5 January, 2018
"An exceptional violinist, who has perfect technique, beautiful large tone, real musical finesse and maturity as well as noble personality," said legendary Russian violinist Igor Oistrakh of his Hungarian colleague, Antal Zalai, who is fifty years his junior, and who is regarded by his international fan base as an outstanding artist representing the apogee of classical violin playing.
Zalai is one of the few musicians whose colleagues hold him in the highest regard all over the world. He is unique among his fellow violinists with his characteristic tone, mature musical phrasing and elegant virtuosity that make him a representative of the golden age of violin playing. "At times Zalai plays with the aristocratic aplomb of Milstein – and with a tonal luster to match. Occasionally, he's more eclectic: his reading of the Hebrew Melody combines Elman's beauty of tone, Heifetz's intensity, and Grumiaux's pure flow of sound," - wrote the reviewer of Fanfare Magazine about his playing.
The foundation of his popularity and organically growing fandom is his constantly updated videography, in which he performs pieces of the violin repertoire requiring the utmost technical mastery. The collection on his YouTube channel and Facebook page with several million views includes Paganini's 24 Caprices, which have proved to be a grandiose success shared by several thousand viewers, and led to a number of requests for performances. The audio files of the videos – together with his previous CD recordings – are available on all of the major on-line music stores, and can also be bought in video format.
Zalai is currently working on the recording of J.S. Bach's six solo sonatas and partitas.
Recently, he performed as the soloist of six concerts by the Nürnberg Staatsphilharmonie, gave a Paganini recital at the LongLake Festival in Lugano, performed in Montreal with the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra, and appeared on stage in Mexico, Brazil, Kuwait, Russia, Belgium, Slovenia, and Hungary. During this period, Zalai several times performed two concertos in one concert.
Earlier, he had performed as soloist with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, and the Hong Kong Sinfonietta. In Vienna, he debuted in the Wiener Symphoniker's "Frühling in Wien" gala concert, conducted by Fabio Luisi. The event, held in the Golden Hall of the Musikverein, was broadcast live on television by ORF and 3SAT.
In New York, he played Dvořak's violin concerto as part of the "Naumburg Orchestral Concerts" series in Central Park. In Lausanne he appeared on the same stage as the legendary tenor, José Carreras; in London, his interpretation of Ravel was praised enthusiastically by HRH Charles, Prince of Wales, who attended the concert. He gave a memorable Tchaikovsky performance at the Istanbul Festival, a Paganini recital at the Yuri Bashmet Festival in Minsk, and twice he was the orchestral soloist at the Romanian George Enescu Festival. Ha gave sold-out solo recitals in the Great Hall of the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts in Vancouver, as well as at the Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall in New York and the Palace of Arts in Budapest. In Taiwan, he gave a solo recital using the "ex-Mischa Elman" Stradivarius, made in 1722.
In the course of his career so far, Zalai has performed in forty countries in four continents, together with such conductors as Yoel Levi, Lawrence Foster, Gilbert Varga, Ludovic Morlot, Laurent Petitgirard, Shlomo Mintz, Enrique Batiz, Zoltán Kocsis, Tamás Vásáry, and Gábor Takács-Nagy. His recordings, released by Brilliant Classics, Hungaroton, and BMC Records, include Enescu's violin sonatas and Bartók's complete works for violin.
Antal Zalai was born in Budapest in a musical family: his father, grandfather and great-grandfather were also musicians. When he was twelve, Hollywood superstar Monica Bellucci introduced him at the UNESCO gala in Paris, which was broadcast live by RAI. A year later, he played for Isaac Stern, who predicted a bright future for the young violinist. In the same year, Zalai played with conductor Paavo Järvi at a classical gala, on Swedish television. At the age of 15, he gained international fame by performing Bartók's violin concerto no. 1 at the Great Hall of the Franz Liszt Academy of Music as part of the concert celebrating the 80th birthday of Sir Yehudi Menuhin. Menuhin was also present there, and performed, too; he referred to Zalai as one of the greatest talents he had ever met.
At 18, he made his first recording, appearing on an album with János Starker, Tibor Varga, and György Sebők.
He completed his musical studies in Budapest and Brussels. In 2001, he studied with Pinchas Zukerman in New York for a short time. He was going to arrive in the city on September 11, and due to the well known events, his plane had to make an emergency landing. In the following period he personally experienced and empathized with the feelings of New Yorkers.
Zalai currently lives with his wife and beloved cat in a quiet and beautiful neighborhood near Lake Balaton. His instrument is a 1733 Stradivarius, which decades ago used to be the famous Hungarian violinist, György Garay's concert violin.