Szalay Zoltán fotó)
‘...the one who is able to remain a life-long Child: thinking and living in an elevated way, rejoicing with a pure heart, being enthusiastic, acting selflessly, helping those in a physical and spiritual need – is loved by gods.' – as a newspaper has commented recently on one of the decisive personalities of current Hungarian musical life, Tamás Vásáry in connection with his series of recitals for children.
Tamás Vásáry began his career as a child prodigy he gave his first recitals as a pianist at the age of eight. He was a student of Lajos Hernádi at the piano department of the Academy of Music. He was awarded prestigious prizes during his years at the Academy already: his piano playing was acknowledged with the first prize of the Liszt Ferenc Society in 1947 and with the Liszt Ferenc anniversary award in the academic year of 1949/1950. The playing of Annie Fischer and the guidance of his professor Zoltán Kodály as well as his almost paternal care had a great impact on his artistic development.
‘The light of his mind and individuality attracted me and the possibility provided by the official folk music courses was no more enough for me.' – wrote Tamás Vásáry in his recollections on Kodály. The moment when Kodály shaking hands saluted him hello following his playing of the Marosszéki táncok (Dances of Marosszék) at the master's home, remained probably an experience with a life-long impact for him. There was no better example of Kodály's recognition than he gave a Steinway piano as a present to the young pianist preceding his degree recital, and offered him a position as a professor of solfege following his years of study at the Academy of Music. The fact that Kodály consigned half of his solfege class at the musicology department to his young colleague was also an expression of Kodály's appreciation. However the increasing number of recitals, performances abroad and competitions made the pianist so busy later that he had to give up teaching. He was forced to emigrate in 1956 in order to save his family so his artistic career led him abroad to international acknowledgements. The first station of his series of successes was the Royal Festival Hall in London in 1960, while he made recordings of Liszt's works for the Deutsche Grammophon parallel with his recitals.
‘I was touring the world for fifteen years giving more than a hundred recitals per year with the greatest orchestras and conductors at almost all the international festivals.' – as Tamás Vásáry recalls. From 1971 on he has been performing as a conductor, as well sometimes conducting at the piano. For the first time he was main conductor of the Bournemouth Sinfonietta, and then music director of the Northern Sinfonia from 1979 to 1982. In the meantime he also performed as a guest conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Symphonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as Italian, French, Spanish and Scottish orchestras. He was visiting Hungary regularly from 1972 and has been living in Hungary from 1993 while having a Swiss citizenship and being a permanent resident in London.
He has been the main music director of the Orchestra of the Hungarian National Radio since 1993. He made successful guest appearances with the orchestra in Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands. At the guest performances in South America the soloist of the concertos of Dvořák and Shostakovich was Rostropovich. Tamás Vásáry took over leading of the tour of the Symphonic Orchestra of Warsaw after the death of Menuhin. One of the secrets of his successes and popularity is his relaxed and humane relationship with the members of the orchestra.
‘The musical-spiritual harmony formed with the orchestra is appreciated so much by the audience – as he commented – I find extremely important our series, subscription concerts and the arc of our programs in that regard.' Vásáry usually takes part in the planning of the concert programs, and prefers especially to connect the series of pieces by one idea. Tickets for most of his series were sold out before the advertisements therefore the dress rehearsals became also public. His master classes at the Academy of Music gains the same success. It is emphatic for him to record Hungarian works rarely performed and prefers to premier contemporary Hungarian works, as well for example the compositions of Emil Petrovics, György Ligeti, Zsolt Durkó. His work was awarded several prizes already: Kossuth Prize, Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary Commander's Cross (civilian), and Golden Prize of the President of Hungary. He was elected Man of the Year in 1999.
Vásáry has been loved not only by the audience of his concerts. The television brought him closer to the everyday people, too especially his series titled Zenén túl (Beyond Music), where he shared his thoughts, feelings, philosophical views besides making music. The way he thinks about the major problem the human race has always been dealing with, the question of being and passing away is making us wonder: ‘As I see birth and existence on earth is only a small part of our lives. Therefore I am not afraid of death, as it opens another gate in which I am very interested, and I am convinced that we are going to a better world. My principle is that everything is good the way it is.'