Violinist, chamber musician, conductor and teacher Sándor Végh, one of the most important musicians of the twentieth century, was born in Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca) on 17 May 1912.
At the age of twelve he was admitted to the Music Academy in Budapest where he was a pupil of Nándor Zsolt and Jenő Hubay, and studied chamber music with Leó Weiner and Imre Waldbauer. He also studied composition for a year with Zoltán Kodály. In 1929 he won the Reményi Prize, and in 1931 he graduated from the Music Academy, the same year he was awarded the Hubay Prize.
He founded his first string quartet, the New Hungarian String Quartet, in 1935. In 1936 several European cities, including Budapest and Vienna, and the festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music in Barcelona, had the privilege of hearing Végh’s quartet premiere Bartók’s String Quartet No. 5. Before the premieres the composer himself spent time with the new chamber ensemble, and during the rehearsals a very good working relationship developed between Végh and Bartók, which was to last.
He founded his second string quartet in 1940. In 1946 the @@KAR_585## took part in the Geneva International Music Competition, where the jury unanimously awarded them the first prize, and this was the beginning of the group’s world career spanning three decades. In the years following the competition Sándor Végh lived in France, later Switzerland and Germany, then in the final decades of his life made his home in Salzburg in Austria.
Végh played with the finest musicians of the century. He performed as a chamber partner to Ernst von Dohnányi, Annie Fischer, Mieczysław Horszowski, Wilhelm Kempff, Rudolf Serkin, and Yehudi Menuhin. For many years he played with Pablo Casals at the legendary cellist’s Prades Festival. In 1964 Végh founded his own chamber music festival in Cervo, Italy, which is still held to this day, and over the last fifty years many world-famous musicians have performed there.
Throughout his life Végh attached particular importance to passing on his knowledge to the upcoming generations. From 1941 to 1946 he led violin classes in the Budapest Music Academy, then later in conservatoires in Basel, Freiburg, Düsseldorf and Salzburg, and gave many masterclasses all over the world. In 1972 in Prussia Cove, Cornwall (south coast of England), he created the International Musicians’ Seminar, a master class which to this day faithfully retains Végh’s musical legacy.
Twenty years after founding the Végh Quartet, and now a musician of great fame, he created (probably in 1961) the Sándor Végh Chamber Orchestra, made up of his ex-pupils. In autumn 1961 the orchestra toured in Switzerland and Germany, performing in 1962 and 1963 in the Prades Festival, and in 1964 in Cervo. However, due to financial difficulties the orchestra was soon forced to discontinue its activity.
The determining factor in Végh’s becoming a conductor was his experience at the Marlboro Music Festival in the USA, where outstanding young musicians at the beginning of their careers played chamber music with famous musicians, and the participants also formed an occasional orchestra. Végh took part in the Marlboro Festival four times, from 1974 to 1977, and every year he led the orchestra, which in those years included musicians who later became worldfamous, such as Kim Kashkashian, Yo-Yo Ma, Mischa Maisky, and Shlomo Mintz.
The Camerata Academica Salzburg was founded in the 1951–52 season by Bernhard Paumgartner from the teachers and students of the Mozarteum in Salzburg. In a short while the orchestra gained significant acclaim: it was a permanent invitee of the Salzburg Festspiele, and for many years outstanding solo artists such as Clara Haskil and Géza Anda frequently returned to play with the ensemble. In the 1960s, as well as the orchestra’s elderly leader, other conductors also appeared at the helm of the Camerata. Among members the turnover was too high, and the ensemble gradually lost its former sheen. In 1978 Sándor Végh took on the leadership of the Camerata Academica Salzburg. With the joint work they put in over the following two decades, the orchestra flourished once more, and was ranked among the best in the world. As well as many guest appearances abroad from 1983 the orchestra was a regular guest at the Salzburg Festspiele. After taking over leadership of the orchestra, Végh slowly replaced the whole ensemble, leaving only the bassist. A marked feature of the Camerata sound was that the strings were usually Végh’s students. This resulted in the creation of an even string sound and unity of style which was unique in its type.
Sándor Végh was not a conductor in the customary sense. In his hands, the Camerata was like a multiplied string quartet. He held a great many rehearsals, and put painstaking effort into shaping the works. The orchestra often started work before he arrived, but all he had to do was walk through the door and the sound changed immediately. Members of the Camerata recount that Végh was incredibly inspiring for them; his aura was so strong that it was impossible to play differently to what he imagined and conveyed through his presence. Just a glance was enough, a facial expression, a gesture, a movement, and everything fell into place.
Being a Salzburg orchestra the Camerata dedicated special attention to Mozart’s oeuvre. Végh recorded many Mozart works with his orchestra, and the discs of the divertimentos and serenades won the Grand Prix du Disque. Végh’s interpretations of Mozart were rewarded with high recognition, and he was given the gold medal of the City of Salzburg and the Vienna Mozart Society.
As conductor of the Camerata Végh conducted all of Schubert’s symphonies; in conducting the C major symphony ‘The Great’ he realized a dream of his youth. The rich, varied repertoire of his orchestra also included works by Bach, Bartók, Beethoven, Berg, Brahms, Dvořák, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Veress, Weiner, Wolf and others.
In the last two decades of his life conducting became increasingly important for Sándor Végh. At the beginning of this period he was still performing as a violinist, but later in life, because of joint problems, he had to lay down the bow. As well as the Camerata, from time to time Végh conducted other orchestras, including the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra.
Although Sándor Végh visited Hungary several times, it was not until 1984 that he came in a musical capacity, to give a masterclass in the Music Academy. The Hungarian public was able to hear him as a performing artist once more in 1986, forty years after his last concert appearance in Budapest. His first masterclass in Hungary was followed by others. He also appeared as a conductor in Budapest concert halls, and in addition to the Camerata Academica Salzburg he conducted the Budapest Festival Orchestra and the Budapest Chamber Symphony.
In recognition of his art he received many decorations and prizes, including the CBE (Honorary Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, 1989), the French Knight of the Order of Art and Letters (Chevalier de l’Ordre des Art et des Lettres, 1989), the Austrian Cross of Merit for Science and Art, Class I (Ehrenkreuz für Wissenschaft und Kunst I. Klasse, 1992) while in Hungary he received the Order of the Star of the People's Republic of Hungary decorated with the Golden Wreath (1987), the Pro Cultura Hungarica Prize (1995) and was made an honorary citizen of Budapest (1995). The Franz Liszt Music Academy made him an honorary teacher (1992), and the Végh Quartet was awarded the Béla Bartók–Ditta Pásztory Prize (1989).