifully wrapped up but without a case. We urgently started searching for guitar cases at a reasonable price. One of the most acclaimed British case manufacturers heard of this concern of ours, and without any further ado, posted six cases to us. All of a sudden, there was a courier outside our house delivering a half a dozen guitar cases which had been manufactured for us as a gift. They had not notified us beforehand, so it was a great surprise, which made us very happy.

One of the most outstanding endeavours of yours is the Budapest International Guitar Competition organised by the Eötvös Musical Talent Support Foundation.

Although Hungary is well-known among guitarists internationally (especially thanks to the Esztergom International Guitar Festival held annually between 1973 and 2009), no large-scale international guitar contest has been organised in this country.  I had been thinking about it for a long time, but for a high-standard competition you need an appropriate venue, a professional jury and high prize money. Finally, we have received all of these: the high prize money was granted by the National Cultural Fund of Hungary, the professionally outstanding jury members are my excellent artist and professor colleagues celebrated among guitarists all over the world, while the grand and highly impressive venue is the Liszt Academy itself. Our first competition took place in 2014, where the finalists were multiple award-winning young musicians, so I can claim that we also have very good contestants.

What can the audience and the competitors expect in the competition coming up this year?

First of all, 32 gifted young musicians from 19 countries. Six of them are Hungarian students of the Liszt Academy. I am especially proud of the awards of the competition: naturally, there is the prize money and the material recognition, but I find the performance opportunities particularly important. This time, the winner will be granted the chance to take to the stage giving 16 concerts in Europe and Asia, which will greatly promote their career. In addition to the listed awards, the 1st prize winner will be presented with a Japanese master-crafted instrument, while the silver-medallist will receive a Hungarian concert guitar manufactured in the workshop of László Gulyás. The international jury evaluating the performances of the three rounds of the competition will consist of 12 excellent members. I am confident that we will discover many a young talent and will make classical guitar compositions, the sound of guitar music and the famous guitarists of the future known to a wider audience.