Top:Szokolay Sándor Bottom:Szokolay Balázs, Szokolay Gergely
On September 16, 2019, 23-year-old pianist Szokolay Ádám Zsolt won the Bartók World Competition.
His family name is far from unknown in the music world. Looking back several generations, almost everyone in his family has been a musician.
Grandpa orosházi Szokolay Sándor was a world-renowned composer. He was born in 1931 at Kunágota, Békés County in Hungary. His grandfather and father were amateur musicians who played several instruments and founded a choir.
At his local music school where he graduated in 1950, Sándor became acquainted with the world of Bartók and Kodály, rooted in folk music. Those influences defined his whole life’s creative attitude. There he even met Kodály in person whose mentality powerfully fostered his musical thinking and credo.
He continued his education at the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music in Budapest. As a student, he taught at the Academy and won awards in composition in 1955, 1957 and 1959. His work “Allegro de Concerto” won a prize in Warsaw’s Wienawski Competition. After obtaining his degree from the Academy in 1957, he started working at the Hungarian Radio, then the Hungarian Television. From 1959 to his retirement, he was Professor of Composition at the Academy.
Szokolay Sándor was active on the boards of a multitude of musical associations, receiving their awards over the years. In 1966, he was the recipient of the prestigious Kossuth Prize for his opera “Vérnász” (Blood Wedding) which earned him world recognition. It was performed in 15 languages. He composed six more works in the same genre.
Sándor composed nearly 500 pieces: seven operas, five ballets, four fairy-tale operas, seven oratorios, three symphonies, eight concertos, 14 orchestral works, 200 choral works, two string quartets, 40 solo works and 120 chamber music works.
In search of peaceful creativity, in 1994 he moved from Budapest to Sopron, in Western Hungary. It was there, at age 82, on December 8, 2013 that his very active life ended. His achievements had earned him innumerable awards and he received the keys of Orosháza, Sopron, Solymár and his birthplace Kunágota.
Sándor and my husband, érsekujvári Szokolay Dénes were from different branches of the same family. Because we left Hungary in 1956, we never had the opportunity to meet Sándor. It was several decades later, after Dénes passed away that I became connected with Sándor’s sons, three of whom are – you guessed it! - professional musicians.
It was one of these sons, Gergely, a professional pianist in Toronto, who somehow contacted me about an upcoming New York concert by his brother Balázs at Carnegie Hall, around 2006. I had great interest in attending the event but was struggling with a stubborn cold at the time. How can you attend a piano concert with bouts of insuppressible coughing? Thus, I never met those distant relatives.
Balázs just about covered the globe with his concerts in more than 30 countries and, in keeping with the Szokolay Family’s tradition, garnered a multitude of awards and prizes. He has been a piano professor at the Liszt Ferenc Acedemy of Music in Budapest since 1987 and was guest professor in South Korea, in Montclair, New Jersey and in Graz, Austria.
Their parents wanted Ádám to become a violinist but he was not interested. Initially, he too started the piano, until one day on television he saw and heard the FLUTE whose sound intrigued him. He started playing the instrument and, after attaining his degree at the Academy of Music, he played in orchestras and began teaching. He is the proud father of our young Hungarian Mozart, Szokolay Ádám Zsolt.
Ádám Zsolt was born on April 18, 1996, in Budapest. His choice of profession was never in doubt. At home, hearing his mother’s piano lessons, he fell in love with the piano.
Not unlike Mozart, he started playing the PIANO at age four, guided by his mother, Pásztor Edina. A year later he was the winner of four Hungarian nationwide piano competitions. The minimum age for admission to the music school was seven years, thus an exception had to be made to admit him at age six. He finished the first two grades in one year and, once there, he even entered and won two competitions …
The family moved from Eger to Budapest, where Ádám Zsolt was home-schooled. He continued his piano studies at the Tóth Aladár Music School, under Aszalós Tünde’s instruction. At age eight, he applied to the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music, where he started at age nine in the class of unusually talented kids. As the youngest in the institution’s history, he was running up and down, releasing his youthful energy on the corridors of the historic building,
In 2009, at age 13, the young gentleman gave his first solo concert at the Budapest Spring Festival, followed by domestic and international performances. He kept winning piano competitions, including the München Klavierpodium in 2012, where he received seven prizes!
He invested the stipends of his awards into learning foreign languages. Thus, from 2015 he studied at New York Bard College under Peter Serkin. There he organized his own orchestra with his fellow students in 2017. Since 2018, he has been attending the Weimar Franz Liszt Music Academy, studying under Grigory Gruzman. His uncle, pianist Szokolay Balázs is teaching at that institution.
Ádám Zsolt practices four-five hours daily and enjoys it. He is a good competitor, likes challenges and gets inspired by audiences. The list of his instructors and mentors includes a seemingly endless “who’s who” in the groves of music. His composing days, if any, are still in the future. Besides Bartók, he plays works by Liszt, Debussy, Haydn, Dohnányi. With his Bard College orchestra he even played Gershwin.
Once in a while, the family gets together to play music. At Sukoró, a village near Velencei tó, Hungary, the acoustics and ambience of the local church are excellent. The Szokolay Clan, including Balázs and sons Patrik and Dominik, enjoy the rare occasions to play there.
If I seem to be an intruder in this incredible dynasty of talented musicians, perhaps I will be excused for joining, by tooting the family HORN …
Olga Vállay Szokolay is an architect and Professor Emerita of Norwalk Community College, CT after three decades of teaching. She is a member of the Editorial Board of Magyar News Online.