12 January, 2021
"Fabulous interpreter" Lynn Harrell
"An exceptional violinist, who has perfect technique, beautiful large tone, real musical finesse and maturity as well as noble personality," wrote legendary Russian violinist Igor Oistrakh of his colleague, Antal Zalai, who is fifty years of his junior, and who is unique among his fellow violinists with his characteristic tone, mature musical phrasing and elegant virtuosity.
The foundation of his organically growing popularity is his constantly updated videography, in which he performs pieces of the violin repertoire requiring the utmost technical mastery and musicianship. The collection on his YouTube channel 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 concert engagements. The audio files of the videos – together with his previous CD recordings – are available on all of the major on-line music stores.
His most recent release is the complete Sonatas & Partitas for Solo Violin, BWV 1001-1006 by J.S. Bach.
Recently, he performed as soloist of the Nürnberg Staatsphilharmonie and the Brandenburger Symphoniker in Germany; the Casco Phil in Belgium, 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, the Orchestre National d'Île-de-France, the Romanian National Radio Orchestra, the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra, the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, the Zagreb Soloists, the Irish Chamber Orchestra, 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 shared the stage with 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, Peter Gülke, Zoltán Kocsis, Tamás Vásáry, Gábor Káli 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.
He has conducted several masterclasses at colleges, and universities such as the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music in Russia, Minsk Conservatory of Music in Belarus, Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León in Monterrey, Mexico, Festival FEIMEP in Piracicaba, Brazil, and the Young Musicians' Summer Academy in Debrecen, Hungary.
Antal Zalai was born in Budapest in a poor family of Roma ethnicity. 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 on 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 recognition 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 Lord Yehudi Menuhin. Menuhin was also present there, and performed, too; he referred to Zalai as one of the most wonderful young violinists he had ever met.
At 18, he made his first recording, appearing on an album with Tibor Varga, János Starker, and György Sebők. He completed his musical studies in Brussels, Belgium. His instrument is a 1733 Stradivarius which decades ago used to be the famous violinist & MDR Sinfonieorchester concertmaster, György Garay's concert violin.