Friday, May 22, 2020

Remembering Anton Kontra (1932-2020)

Just listen to that tone. That personality. That versatility. Get a load of that bow arm. This compilation film shows the great Anton Kontra in his many guises as virtuoso soloist, quartet leader, Gypsy jazz group, orchestral leader and real-deal Hungarian-Gypsy folk ensemble complete with cimbalom.

The Hungarian violinist Anton Kontra, who has died at the age of 88, was born in Tomomajnostora, Hungary, into a musical family, beginning the violin at the age of five. At ten, he entered the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest, where among other things he had theory lessons with Kodály. After winning prizes at the International Bach Competition in the city, and the Wieniawski Competition in Warsaw his burgeoning career was abruptly thrown off course by the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

Escaping Hungary, Kontra ended up in Sweden where like many of his compatriots in the same situation he played for a while in a Gypsy orchestra. Trying to find his feet, he also played the vibraphone. After freelancing in the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, in 1965 he won the post of concertmaster for the Tivoli Concert Hall Orchestra in Copenhagen and Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

He became a "unique dynamo" in Danish musical life: soloist, leader of the Kontra Quartet, and in Sweden the Malmö Symphony Orchestra. A strange, multifaceted career in which he became, according to Tom [my husband], simply the greatest violinist in his adopted homeland.

In 1980 Kontra came to London to preside over international auditions for some violin posts in the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra. Tom, who was a young freelance violinist aged 22, went from Buxton to the Craxton Studios in Hampstead to play to him - and got the job. During his five years there, Tom often encountered Kontra and evidently revered him. "He had a kind of special status in the country. He was head and shoulders above every other violinist in Denmark."