Obituary: Bela de Csillery

As a Hungarian conductor with a formidable European training, Bela de Csillery was one of the most important music teachers to emerge from Britain during the post-war years. As Kent County Music Adviser from 1962 to 1981 he moulded the careers of hundreds of musicians and made the Kent Youth Orchestra one of the most impressive ensembles of its kind.

I never managed to return his last phone call, the day before he died, when he gently reminded me I had promised to secure him an engagement with one of the orchestras I had conducted recently in Eastern Europe. Such persistence from this sprightly 80-year-old reminded me of the uncompromising determination and energy which characterised most of his extraordinary career.

I first met him when I was 13 years old, singing one of the solos in Britten's Ceremony of Carols in Rochester Cathedral. He was accompanied by the beautiful solo violinist Gillian Samson, whom he had just married. My first impressions were of a kind, multilingual, worldly- wise and cultured musician from a strange, foreign land who had decided to make his home in rural Kent. He was extremely attractive and obviously considerably experienced in the art of being romantic. I still remember the sexual charge between him and Gillian on that cold December evening.

Although a prodigious violinist from an early age, de Csillery initially studied law instead of music and was awarded a doctorate at Budapest University. His law training came in useful in later years. He was always a tough negotiator and very much a political animal with a talent for finding unusual ways to solve administrative and financial problems. Determined to make a career in music, he continued to study at the Liszt Ferenc Music Academy in Budapest, the Berlin Hochschule fur Musik and the Academia Santa Cecilia in Rome. His teachers included Zoltan Kodly, Paul Hindemith, Ernest Ensermet and the renowned conductor Bernardino Molinari. Before the Second World War he enjoyed a successful career as an orchestral violinist and soloist giving concerts throughout Europe and Scandinavia. The many conductors for whom he played included the legendary Willem Mengelberg and the great Felix Weingartner, a protege of Franz Liszt.

His early love for an outdoor life and climbing developed during these years. Later, in the 1950s, he climbed many of the peaks in the Valais region of the Alps including the Matterhorn, an unusual and impressive achievement for that time. At the age of 30 he became Music Director of one of Hungary's main orchestras, the Budapest Municipal Orchestra, where he stayed for four years. When Ernest Ensermet first saw him conduct he immediately engaged him with the famous Suisse Romande Orchestra. De Csillery's conducting career flourished, and he was offered engagements with the Philharmonic Orchestras of Baden-Baden, Dresden, Munich and Barcelona, and the Symphony Orchestras of Madrid, Innsbruck and Radio Turin.

On Ensermet's recommendation he came to Britain in 1953, and was appointed Head of Music at Trinity College, Glenalmond whilst working as a conductor with the Scottish National Orchestra. He always insisted he had chosen to become a British citizen but sadly, the Soviet annexation of Hungary in 1956 prevented him from returning to his homeland.

In 1962 de Csillery came to Kent to take up the post of Music Adviser to Kent County Council, an inspired appointment by the then Director of Education, John Haynes. De Csillery was encouraged to create the Kent County Youth Orchestra in 1963, the year he made his debut with the London Symphony Orchestra. He married Gillian Sansom in 1965 and, with their two sons, they made their home in Maidstone.

In a few years the Kent Youth Orchestra was able to impress by performing Mahler's Fifth Symphony, a work which, at that time, few professional orchestras would dare tackle. As a 14-year-old, I played the seventh horn part in those perfomances. I remember de Csillery's frustration at not being able to extract enough passion from the string section in this emotionally demanding work. As a last resort he turned up one morning with a red heart sewn to the sleeve of his shirt, protesting "Now do you understand what I mean?" It produced the desired result.

The Kent Youth Orchestra was one of the first to record for BBC Radio 3 during the 1960s with a stunning interpretation of Rossini's Italian Girl in Algiers and the brilliant young Andrew Haigh playing one of Mozart's piano concertos. The session was later issued on BBC Records. Other recordings included an impressive and valuable account of Dohnnyi's rarely performed Second Symphony.

In the late Sixties the orchestra made their first highly acclaimed European tour of Switzerland followed by extensive tours throughout Germany and Belgium. The orchestra was then chosen to represent Britain in Herbert von Karajan's first youth orchestra festival in Berlin when some players were fortunate to perform for the then still youthful Karajan in Brahms's Second Symphony.

Some of Bela de Csillery's teaching techniques were based on Zoltan Kodly's highly successful choral method of training. At the Kent Junior Music School - which included teachers of equal calibre to the London music colleges - and the Summer Music Schools at Benenden, de Csillery insisted on everyone singing in his choir, even if they believed they had no talent as singers. The results were stupendous. To hear a 200-strong group of instrumentalists with no apparent vocal ability singing Sir Michael Tippett's formidably difficult Plebs Angelica at the Benenden Summer School was simply staggering.

De Csillery's commitment to amateur music-making was also considerable. In Perth, Dundee and Maidstone he transformed the local societies musically and economically, giving regular concerts to packed houses. He formed the semi-professional Kent Sinfonia, taking music to the more inaccessible corners of the county. He was a regular guest conductor with the BBC Training Orchestra in Bristol. His schools concerts with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra were a revelation, introducing thousands of children, with his unique wit and depth of know- ledge, to the world of classical music. When I finally became a professional horn player it was almost entirely due to the valuable experience of those years.

His work ethic, regarding a relentless and determined dedication to music, was uncompromising (he was an exceptional and, at times, tyrannically demanding teacher). When I gave up being a professional musician to work for the BBC as a producer, he told me sharply that I was wasting my life. I think, in a way, he felt betrayed. He demanded total loyalty from those he took under his wing. He hated the idea of wasted opportunity and his greatest pleasure was to revel in the success of his students.

Kriss Rusmanis

Bela de Csillery, conductor and music administrator: born Budapest 26 October 1915; married 1944 Johanna Martzy (marriage dissolved 1959), 1965 Gillian Sansom (died 1993; two sons); died Maidstone, Kent 17 April 1996.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
people
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Sport
football
News
i100
News
Perry says: 'Psychiatrists give help because they need help. You would not be working in mental health if you didn't have a curiosity about how the mind works.'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?