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This week, The Music Treasury will spotlight the extraordinary career of Hungarian violinist Tibor Varga.  His multi-faceted career includes: a concertizing soloist; a strong champion of 20th century works by Bartok, Berg, Webern, Schoenberg; founding of a music school of distinction, with a long list of stellar graduates; formation of orchestral ensembles, festivals, and violin competitions; and an extremely highly regarded conductor world-wide.

The show is aired from 19:00 to 21:00 PST from Stanford Universities KZSU, with concurrent streaming on kzsu.stanford.edu.  Dr Gary Lemco hosts the evening show.  Lorrin Koran has assembled the following notes on Tibor Varga.

Tibor Varga, violinist

Tibor Varga (1921-2003) was born in Győr, Hungary, in the same region as violinists Joseph Joachim, Leopold Auer, and Carl Flesch, and the famous conductor Hans Richter. Young Varga took his first lessons at the age of two and a half with his father Lajos Varga, an excellent violinist. However, due to an injury during the War, Lajos Varga had to abandon his prospects for being a concert artist and became a violin maker.

Coming to the attention of Jenő Hubay, Varga was enrolled at the Budapest Franz Liszt Academy when only ten years old. There he studied with Franz Gabriel, with members of the Waldbauer Quartet, with Zoltán Kodály, and notably with Leó Weiner. After Hubay’s death (1937), Varga was chosen to be the soloist in the memorial concert, playing Hubay’s Violin Concerto, No. 3, Op. 99 under the direction of Ernő Dohnányi, who in 1934 had become Hubay’s successor as the Rector of the Liszt Academy.

Varga was six years old when he made his first public appearance. At ten, he took on his first solo role with an orchestra, performing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto Op. 64. At the age of 13, he made his first recordings, and at 14, made his first concert tours abroad, until his career was abruptly interrupted by World War II. Varga devoted himself throughout the war years to studying philosophy at the Budapest University. After the War, he resumed his concert activities, becoming one of the most prominent soloists. Varga collaborated with eminent conductors such as Ernest Ansermet, Leonard Bernstein, Pierre Boulez, Ferenc Fricsay, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Igor Markevitch, Hans Rosbaud, and Georg Solti. He performed with great orchestras including the Philharmonia Orchestra London and the Berlin Philharmonic, and recorded for labels such as Deutsche Grammophon and EMI. His recording of Bartok’s Violin Concerto No. 2 with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Ferenc Fricsay as well as his versions of the violin concertos of Max Bruch, Mozart, Carl Nielsen, Paganini, Tchaikovsky, et al. have become major references of musical interpretation.

Varga’s classical repertory also included the important violin sonatas and concert pieces. In addition, from the beginning of his career, he devoted himself to contemporary music, of which he became a pioneer. In particular, his interpretations (premières) and recordings of the violin concertos and other compositions by Béla Bartók, Alban Berg and Arnold Schönberg raised these works to the status of “classics” of the repertoire and gave them a prime position in international musical life. Varga played the Australian première of Alban Berg‘s violin concerto, and in 1949, the violin concerto by Arnold Schönberg. The composer himself paid tribute to his enthusiasm by a letter that has become famous: “I wished to be younger to write more music of this kind for you.” (Schönberg, Letters). Varga also interpreted the Schönberg violin concerto, like those by Berg and Shostakovich, at the BBC Promenade Concerts in London’s Royal Albert Hall. Furthermore, he gave the Austrian Première of the violin concerto by Stravinsky as well as the world premières of numerous compositions partly also dedicated to him, such as the violin concertos by Boris Blacher, Ernst Krenek, Gösta Nyström, Almeida Prado, Matyas Seiber and Winfried Zillig.

From the early 1950s, Varga enjoyed equal success as a conductor. His conducting career led to the establishment, in 1954, of a chamber orchestra at Detmold, Germany, bearing his name (Kammerorchester Tibor Varga), as well as to that of the Tibor Varga Festival Orchestra (1964-2001) at Sion, Switzerland. He was chief conductor and artistic director of these ensembles as well as – from 1989 to 1993 – of the Orchestre des Pays de Savoie (France). In addition, Varga was regularly invited as a guest conductor to orchestras of international renown.

After World War II, Varga, in his home town Győr, was co-founder and first professor of a Music Academy associated to the Budapest Franz Liszt Academy. In 1947, he established himself in London. In 1949, he became professor at the newly founded Detmold High School of Music (Hochschule für Musik Detmold). Charged to establish the String Department, for which he was asked to become the Head, Varga, with cellist André Navarra and violists Bruno Giuranna and Nobuko Imai, created a string school of world renown. From the 1950s, Varga was a jury member or president in the leading international violin and chamber music competitions. He also directed master classes at Darmstadt (Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik), London, Paris, Salzburg (Mozarteum), Siena (Accademia Chigiana), and other musical centers in Europe and the USA, giving public lectures on musical themes.

In 1956, Varga settled in Switzerland, though maintaining his position in Detmold. In 1963, at Sion, he created an International Academy of Music (Académie de Musique Tibor Varga), specializing in interpretation (or “master”) classes for accomplished young players, conducted by leading soloists during the summer. In a typical year, the International Academy draws around 400 students to attend about 25 master classes. In 1964, he founded the Festival Tibor Varga (1964-2001), which during nearly four decades was one of the leading international music festivals, with concerts broadcast worldwide. In addition, in 1967, he added the annual International Tibor Varga Violin Competition, one of the most prestigious competitions of its genre.

In 1988, the High School of Music (Ecole Supérieure de Musique) exclusively dedicated to the training of professional string players was born at Sion, with the founder Varga responsible as both artistic and teaching director. Within one year, a leading music educator proclaimed it “one of the three best professional violin academies in Europe,” with highly gifted students from all continents. In 2002, the École Supérieure de Musique became the Conservatoire Supérieur et Académie de Musique Tibor Varga. Today, it is part of the Lausanne High School of Music (HEMU Lausanne-Fribourg-Sion). In addition, Varga was an artistic and pedagogic adviser in the services of the ministries of culture in France and Portugal. From October 2002, he held a chair for violin at the University of Music and Performing Arts, Graz (Universität für Musik und Darstellende Kunst, Graz, Austria).

Graduates of Varga’s school are soloists, concertmasters, professors and members of leading orchestras all over the world, including the Berlin Philharmonic, Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Staatskapelle Dresden, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, New Japan Philharmonic and others. Madeleine Carruzzo, Varga’s student for many years, was the first female member to be admitted to the Berlin Philharmonic.

Varga was an honorary citizen of different towns in France and in Switzerland. France, Germany, Hungary and Switzerland  awarded him high honors, among others the National Prize for Culture (Switzerland), the Cross of Merit (Germany), the Cross of Merit (Hungary), the medals of the Arts et Lettres and of the Légion d’Honneur (Legion of Honor, France). The Budapest University respectively the Budapest Franz Liszt Academy appointed him honorary professor, a rare distinction awarded, for example, to Edward Elgar, Emil Gilels, Richard Strauss and Arturo Toscanini. Varga’s Etude-Caprice for four violins composed on the occasion of the European Rector’s Conference in Graz, Cultural Capital of Europe, in 2003 was designated after his death as the official hymn of the European University Association.

Varga died at his home in Grimisuat, near Sion , on  September 4, 2003. With his first wife Judith, he had a son, Gilbert Varga, a noted conductor. His daughter Susan Rybicki-Varga is a cellist and teacher. Varga’s second wife is the musicologist, author and musician Dr. Angelika Varga-Behrer. [Adapted from Wikipedia. LK]

Protram List:
Schumann: Intermezzo from F-A-E Sonata
Brahms: Scherzo in C Minor from F-A-E Sonata
Hubay: Sephir (w/G. Moore)
Beethoven: Violin Sonata in D Major, Op. 12, No. 1 (w/B. Ebert)
Bruch: Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 26 (w/Auberson)
Szymanowski: The Fountain of Arethusa (w/M. Schwalb)
Bach: Concerto in C Minor for Violin and Oboe, BWV 1060 (w/G. Schmalfuss)
Francoeur (arr. Kreisler): Siciliano et Rigaudon (w/H. Greenslade)
Mozart: Symphony No. 36 in  C Major, K. 425 “Linz”