Zoltan Kocsis, a pianist and conductor who revamped the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra and was internationally known for his incandescent renditions of Schubert, Beethoven and other composers.
A musical prodigy almost from the time he could walk, Mr. Kocsis was known for deftly playing a vast repertoire. He was widely regarded as one of the foremost interpreters of the intricate music of his countryman Bela Bartok, and played with orchestras in New York, Berlin, Chicago, London, San Francisco and elsewhere.
“Zoltan Kocsis at the 92nd Street Y on Wednesday night seemed to be two personalities sharing the same pair of hands,” The New York Times critic Bernard Holland wrote in 2001. “This Hungarian pianist has that rare ear for the phrase as a whole: the talent to see from the beginning of a line to its end and to exploit the tension points along the way.”
He was also known for the volume and intensity of his playing. “The applause was loud,” Mr. Holland wrote, “but hardly competitive with the decibel levels emanating from the stage.”
Mr. Kocsis began conducting regularly in his 30s, and in 1983 he founded the Budapest Festival Orchestra with Ivan Fischer. Mr. Kocsis was the orchestra’s piano soloist and co-artistic musical director for the next decade.
He conducted and played ambitious, varied programs, but told The Independent of London that he worried that musical quality often suffered from pressure to perform and record new material before musicians had mastered it.
“People today haven’t enough time to play instruments themselves,” he said in 1995. “They’ve become indiscriminate consumers — it’s rather like being unable to tell the difference between Coca-Cola and a good Bordeaux.”
He became the Hungarian National Philharmonic’s music director in 1997.
“This was considered to be a second-rate orchestra and probably was, if we are talking about quality, until I made radical changes,” Mr. Kocsis told The Worcester Telegram & Gazette in Massachusetts in 2003.
Mr. Kocsis weeded out musicians who did not meet his standards through a series of intense auditions, and in time the orchestra became one of Hungary’s pre-eminent ensembles.
He remained active even after he was found to have heart disease in 2012, working on a series of Bartok recordings and conducting virtuosos like the pianist Yuja Wang, who described him as “my idol” at a performance in Budapest in June and mourned him on Facebook.
Zoltan Kocsis (pronounced KO-cheesh) was born in Budapest on May 30, 1952. He was playing the piano by the time he was 3 and began seriously studying music at 5.
After attending the Bela Bartok Conservatory, he graduated from the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music in Budapest.
At 18 he won the Hungarian Radio Beethoven Competition, and at 25 he won the Kossuth Prize, awarded by Hungary’s government for outstanding contributions to Hungarian science or culture. His recording of Debussy’s “Images” won a Gramophone Award in 1990, and in 2005 he once again received the Kossuth Prize.
Directed by Csaba Kael
Producer: Endre Nagy
2018 * color * 50min
With English Subtitles