Birth: May 30, 1952 in Budapest, Hungary
Genre: Keyboard, Concerto
Eminent Hungarian pianist and composer Zoltan Kocsis began his studies on piano at the age of five and entered the Bela Bartok Conservatory of Music in Budapest at age nine. At 15 Kocsis transferred to the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music, studied composition with Pal Kadosa and Gyorgy Kurtag, and received his diploma at 19. His appointment to the teaching staff of the Liszt Academy was practically instantaneous. By this time Kocsis was already a seasoned veteran of the concert circuit, making his American debut in 1971 and appearing in London in 1972. Kocsis is known for his participation in summer music festivals around the world, such as in Salzburg, Edinburgh, and at the Prague Spring Festival. Interestingly, Kocsis had yet to perform in Africa or South America in 2004.
Kocsis' career as a recording artist began in a scattershot fashion with various releases on the Hungaroton, Harmonia Mundi, and Japanese Denon labels. In 1980 he signed an exclusive contract with Philips Classics, reportedly still in force 25 years later, although the company itself has since been subsumed into Decca Music Group. For Philips, Kocsis has recorded the complete piano music of Bartok, including the concerti and selected works of Debussy, Beethoven, and Johann Sebastian Bach. Although Kocsis' Bach playing has been singled out for especial praise by critics, the music of Bartok is central to Kocsis' activities as a whole. Kocsis co-compiled with musicologist Laszlo Somfai the Hungaroton multi-LP set Bartok at the Piano, issued as part of the centenary observances for Bartok in Hungary - this contains all of Bartok's commercially recorded output. Kocsis has also orchestrated several of Bartok's works the composer had intended to transcribe into orchestral form, but never got around to the task. Over the years, Kocsis has maintained a close relationship with composer Gyorgy Kurtag and has premiered many of his works in Hungary. Kocsis is also a perceptive critic and journalist whose articles on music have regularly appeared in the Hungarian magazine Holmi for more than 20 years.
Kocsis' original efforts at musical composition are less known in America than in Europe, where his works are played by Ensemble Modern and his own group, the New Music Studio of Budapest. In Hungary Kocsis is also renowned as a conductor, and in 1997 was named the musical director and chief conductor of the Budapest Festival Orchestra. Kocsis has ushered the ensemble into a post-Cold War sensibility, discarding outdated state-proscribed formulas of programming and giving the Hungarian premieres of previously suppressed works by everyone from Charles Ives to Tchaikovsky. Kocsis is also regularly seen on Hungarian television, giving concerts and talking about music. Outside of Central Europe it is difficult to access Kocsis' work as a composer and conductor, but that does not make it less significant - in his native land, Kocsis is held in a similar regard to that once accorded to the late Leonard Bernstein in America.
- Uncle Dave Lewis (All Music Guide)
Born in Budapest in 1952, the pianist, composer and conductor Zoltan Kocsis commenced his musical studies when he was 5 years old and continued them at the Bela Bartok Conservatory from 1963, specializing in piano and composing. In 1968 he was admitted to the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music, where Pal Kadosa and Ferenc Rados were his teachers. Already during his school years, he won the Hungarian Radio's Beethoven competition in 1970 and after finishing his studies, he was appointed in 1973 as a teacher to the Ferenc Liszt Academy's piano faculty. His first important debuts both at home and abroad were also in 1970 when he won the piano competition organized by the Hungarian Radio.
Zoltan Kocsis is also an acknowleged composer. He is one of the founders of the New Musical Studio of Budapest. His works, written for the Ensemble Modern and performed together with the ensemble at concerts, along with his Bartok and Schonberg transcriptions, have won him considerable appreciation in the profession. He is an expert performer of Gyorgy Kurtag's works - many world premieres of the composer's works are linked to his name. His transcriptions of Wagner's works and the recordings made from them caused a general stir. Several of his transcriptions for piano and chamber orchestra can be heard from time to time in concert halls around the world.
During the last few years he has often performed as conductor, too, especially with the Budapest Festival Orchestra - he is one of its co-founders - and the Hungarian National Philharmonics. His repertoire as conductor and as pianist alike contain so-called peripheral works, hitherto neglected either because they are very difficult or due to reasons of programme-policy (Tchaikovsky: Manfred, Rachmaninov: Isle of Dead, Bruckner: 8th Symphony, Debussy: Images). Amongst others he conducted the first Hungarian performances of Schonberg's monumental work, the Gurre-Lieder and Stravinsky's cantata: The Flood.
Having seen Zoltan Kocsis for the first time in Budapest in the early 1980s, his concert at the Tonhalle in Zurich on March 27, 2000, was an occasion not to miss. He began the evening with Mozart's Fantasie in c-minor KV 475. Kocsis played - especially in the lively Allegro - the high-pitched notes in a perfect, bell-like clarity of which he only possesses the secret. Beethoven's Sonata in c-minor followed. Again, the precision and purity of the high-pitched notes, even in the speediest, most virtuoso passages, was stunning. One could distinguish each and every note, played with absolute clarity. His variation of volume and the dramatic tension he was able to create were remarkable, too.
The second part of the concert was dedicated to Bela Bartok. He began with the Allegro Barbaro BB 63, Bartok's first composition in which he broke with the romantic tradition. This was followed by his works written for children BB 53 with their innocent and naive charm, by Bartoks Rumanian Popular Dances SZ 56, the 15 Hungarian Peasant Songs BB 79 and last but not least the Sonata for Piano BB 88. Kocsis fully rendered the drama in the Sonata - a work that had a deep impact on 20th-century music. The Allegro moderato was everything but "moderate". On the contrary, it was a dramatic, breathtaking storm, in complete contrast to the compositions for children. In the sostenuto and pesante, Kocsis convinced also in slow and calm passages. The Encores were devoted to the colorful compositions of Debussy. They were emotional and touching and had a deep impact on the public - Kocsis' playing remained transparent at even its most romantic and virtuoso moments. An evening to remember.