I wasn’t even five years old when my father, who was the conductor of the viola at the Opera House, handed me over a violin saying, “Well, it suits you, so you’ll play this instrument”. So, no matter waht, even when I felt to throw away the violin, I had to learn. To tell the truth, my father was right: I was good at it. I attended competitions at the age of nine, I came in the first place in Czechoslovakia, and won a first prize at the age of ten. As a winner, I was automatically admitted to the Liszt Academy, to the Special Talents Class. Throughout years, I was a private student, so I graduated before having my high school diploma.
I spent my whole childhood practicing. It meant 5–8 hours a day, after which I could go play football for half an hour. I remember running down the stairs and the mom of my classmate in the neighborhood telling his son: „Attila, go to play, Géza has his half hour now”.
Until the age of sixteen, all I did felt duty for me. The moment when I started to realize who I really was when, preparing for the Finnish Sibelius Violin Competition, I told my father to let me practice on my own. I just felt what to do: I felt the cold, the blue snow, and the way to express all this. My father let me practice alone–and from that time, I have been following my own path.
I spent 10 years at the Liszt Academy. I didn’t even have a normal graduation: one day I was asked to visit the rector’s office where I was given a sheet of paper, saying that in the previous three years I had done two solo and orchestra performances in a year, considered as graduation concert afterwards. I regret not to have been able to say goodbye in a proper, ceremonial occasion with a printed brochure and my family there.
After that, I was the concertmaster of the Postás Symphonic Orchestra for four years, then, from 1982 for ten years the concertmaster of the Opera House. There was only one occasion when I had the chance to go abroad, in 1984. I was asked to work in Konstanz, and I even wrote my letter of acceptance, but I simply could not post it, it was lying next to the samovar. My wife kept asking what I would do, as we did not have that much money, so it really mattered what I would decide. At that point, there was the bell ringing one day, and Géza Németh, the viola player of the Bartók String Quartet was standing in front of our door. He asked me to join the quartet–and no question remained, not much later I even tore my letter to Konstanz to pieces.
he quartet toured the whole world–except for Albania, South Africa, and Australia–, having 120–130 concerts in a year. In 1996, we received the Kossuth Prize.
When I left the quartet years later, I entered an empty space, with no prospect of the future ways. As always, my wife helped by telling “Call Misi Várnagy, maybe they need someone at the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra”. I did so, and Misi answered my call with “Oh, so glad you called, we are planning a tour in Germany, and we need a violinist”. Having returned from the tour, the orchestra made a decision: “welcome to the band”.
I had to learn how to play chamber music. At first, János Rolla often told me that “you are soloing again”, as it meant a totally different attitude for me to be a part of a team, even compared to a string quartet. Here, the most important thing in finding a common sound is not that each musician should be an individual, but how we work together. I had to listen and to adapt to the others.
And there is the audience. I tell my students to imagine an invisible leash, with which the musician can influence the audience. This is one of the main tasks of performances, with the condition of the artist enjoying the music–without that, it is not possible to achieve what the artist wants.
Musicians are somewhat like what shamans used to be. They were also given a type of knowledge, and the task to pass it on to the next generations. To maintain a certain continuity, we also do this, knowing that the world needs all that.
I am close to retirement now, and I think I have achieved everything I longed for; what’s above that is already a gift.
I really do love the “Liszt team”. It is amazing how different yet lovable are all of them. Yet, when we play music, we all look and go in the same direction.
(Notes by Sarolta Gálfi / www.azember.hu)