Kassai István

CSÁKVÁRI Ilona  ↑ 1982
KERTÉSZ Lajos      2007
KADOSA Pál           1982
CZIFFRA György    1982
Yvonne LEFÉBURE 1984
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I was born in Budapest, Hungary, on 26th March 1959 and started playing the piano in 1965 with Ilona Csákvári who, on her part, had studied with Károly Aggházy, one of Liszt’s Weimar pupils in the one-time National School of Music. My first public appearance was in 1966.

  After having mastered the subject matter of instruction in four years instead of six, I was admitted to the Béla Bartók Conservatory In 1969. My teacher there was Lajos Kertész, the excellent Bartók interpreter, later head of department at the Teachers’ Training College of the Liszt Academy. During his tour of Japan I studied a term with Marianne Ábrahám.

  In 1971 I won the second prize at the International Youth Piano Competition in Ušti nad Labem, Czechoslovakia, in the category of 12-13-year-old pianists.

  A year later, in 1972 I was awarded the first prize in the same category and the special prize for the best interpretation irrespective of age groups. I first played with orchestral accompaniment (Haydn’s Piano Concerto in D major) and gave my first recital that year, at the age of 13.

  In 1973 I got the Klára Chitz prize distributed among the best graduating students of the Bartók Conservatory each year. At the same time I was admitted, aged 14, as an ordinary student to the piano department of the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music, the first since 1945. My professors there were the legendary Pál Kadosa and his assistant Dezsö Ránki. Due to Ránki’s frequent concert tours I studied a year each with Jenö Jandó and Anikó Szegedi, six months with Kálmán Dráfy. Occasionally I received instruction from Ferenc Rados, Zoltán Kocsis and György Ferenczy as well.

  My first concert at the Academy of Music, a recital with works by Prokofiev was given in 1977.

  In 1978 I was accepted to the artist’s training course founded by Ernö Dohnányi at the Academy of Music and was rewarded by ARTISJUS (the Hungarian Copyright Office) for the performance of contemporary Hungarian music.

  In 1979 I won the first prize at the piano competition of the Hungarian Radio and also the special prize given to the best contestant of the Academy. (The prize-winners of this competition organized merely seven times included Gyula Kiss, Zoltán Kocsis, Jenö Jandó, Péter Nagy and later Csaba Király and Gábor Farkas as wel).

  My first recital broadcast live and my first live performance with an orchestra (playing Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini) were in 1979. Since then I have appeared regularly in the Hungarian Radio. Its archives keep about two hours’ studio recording and about sixty hours live transmission and concert recordings with me.

  In 1979-1980 I won the scholarship founded by Mrs Bartók née Ditta Pászthori given to the best students of the Academy of Music.

  I first played to Georges Cziffra in Senlis in 1981, then performed at six gala nights of the Cziffra Foundation in Hungary and France between 1982 and 1986.

  In 1982 I graduated as a pianist from the Academy of Music but continued studying privately with the pianist Péter Solymos, an excellent Debussy-interpreter and professor at the Academy.

  In 1982, 1983 and 1985 I attended the July courses of Yvonne Lefébure given in Saint-Germain-en-Laye (Debussy’s birthplace) and Paris, respectively (Juillet Musical).

  In 1982 I won the first grand prix at the Paris International Debussy Piano Competition rewarded with thirty thousand FR. There were two more occasions when one could enter for this prize: in 1980 and 1984 but then no competitor was found worthy of it.

  In 1982-83 and 1983-84 I received a grant from the Hungarian Ministry of Culture for my accomplishments at the Debussy Competition. This grant provided young artists the opportunity to give one or two concerts each month in Hungary and to get involved in the musical life.

  In 1983-84 I studied with the world-famous professor Yvonne Lefébure at the Paris Conservatoire Européen de Musique and graduated from it with a master diploma in 1984.

  In 1984, while I was still staying in France, the Ministry of Culture withdrew its grant without offering an explanation and excluded me thereby from concert life. I was not allowed to return to France for the second year to obtain the highest diploma of the Conservatoire. At the same time, getting a job in Hungarian musical life from the Music Academy to the smallest music school in the country was made impossible for me. (Let me remark that to my studies in France in July 1982, 1983, 1985 and at the academic year 1983-84 I was given a French state scholarship. Otherwise my parents supported me. The relevant authorities of the dictatorship did not finance my studies and trips abroad.

  In 1985 I received the prize Fonds International de l'Etnr'aide Musicale of UNESCO. That was the last year when I entered a musical competition. (In Bolzano I was eliminated from the qualifying round). The dramatic deterioration of my circumstances did not permit entering further competitions. The balance of my five entries is: a second and three first prizes.

  In 1986 I took part in Georges Cziffra’s first master-course in Keszthely. Since then I have been working alone.

  In 1986 I was awarded the Bonnaud-Chevillion-Prize of the Fondation de France given to the two best pupils of the Conservatoire Européen de Musique every third year. However, I was not able to pursue my studies in France as my professor had died in the meantime. The same year, I gave a self-organized Liszt recital on the centenary of his death in the small room of the Budapest Academy of Music attended by a fairly large audience. The relevant authorities of musical life were conspicuous by their absence.

  In 1987 I was included in the Fondation Cziffra’s list of soloists and was allowed to make my first studio recording at the Hungarian Radio (of Beethoven’s Sonata in G major op. 31 № 1), which was less indicative of the silence imposed on me than of the increasing unease of the dictatorship.

  Except for a year and a half I have been dealing almost exclusively with Hungarian music ever since 1987. My special field comprises 19th- and turn-of-the-century romantic composers. I have studied this era as an amateur music historian as well. My articles and studies devoted to the period appear in dailies, scientific reviews and volumes of essays and studies.

  I could first make recordings, after involuntary silence, in 1988, i.e. the first world recording of the complete piano works of Ernest Bloch (1880–1959) commissioned by Naxos. More than thirty CDs have followed (with works by Bartók, Erkel, Hubay, Mosonyi, Volkmann and Weiner). I subordinate my artistic activities to recording.

  Since 1989 I have been founder and member of board of the Ferenc Erkel Society. In 1998 I was elected board member of the Jenö Hubay Society and that of the László Lajtha Society in 2000.

  In 1990 I was awarded the Hungarian Radio’s prize for the high-standard studio recording of Ferenc Erkel’s piano works. At the Erkel Society’s historical concerts given in Gyula on each March 15th and transmitted live since 1990, later on at other sites I played several premieres, concert hall and modern first performances, among them from works by Erkel, Mosonyi, Brahms, Dohnányi and Bartók.

  In 1991 my double-CD of the complete edition of Ferenc Erkel’s (1810–1893) piano works, chamber music and opera transcriptions was released by Naxos. It was recorded a year before with the contribution of Ferenc Szecsödi and Péter Lukács.

  In 1993-95 I edited the first volume of Georges Cziffra’s improvisations. The greater part of these pieces had to be notated from recordings by ear since no manuscripts existed or the notation was inadequate for editing purposes. This edition could unfortunately not be continued after Georges Cziffra’s death as his widow has quite peculiar ideas of the editor’s legal status.

  Since 1995 I have been working on the music edition of works by Mihály Mosonyi (1815–1870). Due to the miserable financing conditions I have managed to publish only three volumes so far although I have already prepared several volumes for publication.

  From spring 1997 onwards I have made records for Hungaroton Classic, starting with the recording of Jenö Hubay’s (1858–1937) complete violin-piano output with Ferenc Szecsödi and the complete piano work by Leó Weiner (1885–1960) that year.

  The last album of a set of six CDs was released in 1999, containing Mihály Mosonyi’s complete works for piano, piano duet and chamber music with piano recorded with the contribution of Klára Körmendi (piano), Leila Rásonyi (violin) and Judit Kiss-Domonkos (cello) between 1992 and 1997 and released by Naxos between 1994 and 1999.

  In 2000 a supplementary album to the famous Bartók Complete Edition of Hungaroton was released with my contribution, playing three piano works. The Japanese firm King Records took over the complete edition and issued it with different covers that same year.

  In 2001 I was awarded the Liszt Ferenc-Prize, the highest professional distinction in Hungary. At a concert of the Symphonic Orchestra of the Hungarian Radio organized on World Music Day I appeared at Mihály Mosonyi’s first all-night orchestral evening as the soloist of the Piano Concerto in the great hall of the Budapest Academy of Music. The concert was broadcast by the radio stations of nineteen EBU countries live or from recording.

  Since 2002 I have felt the need to join concert life – temporarily only in Hungary – and compile three to five different programmes each year, for the greater part from the masterpieces of the Hungarian history of music.

  In 2003 the publishing house Editio Musica Budapest invited me to edit a volume (II/15, jointly with Imre Sulyok) of the famous Budapest Liszt Edition (NLE), which was the recognition of my music editing work so far. My CD recording Dohnányi’s chamber music with the Auer String Quartet was also released in 2003.

  In 2004 my selection from the Hungarian-related works of Robert Volkmann (1815–1883) recorded the year before was released.

   In 2007 the last album of Leó Weiner’s complete piano music was issued. The four albums were recorded from 1997 to 2006 and released by Hungaroton between 1998 and 2007. I interpreted both parts of the works for piano four hands and two pianos made possible by up-to-date recording technology.

  This summer I was operated on both eyes and so my handicap in musical life has ceased.

  In 2009 the last CD of a series of thirteen albums with the complete violin-piano output of Jenő Hubay (1858-1937) will be released. It was recorded with Ferenc Szecsődi for the record publishing company Hungaroton between 1997 and 2008 and has appeared from 1997 onwards continuously. This was the so far greatest undertaking in the history of the Hungarian recording industry begun and completed by a solo artist.

  In 2010 I was awarded the Leo Weiner Memorial Prize.

  This summer I got married Valéria Csányi conductor.

  Since 2013 I am full member of the Hungaroan Academy of Arts