Hungarian composer Péter Eötvös, Frontiers of Knowledge award in Music and Opera




Hungarian composer and conductor Peter Eötvös has been awarded the award BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge in Music and Opera. The jury has justified it in that it is, “without a doubt, one of the most important musical voices of our time,” according to the minutes. «His artistic importance, originality and contribution to the advancement of music since the second half of the 20th century can be clearly seen in his scores for voice, soloist and orchestra; and in operas like ‘Three sisters’, ‘Love and Other Demons’ and ‘Senza Sangue’. His instrumental compositions have been performed by the most important ensembles and orchestras in the world ”.

The jury has also pointed out that one of the characteristics that define the maestro Eötvös is that he “excels” in the three facets of music that he has dealt with: composer, conductor and teacher. “He has an excellent quality in all of them, and a quality that stands out enormously in him is his generosity: as a composer, as a musician and as a conductor, he places great trust in his musicians and in his audience,” he stressed. Joana Carneiro, president of the jury and principal director of the Portuguese Symphony Orchestra and the São Carlos Theater. “Like all great composers – Carneiro said – he has been able to make an evolution from the authors who are a reference for him and towards the next generation: he has experimented with acoustic music, with technology, with spaces and with musicians. , with a very affective language, but at the same time new, with a lot of creativity and originality ».

Regarding this language, the Hungarian teacher has stated on several occasions, according to the BBVA Foundation note, that “composition is to enchant the public through sound, to transform the incredible into sounds.” In a videoconference conversation a few minutes after hearing the award of the award, he declared that “as conductors, we usually say that the public is not only behind us, but we feel it on our back. And when these moments of enchanting attention arise, the director perceives it as a magical unit. When this sensation occurs at the right moment, the audience becomes one person who listens and watches, and as a composer, I know that these magical moments are what I have to produce. In that facet of director, Eötvös came to lead the baton of the Ensemble InterContemporain, an institution of reference in contemporary music created by Pierre Boulez, for thirteen years.

“For me – he stressed – it is very important to have been awarded not only as an opera composer but also as a teacher and conductor. For me these three professions form a unit. What I achieve in one of them, serves me in the other two. What I compose I can direct, what I learn by conducting I can use in my compositions, and I can transmit the experience obtained in these two professions as a pedagogue. This desire to share all my knowledge with young people goes back to my youth and the great gratitude I feel towards those teachers who helped me to know everything, to understand it and to be able to represent it ».

The themes of Eötvös’s operas often reflect the world of today, and for this he uses texts from writers such as Tony Kushner, Alessandro Baricco or Gabriel García Márquez. In this regard, he assures that “I would not like to highlight any of them, they are all important, what interests me is to collaborate with living authors because this gives me the unique opportunity to write an opera for the future. I am hopeful that if I write a good quality opera it will be performed in 100 years, and to achieve this I need to collaborate with an author of my time.

Eötvös’s candidacy for the Frontiers of Knowledge Awards was submitted, in five separate and independent nominations, by: György Kurtág, composer and Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Music and Opera in its VII Edition; László Góz, director and founder of the Budapest Music Center; Lydia Connolly, director of the international representation agency Harrison Parrott; Paloma O’Shea, president of the Reina Sofía School of Music; Y Fabián Panisello, director of Plural Ensemble.

The jury has also recognized Peter Eötvös his human quality, his closeness with his collaborators, students and also with the musicians. “For me – he says – it is not enough for me to choose an instrument and compose a suitable music for this instrument, but I need to know who is going to play this piece for the first time. In this way, I see and hear the music and the person playing it at the same time. And so, along with the influence of the characteristics of the instrument, I also receive the influences of the person and I can transfer both impressions to my music. In this way, the concert I compose is not only specific to the instrument but also to the person who is going to play it. I could even say that my symphonic concerts are portraits ».


Peter Eötvös was born in 1944 in Odorheiu Secuiesc, Transilvania, which then belonged to Hungary instead of Romania. He spent his early childhood in the Hungarian town of Miskolc. Her mother was a music teacher, so she soon learned to play the piano, violin, flute, and percussion instruments; at the age of five he had already composed his first works. In this same city he met György Ligeti, with whom he would maintain contact for the rest of his life.

At age 14 he moved to Budapest and was himself Zoltán Kodály who admitted him to the School for Exceptional Young Talents of the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music. There he studied composition while actively participating in film and theater productions, thanks to which he gained extensive experience in improvisation, the ability to draw characters with few strokes, and knowledge of dramatic timing and rhythm. All of these skills had a profound impact on his approach to composition and on the ten operas he has written so far.

In 1971 he moved to Cologne, where he worked with Karlheinz Stockhausen, he expanded his composition studies with BA Zimmermann and graduated in Conducting from the Cologne School of Music. He began conducting the Ensemble Stockhausen, including the premiere of Thursday from Licht en La Scala de Milán in 1981. In 1978, Pierre Boulez had invited him to conduct the inaugural concert of IRCAM – the Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique / Musique, founded by Boulez himself – and at the end asked him to be the artistic director of the Ensemble InterContemporain, since he performed until 1991. Paris opened many horizons for him, as the ensemble staged hundreds of new works and gave him the opportunity to personally collaborate with the most relevant living composers.

In 1980 he performed for the first time as conductor at the London PROMS and between 1985 and 1988 he was chief guest conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. From that moment on, he multiplied his presence as a conductor in orchestras throughout Europe – from the Budapest Festival Orchestra to the Vienna Radio Symphony or the Munich Philharmonic – and in the United States, Japan and South Korea. To these he adds the main groups specialized in contemporary music, such as Ensemble Modern, Musikfabrik, Klangforum Wien or the London Sinfonietta.

Its catalog of compositions is as wide as it is varied and includes 34 pieces for film and theater, 4 for tape, electronics or multimedia, 31 for chamber music or solo, 12 for ensemble, 26 for orchestra or chamber orchestra, 6 for vocal ensemble. or choir and 14 between operas and musical theater. Eötvös has received composition commissions from institutions such as the Lyon Opera, the Bavarian State Opera or the Glyndebourne Opera Festival. Secret Kiss, whose premiere in Spain took place in the National Music Auditorium on April 17, 2019 under the direction of Eötvös himself, it is a commission from the BBVA Foundation and other institutions. It was the second time that Eötvös had premiered in Spain as part of the BBVA Foundation for Contemporary Music Concert Series. The first was in the 2013-2014 season, when – in the fifth edition of this cycle – he personally directed his work Steine ​​for the first time.

From 1992 he began to teach Directing and Contemporary Chamber Music in Karlsruhe and Cologne, and in 1991 he started the Eötvös International Institute. In 2004 he created the Peter Eötvös Foundation for Contemporary Music, aimed at conductors and composers, in which since 2018 he has directed a special orientation program with a marked international character.


The jury has been chaired by Joana Carneiro, principal conductor of the Portuguese Symphony Orchestra (Portugal); and has counted as secretary with Victor Garcia de Gomar, artistic director of the Gran Teatro del Liceu (Spain), acting as vocals Mauro Bucarelli, artistic administrator of the National Academy of Santa Cecilia (Italy); Raquel Garcia-Tomás, composer (Spain); Pedro Halffter Caro, conductor and composer (Spain); Kathryn McDowell, general director of the London Symphony Orchestra (United Kingdom); Y Annilese Miskimmon, artistic director of the English National Opera and the London Coliseum (United Kingdom).

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