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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
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

Opilio Recruitment: Full Stack Software Developer

£35k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We are currently recruit...

Opilio Recruitment: Senior Developer

£50k - 60k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We have an exciting Seni...

Opilio Recruitment: Senior Front End Developer

£50k - 70k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We have an exciting Seni...

Opilio Recruitment: Senior Digital Designer

£50k - 55k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An exciting opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game