István Kertész

István Kertész (August 28, 1929April 16, 1973) was a world-renowned Hungarian orchestral and operatic conductor.

Early life


Kertész was born in Budapest, Hungary, the first child of Margit Muresian and Miklos Kertész. A daughter, Vera was born four years later. Miklos Kertész, born in Szécsény, Hungary into a large Jewish family, and the director of a leather-works, died of appendicitis in 1938. An energetic, intellectually gifted woman, Margit Muresian Kertész went to work to support her family. Despite strictures against women working professionally in Hungarian society during the first half of the twentieth century, Kertész's mother was steadily promoted until she ran the office where she was employed. Kertész began violin lessons at the age of six. "When I was six" he told a High Fidelity interviewer for the December 1969 issue "and started music, it was 1935 and cruel things were going on in Europe… I found my `exile' in music, practicing the piano, the fiddle, and writing little compositions." By the time he was twelve, Kertész began to study the piano as well.

World War II and the Holocaust

With the invasion of Hungary by the Germans during the second World War, and awareness of what was happening to Jews throughout Europe, the family went into hiding. Most of Kertész's extended family were deported to Auschwitz in 1943, and did not survive the Holocaust.

At the insistence of his mother, and despite the wartime interruptions of air raids, deportations, starvation, and invasions by both Germans and later, the Russians, István Kertész continued his musical studies, playing the violin and studying composition. After the war, Kertész resumed his formal studies and attended the Kölcsey-Gymnasium where, in 1947, he graduated with honors.

That same year, István Kertész enrolled as a scholarship student at the Royal Academy of Music, now the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, Hungary, where he studied violin, piano, and composition with Zoltán Kodály, Leó Weiner, and Rezsö Kókai. Developing an interest in conducting, Kertész became a student of János Ferencsik and László Somogyi. At the conservatory, Kertész also met his wife, the soprano, Edith Gabry where they were part of a gifted cohort of musicians. Musically, Kertész was most influenced by László Somogyi, Bruno Walter, and Otto Klemperer, then the director of the Budapest Opera.


From 1953 to 1955, István Kertész conducted at Györ, and the Budapest Opera orchestra from 1955 to 1957. After the upheaval of the Hungarian Revolution, and with a young family in tow, Kertész left Hungary. With a fellowship to the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome, Kertész studied with Fernando Previtali while Edith Gabry sang at the Bremen Opera.

After completing his studies in Rome, fortune smiled on Kertész when was engaged as a guest conductor at the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra and the Hamburg State-Opera. Guest conducting there, as well as in Wiesbaden and Hannover, Kertész electrified German audiences with his masterful direction of "Fidelio," and "La Boheme."

In March, 1960, István Kertész was invited to become the General Music Director of the Augsburg Opera. There, Kertész conducted performances of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "The Magic Flute," "The Abduction from the Seraglio," "Così fan tutte," and "The Marriage of Figaro," and earned for himself a reputation as one of the finest interpreters of Mozart's work. With exhilarating performances of Giuseppe Verdi's "Rigoletto," "Don Carlos," "Othello," "Falstaff" and Richard Strauss' "Salome," "Arabella," and "Der Rosenkavalier," Kertész also proved himself a master of the finest of Italian romantic operas. Invited to the Salzburger Festspiele Kertész conducted Mozart's "The Abduction from the Seraglio" in 1961, and "The Magic Flute" in 1963. During this time, István Kertész also conducted the first of many performances with the Berlin Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, San Francisco Opera, the Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, and with Arthur Rubinstein in Paris. In four years, István Kertész had established a lasting international reputation.

His British debut was with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in 1960. He began an association with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra guest conducting a concert at Tel Aviv's Mann Auditorium in March 1962. He conducted over 378 compositions with that orchestra over an eleven year period.

In 1964, István Kertész received an appointment at the Cologne Opera where he conducted the first German performance of Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd. At Cologne, Kertész conducted the first performances of Verdi's "Sitffelio" and Britten's "Billy Budd" in Germany, as well as numerous Mozart operas, "La Clemenza di Tito", "Don Giovanni," "Così fan tutte," and "The Magic Flute."

Retaining his previous position as Director of the Cologne Opera, István Kertész also became principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra from 1965 to 1968, and made guest appearances at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. During his three years as Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, Kertész gave superbly stylish, imaginative and deft performances, and Kertész and the LSO were acclaimed for their recordings of the complete Dvořák Symphonies.

István Kertész was a frequent guest of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the Wiener Philharmoniker, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and numerous other orchestras. He was appointed Principal conductor of the Bamberger Symphoniker in 1973, and the Cleveland Orchestra unsuccessfully bid for his appointment as musical director the year before. The orchestra players voted 96 to two to request the board to favor Kertesz as the replacement of George Szell, but the board declined. With Chicago, he conducted between 1967 and 1972 with his first concerts at the Ravinia Festival (for which he was the principal conductor 1970-1972) in July 1967.

On April 16, 1973, while on a concert tour, István Kertész drowned while swimming off the coast of Israel at Herzliya. At the time, Kertész had been recording what would become a legendary version of Brahms' Haydn Variations, as well as the complete Brahms Symphonies. After his untimely death, and in tribute to him, the Wiener Philharmoniker finished recording the Haydn Variations.

István Kertész was survived by his wife, Edit Gabry, his children, Gabor, Peter, and Katarin, his mother, Margrit Muresian Kertész Halmos, and his sister, a graphic artist, Vera Kertész.

International orchestras

István Kertész served as principal and or guest conductor under the following orchestras: Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, Berlin Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (Amsterdam), Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Gürzenich Orchestra (Cologne), Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Japan Philharmonic Orchestra (Tokyo), London Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra, New Philharmonia Orchestra (London), Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Ochester des Bayerischen Rundfunk (Munich), Orquestre Nacional (Madrid), Orchestre Radio-Télévision (Paris), Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (Geneva), Philadelphia Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Radio Symphony Orchestra (Berlin), Opera Orchestra of Santa Cecila (Rome), San Francisco Symphony, Symphonie Orchester des Norddeutschen Rundfunks (Hamburg), Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Tonhalle-Orchester (Zürich), Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.


István Kertész' many recordings include the first complete recording of La Clemenza di Tito. He was also the first to record the complete Dvořák Symphonies and his interpretations of them are still considered classics of their kind. Pianists Clifford Curzon, Hans Richter-Haaser, Vladimir Ashkenazy, and Julius Katchen each made fine records with Kertész, among which the Mozart concertos are particularly inspired. With his renditions of Zoltán Kodály's big orchestral works, and given his precise yet passionate conducting style, Kertész was particularly well-suited to get the full orchestral swoop and swoon endemic to "Psalmus Hungaricus" and "The Peacock Variations." The sonority Kertész managed to elicit from the LSO was expertly executed. Little wonder that Barry Tuckwell, the principle hornist of the LSO spoke of the élan and enthusiasm Kertész could coax out of the orchestra, many of whom Tuckwell regarded as "old codgers not bloody likely to dance to any youngster's tune."


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