Today, Miklós Szenthelyi, a violinist, is seventy years old

Seventy years ago, Miklós Szenthelyi, a Hungarian violinist with the Kossuth Prize and the Ferenc Liszt Prize, was born a retired head of the Academy of Music, an honorary citizen of Budapest. He has toured the world with his concerts and held master classes in the United States, Finland and Brazil. He founded the Hungarian Virtuosos Chamber Orchestra, which consists only of strings, and has been its artistic director and conductor since 1999. Accompanying his career is his 300-year-old master violin. We talked to Miklós Szenthelyi on the occasion of his birthday.

“You’re a violinist, but your mother was a piano teacher.” I think he got acquainted with the world of classical music very early on. Do you enjoy learning music as a child?

– At the age of five, I started learning to play the piano from my mother, who was trained as a pianist, but in the II. world war broke its trajectory. His genes worked very much in us, in my sister, Judith, and in me. I don’t really think we could have chosen anything other than classical music. My brother is a pianist, we have been working together in great harmony for 50 years. For me, he is my tutor who accompanies the students on the piano. We also performed a lot together. Looking back on my career so far, I can thank my brother a lot.

– He played the piano for 15 years, yet became a violinist. Do you remember meeting the violin?

– I don’t remember why I chose the violin. I know that I wanted to play the violin as a child, conceited and passionate. Then, at the age of nine, they were finally enrolled in Margit Lányi, who was a legendary teacher. He also taught in his apartment. As a young kid, I hated exercising, looking longingly at the boys playing football outside. I owe it to him that he taught me artistic work ethic. He was a fantastic educator and tough as a rock. We, his students, dreaded him, that is, his expectations. He required his disciples to do the proper work at home. If one wants to improve, there is nothing to do other than constant work. And it’s for an instrumentalist to practice as many hours a day as possible. It was a suffering for me for a long time. At the age of 12 came a sad turn in my life, the loss of my mother changed me. This tragic life situation brought out to me that I suddenly felt something had to be done: I was practicing more and more. First three to four hours and then five to six hours. Until then, I was a spoiled little boy and then a serious little man. I also try to explain to myself why I turned clearly to the music, maybe because I felt it would do me good to play the violin. I have practiced and practiced, and I still believe that without this, no one can become a real artist. This very strong work ethic has accompanied me all my life. I have three wonderful sons, they managed to pass that on to them.

Violinist Miklós Szenthelyi

Photo: András Éberling

– The example matters a lot. At the age of sixteen, you studied at the Academy of Music with Dénes Kovács.

– In 1968 I entered the Liszt Ferenc College of Music, where Dénes Kovács I became his disciple. They had very nice years, with a lot of work. Yes, I respected and admired him and learned a lot from him. And the kind of work ethic I was talking about was very lucky because he could really help a student who worked very hard, purposefully, without having to tell him that. During my studies I could learn from several excellent artists: Simon Albert, who was the leader of the college band, and I visited György Kurtág for a year together with Zoltán Kocsis, who was still young at the time, but he had an amazing body of knowledge. Back then, at the age of seventeen, I couldn’t even process everything, only later as I developed. I am very grateful to him too. I should mention that I managed to find a violin medal like Jasha Heifetz as a teenager. By my standards, everyone comes after him, I am very happy to take it on. Every artist needs to find someone whose production will guide him. If one finds a truly authentic artist, one will never reach his standard. When sometimes I felt the distance between me and him decrease, I put on a record and realized no and no. It’s still so far away that I can’t reach it.

– At the age of twenty-two, starting as a teacher at the Academy of Music could not be an easy task.

– My master, Dénes Kovács, was honored to take me as a teaching assistant, and in retrospect he took an incredible risk. I can say with a calm heart that I knew nothing about teaching. True, I already started touring the world as a violinist. It was most likely an anticipated trust. It took a few years for me to become useful to the disciples as well. A teacher needs to feel an extraordinary responsibility towards his students. I don’t think you just have to care about outstanding talent. Every student needs to find what they are best suited for and get to the area as far as possible. Not everyone is born for a solo career, there are those who can be the best in a band, and there are those who are perfect for a chamber musician or a teacher. Of course, this is by no means simple: for example, they are often not demanding enough of themselves. Therefore, our task is to place higher demands on them than they face in life. In individual education, my responsibility is enormous, because when an individual instrumentalist puts his professional destiny in the hands of a teacher, it means that years later, when he graduates, his teacher has decided somewhere what he will get in life – at least in that case if the student is a partner at work. It’s an incredible responsibility, bigger than group education. I have been teaching very valuable young people at the world-famous Academy of Music for 47 years, so I live with the illusion that I recognize talent even in Hungarian political life. On one side, we see a factually brilliant prime minister surrounded by great professionals. Their joint operation brought many positives to the lives of the extremely talented and at the same time critical Hungarian people. On the other hand, it has been difficult to find a politician in recent years whose work would have brought demonstrable benefits to the Hungarian nation. This is the opinion of a simple Christian musician.

– I read in an interview that he considers it one of the greatest experiences of his life when, after winning the Hungarian Radio competition in 1975, he went to four Western European countries to find a master instrument for himself.

– This was preceded by my first big success. It took place in the Great Hall of the Academy of Music, I was 18 years old, and I performed with the MÁV symphony orchestra, the other soloist was Zoltán Kocsis. The concert was a huge highlight and this is where my track started. Then, when I won the Hungarian Radio competition, I received a phone call from the Hungarian state to buy me a master violin that I could choose for myself. Until then, I played a Czech factory violin. With the great cellist Csaba Onczay, we were able to find a suitable instrument in four western countries, and finally I came across the Guarner master violin in the Netherlands, which will be 300 years old in 2023. The only downside to this instrument is that for sure, if something doesn’t sound right, only I can do it.

Violinist Miklós Szenthelyi found the Guarner master violin in the Netherlands, which will be 300 years old in 2023
Photo: András Éberling

– We barely talked about his concerts, although he can’t fit in an interview, he performed in so many places. What was the hardest of them?

– The concert marathons, of which I made 16 in 9 years. That meant four gigs a day. Then I “plowed through” the violin literature. The fact that I stopped playing the violin two years ago is probably also the reason I played the violin for 58 years. Of this, 50 years very hard. My hand could handle it so far. When one notices that one is putting in the same amount of work into it and the hand is not serving it, the signs begin to be thought about, that was all. I had been conducting until then, so it intensified as the time for practice was freed up and I could deal with the young people more.

I am very grateful to my wonderful wife and family for the ideal family background. It is very important, especially for an artist, what to expect at home. We are sensitive, which means that we jump much more to small nonsense.

– What are you most satisfied with in your career?

– It is a simple fact that I have played the most difficult and most of the Hungarian violinists’ concerts in violin literature.

Source: Magyar Nemzet by

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