Photo above: © Judit Marjai  
Dr. Andrea Vigh, the first female President of the Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. © Judit Marjai  

A key figure in the international harp community   
Andrea Vigh, born in Hungary in 1962, has won global acclaim as a harpist. She is the founder and artistic director of the annual International Harp Festival in Gödöllő not far from Budapest, and is the first woman to have been appointed President of the prestigious Liszt Academy in Budapest. She achieved this distinction in 2013. Her velvet tones have captivated the hearts of music-lovers in Hungary and many other countries throughout the world for many years. She has recorded 10 CDs, which have sold in large numbers throughout the world, and has given live performances at prestigious international venues. She was an active member of the Budapest Festival Orchestra from 1993 to 1996, and has sat on juries in international harp competitions in Wales, Gödöllő, Belgrade, Szeged and Arles. She has appeared on stage at the Salzburg Festival, on the European tour led by Sir Georg Solti and at Bartók anniversary concerts in Paris and New York. She has been giving annual solo concerts at the Liszt Academy since 1993. During the finale of the festival held at the Liszt Academy to mark Hungary's accession to the EU in 2004, she appeared with David Grimal, András Adorján and Miklós Perényi in a concert entitled "Chamber Music with Harp". She performed with Ilona Tokody and Éva Marton at the newly opened Palace of Arts in Budapest and the Grand Hall of the Liszt Academy during the Winter Festive Evenings of 2005. And now, as the crown of her career so far, Andrea Vigh has been appointed President of the Liszt Academy in Budapest for a 5-year term, from 2013 to 2018.       



Choosing between the piano and the harp 
Andrea Vigh surprised her parents by showing clear signs of talent for two musical instruments, the piano and the harp, when she was young. She finally decided to concentrate on the harp. "I started my musical life on the piano when I was 6. I remember my mother told me I had a very good ear, and everybody praised my musical talent. My parents sent me to a music school when I was 7, and I switched from the piano to the harp when I was 14. I had the talent for both instruments, but now I'm glad I changed to the harp because it is a very interesting, wonderful instrument with a history extending over 5000 years. I attended the Béla Bartók Music High School, situated in the Palace of Music in the Hungarian city of Miskolc, where I learned to play the harp for four years from the age of 14. They gave me my initial grounding in the harp, where I got in learned to play the harp and I loved the instrument. I studied there for four years. It was hard work, but you learned a lot. My main teacher was Henrik Rohmann first of all, and Nóra Mercz later."


Andrea Vigh went to the Liszt Academy when she was 18, and studied there for five years. "I studied under Hedvig Lubik at the Liszt Academy, training to be a harp teacher and musicologist. My chamber music teacher was the famous Hungarian composer István Láng. I graduated in 1986." Andrea taught the harp in her old school, the Béla Bartók Music High School, from 1986 to 1996. She started teaching at the Liszt Academy of Music in 1996, and has been teaching there at various levels ever since. Andrea Vigh fell in love with the harp and harp music. Her favourite composers include Debussy and Ravel. Andrea: "Debussy and Ravel both wrote fantastic pieces for the harp. Their music has been very important for harp music and made it very popular. For excample, Debussy's trio sonatas for harp are real masterpieces. Gabriel Fauré was another great composer for harp, and so was Camille Saint-Saëns, who was a genius. I love the many harp players who also compose music for their instrument, such as Carlos Salzedo, the French harpist, pianist, compoder and conductor.  And also Marcel Grandjany and Alphonse Hasselmans. The French have a great harp school. There were not so many harpists in Hungary when I was a little girl, because the harp was regarded as a sort of niche instrument. Nevertheless, I was keen to learn all I could about it. When I graduated from university, I thought I would like to be not only an orchestra harpist, but also a chamber musician and a solo harpist."     


Vilmos Szabadi and Andrea Vigh performing the Saint-Saëns Fantasie Op. 124 Part 2  
in the Grand Hall of the Liszt Academy in Budapest in 2000. 



"The Paris of Eastern Europe"

Andrea Vigh grew up in the vibrant, romantic city of Budapest, the capital of Hungary. With its wealth of historical, musical and architectural treasures, Budapest is often referred to as "the Paris of Eastern Europe". Andrea imbibed the cultural riches of her home city from an early age. Situated on both sides of the River Danube, Buda on the west bank and Pest on the east, joined by th world-famous Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Budapest is full of magnificent architecture, Roman amphitheatres, Gothic cathedrals, traditional splendidly decorated Turkish baths, various major museums, the Memento Park filled with monumental sculptures from Hungary's Communist past, the Ferenc Liszt International Airport, the Liszt Academy and many art nouveau buildings. The city also has a lot to offer music-lovers: in particular, the world-famous Budapest Spring Festival has many great operas and concerts in splendid venues such as the neo-Renaissance Hungarian State Opera House, the modern Bartók Concert Hall in the Palace of Arts or the intimate little auditorium in the Franz Liszt Museum, which all enhance the festive atmosphere.          


Andrea Vigh considers it a privilege to have been raised and educated in one of Europe's prime cultural centres, to have given harp concerts here and to be able to continue to do so while occupying the position of head of the Liszt Academy. "Budapest is a very beautiful city, with a rich wonderful cultural life of which we are very proud," Andrea enthuses. "We have many concert halls and museums, old and new. And of course the music academy is really wonderful."   


Budapest by night: the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, a suspension bridge that spans the River Danube between Buda and Pest. the western and eastern halves of the city. Designed by the English engineer William Tierney Clark it was the first permanent bridge across the Danube in Hungary, and was opened in 1849. © 


The world-famous Kodály Teaching Method - The importance of singing
"The musical scene in Hungary is very interesting," Andrea emphasizes. "Not only for the audiences, but also for the musicians. Hungarian  musicians are of very high quality and we are proud of the famous Kodály method, named after the great Zoltán Kodály. He was a very important composer, pedagogue, linguist and philosoper, who taught modern music in Hungary. His method is famous all over the world. For example, everybody knows about Zoltán Kodály in Austria or the United States. His system is very innovative, because Kodály was the first to emphasise that the most important thing in music teaching is singing. Everybody has a voice, and everybody can sing. Singing is the key elementof the Kodály method. Students learn to imagine how music can sound, by singing and by training the ear. It is much easier to learn how to play a musical instrument if you have sung some of the music first. He also regarded the ability to read music, to understand musical notation, as very important." Kodály remained interested in the problems of music education throughout his adult life. He wrote widely on this subject, and composed many pieces of music especially intended for children.                


The Liszt Academy: One of the major havens of culture in the world 
The Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music (often referred to simply as the Zeneakadémia, which means Academy of Music or Conservatory) is the most important school of music in Hungary. Intially named the National Royal Hungarian Academy of Music, it was founded by the composer and pianist Franz Liszt on 4 November 1875.  © Darabos György.  

The Liszt Academy has become one of the most important music schools in the world since its foundation almost 150 years ago. Dr. András Batta, Hungarian winner of  the Ferenc Erkel Prize, and former President of the Liszt Academy, said: "As a university and concert centre the Liszt Academy stands as one of the premier institutions of Budapest, capital of Hungary. Its leading role in the life of Budapest, the 'Silicon Valley" of music, is undisputed. Working in close alliance with its partners, the Hungarian State Opera House, Palace of Arts, Budapest Music Centre, the Vigadó Concert Hall in Pest, and the universities of arts in Budapest, it endeavours to see Budapest strengthen its role as a global haven of culture." The Academy is a cradle of music and musicians. It offers students a wide-ranging curriculum, including all areas of classical music, jazz, folk music, church music, composition, musicology and the training of music teachers, theatre crafts, dance and opera. Folk music has always been one of the key elements of the tuition offered by the Academy.                 


Franz Liszt, the greatest pianist of all times. Portret Carl Ehrenberg  

Quote of van Franz Liszt to Antal Augusz,  Liszt's most devoted Hungarian friend:     

"Apart from my regrettable ignorance of the Hungarian language, I remain Magyar in my heart and soul from birth to the grave. As a consequence, I earnestly wish to further the progress of Hungarian music."


The name of Franz Liszt (or Liszt Ferenc in modern Hungarian) still resonates in present-day Budapest. Liszt (1811-1886), born in the Hungarian village Doborján, gave his first piano concert at the age of 9. This led a group of wealthy sponsors to finance his musical education in Vienna. Although he never lived permanently in Hungary again, he continued to feel a strong link with his native country and his name remains associated with Budapest, the Liszt Academy and Hungary as a whole. He became the figurehead of Hungarian music throughout Europe. He was an innovative composer, virtuoso pianist, conductor and teacher within the Romantic school. He gained renown in Europe during the early nineteenth century for his virtuosic skills as a pianist. He was said by his contemporaries to have been the most technically advanced pianist of his age, and in the 1840s he was considered to be the greatest pianist of all times (though he himself is recorded as saying that he believed the French pianist Charles-Valentin Alkan to be technically his superior).         

As a composer, Liszt was one of the most prominent representatives of the New German School. He left behind an extensive and diverse body of work which influenced his forward-looking contemporaries and anticipated soe 20th-century ideas and trends. Some of his most notable contributions were the invention of the symphonic poem and the piano recital. He played his first recital in Paris in 1839. Liszt performed in many concert halls and gave a recital for King George IV of England at Windsor Castle in 1825. He was honoured by Ludwig von Beethoven, by that time old and even deaf, who composed a piece for him, a solo recital, which Beethoven himself attended.        


1844 was the start of Liszt's most brilliant period as a concert pianist. Honours were showered on him and he met with adulation wherever he went. After 1842, 'Lisztomania' swept across Europe. The reception that Liszt enjoyed as a result can only be described as hysterical. Women fought over his silk handkerchiefs and velvet gloves, which they ripped to shreds as souvenirs. This atmosphere was fuelled in great part by the artist's mesmeric personality and stage presence. Many witnesses later testified that Liszt's playing raised the mood of audiences to a level of mystical ecstasy. Adding to his reputation was the fact that Liszt gave away much of his proceeds to charity and humanitarian causes. When retiring from the concert platform at the age of 35, he was still at the height of his powers. The 1860s were a period of great sadness in Liszt's private life. On December 13, 1859, he lost his 20-year-old son Daniel, and on September 11, 1862, his 26-year-old daughter Blandine also died.                


A new era: a woman takes over as President of the Liszt Academy
Andrea Vigh, the first woman to be President of the Liszt Academy. © Judit Marjai  

Andrea Vigh's appointment as first female President of the Liszt Academy for the period 2013-2018 crowns an illustrious career at the Academy. She has been teaching at the Liszt Academy for almost 20 years, and was Head of Department between  2007 and 2011 and Vice-Rector from September 2010. She became a lecturer in 2001, earned her Doctor of Liberal Arts degree summa cum laude in 2009 and was appointed university professor in 2012.      

"It is a great honour and an even greater responsibility to be President," Andrea said, "even more so that I am the first woman among Liszt Academy's presidents. It is an amazing feeling that I received the unanimous trust and support of all professors and other staff at the Academy. I will dedicate my knowledge and skills to this task, and will continue to work to be worthy of the trust placed in me. We have finished 2014 on a high note from both a professional and an economic point of view. The Franz Liszt Academy is among the top 10 music academies in the world, our education and international concert performances are acclaimed all over the globe."    


Andrea Vigh marked her accession as President with a solo performance in the Academy's newly renovated Grand Hall. It can be regarded as the start of a new era. The list of former Presidents, other members of the Academy's teaching staff and alumni includes many illustrious names: honorary professors Eugen d'Albert and Sandór Végh; Belá Bartók (who was not only an honorary professor, but also a world-famous composer and collector of Hungarian folk music); Zoltán Kodály (developer of the music teaching method named after him and also collector of Hungarian folk music); Nora Mercz (harp teacher); Jenõ Hubay (violinist and professor); David Popper (cellist and professor); István Thomán (piano teacher); Robert Volkmann, Hans von Koessler and Ödön Mihalovich, who all taught composition (the last-mentioned was also a composer himself), Paul Abraham (student and later a famous composer of operettas and musicals); Ernő Dohnányi (piano teacher); the composer and conductor Lajos Bárdos and the pianist and later world-famous conductor Sir Georg Solti. Hungarian-born Sir Georg Solti had the following comment on his time as a student at the Liszt Academy: "The training I received at the Academy was difficult and at times harsh, but those who survived the experience emerged as real musicians."    


One of the oldest music academies in Europe
Andrea Vigh is very proud of the magnificent architecture and the history of the Liszt Academy, of which she is now the President. The Academy is housed in five buildings in the centre of Budapest. The main building on Franz Liszt Square offers tuition facilities for advanced courses, the study centre and extensive accommodation for concerts - in particular the renovated Grand Hall, the leading venue for music in Hungary. The Old Academy on Vörösmarty Street some 500 metres away contains the Franz Liszt Memorial Museum, the Research Centre and the training centre for The Liszt Academy's teaching staff. The Liszt Memorial Museum is on the first floor of the building, and is a reconstruction of Liszt's last apartment in Budapest, where the composer lived from 1881 to 1886, the year of his death. The museum which has been in use as such since 1986, contains Liszt's furniture, several sculptures, his library, the desk where he composed his music and memorabilia such as a silver music stand and a silver conducting baton. Liszt lovers who visit the museum from all over the world can also admire the instruments that Liszt actually played on: a Bösendorfer piano and two Chickering pianos, a Mason & Hamlin 'cabinet organ', a piano-harmonium manufactured by Erard and Alexandre and a piano-harmonica made by Bachmann. The museum also contains a concert hall, where musical performances are held every Saturday.                      


The famous Grand Hall of the Liszt Academy in Budapest - almost a musical holy of holies - after its restoration in 2013. © Darabos György.  

The Liszt Academy reopened its Concert Centre on Liszt’s birthday (22 October) in 2013 with a special gala performance as the culmination of a four-year project devoted to the restoration of the 1907 art deco venue located on Franz Liszt Square. The main hall, which has hosted performances by such musicians as Sviatoslav Richter, Yehudi Menuhin and Leonard Bernstein, has been completely restored along with a new Georg Solti chamber opera house, green rooms and catering facilties. Andrea Vigh: "The unique beauty of the building, the Grand Hall's peerless acoustics, the 140-year-long tradition and experience associated with it and Liszt's spirit of continuous renewal and innovation  help us to continue in his footsteps and shapes the road we have to follow'. The Grand Hall, a key part of the Liszt Academy's main building with its fantastic stylish decorations, simply exudes the love of music. The Grand Hall itself, with its art nouveau interior, is one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world. We hold many concerts in it every year. We play every knid of music here, not just classical."                    


"The Liszt Academy, one of the oldest academies of music in Europe, founded by Franz Liszt in 1875, will celebrate its 140th anniversary next year. That will be a great occasion. We will pause to reflect on our great tradition and express our pride at the exemplary way the Liszt Academy manages to combine tradition with an open, forward-looking attitude. Not only our teaching staff but also our projects are truly international. We are open to all nationalities: we have 800 students a year, 200 from abroad and 600 from Hungary. I am very proud of that fact. We have many students from Japan, other European countries and the United States. They come from all over the world."           


Founder of the Gödöllő International Harp Festival  
Andrea Vigh is not just a talented harpist. She is also a great organiser and stimulator. Another example of her proficiencies in this direction is given by the fact that she founded the Gödöllő International Harp Festival in 1999. This festival, wich has achieved global prominence, attracts top harpists from around the world in October every year. Andrea got the big stars of the harp world to come to Gödöllő, thus putting Hungary and harp music on the map. The festival is held annually in the Royal Palace of Gödöllő, 30 km northeast of Budapest. This magnificent palace, completed in the 1760s, is where Empress Elisabeth (Sissi) of Austria and Queen of Hungary once lived. It is the largest baroque edifice in Hungary.          


"I founded the festival to enhance the popularity of the harp in Hungary," explains Andrea Vigh. "To ensure its success, I invited many prominent harp players from around the world, such as Isabelle Moretti, Marielle Nordmann, David Watkins, Suzan Mildonian, Jana Boušková, Catrin Finch, Letizia Belmondo, Varvara Ivanova, Xavier de Maistre and Anneleen Lenaerts, to take part. They all came and played in the Royal Palace's beautiful gala hall. And now every harpist in the world knows there is an international harp festival in Gödöllő, where really great stars can be seen and heard performing every year. We always close the festival with a gala orchestral concert, and visitors can enjoy an exhibition of musical instruments during the festival. The Gödöllő International Harp Festival has become a great success in the 15 years of its existence. It is a meeting point for harpists and harp-lovers from all over the world. I am very proud of that."      


Royal Palace of Gödöllõ - Grassalkovich Kastelý, ©