Laszlo Heltay

Our Founder

Laszlo Heltay (1930-2019)

Laszlo Heltay was born in Budapest in 1930 and studied conducting and composition at the Franz Liszt Academy under Zoltan Kodaly and Lajos Bardos. He became a British citizen in 1957. In 1964 he went to New Zealand as associate conductor of the NZBC Symphony Orchestra and director of the NZ Opera Company. On his return to London he became conductor of the Phoenix Opera Company and also worked as assistant to Otto Klemperer.

Throughout his distinguished career Laszlo Heltay conducted many major orchestras including the Philharmonia, the Dresden Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Dallas Symphony and the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestras. He has also conducted many radio orchestras and choirs including those of Brussels, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Madrid, Budapest and Stockholm. In addition he founded the Academy Chorus of St Martin in the Fields, with whom he directed the choral music for the film Amadeus and a recording of Paco Pena's Misa Flamenca. In 1982 he was awarded the International Kodaly Medal.

In November 1967 Laszlo Heltay was invited to form a choir for the Brighton Festival which was planning a performance of Walton's Belshazzar's Feast to be conducted by Sir William Walton in April 1968. The performance was a huge success and launched Brighton Festival Chorus as an important part of the music scene in Britain and, under Laszlo's directorship, one of the most successful choirs in the country.

Laszlo Heltay remained Music Director of Brighton Festival Chorus for the following 27 years, during which time the Chorus formed long and close associations with a number of leading orchestras and conductors, including the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Andre Previn, Vladimir Ashkenazy, and Lord Yehudi Menuhin, who was President of the Chorus until his death. Highlights of these years include a memorable Bach B Minor Mass with Karl Richter, Kodaly's Psalmus Hungaricus with Istvan Kertesz for Decca and many concerts and recordings with Antal Dorati.

Laszlo lived in Barcelona for several years where he was closely involved with the Madrid Radio Choir as well as continuing a busy schedule of conducting and master classes for young choral conductors in Europe and the USA. In his eighties he retired from the world of music and returned to live in Budapest, the city of his birth. He died in December 2019, and is buried in Farkasréti Cemetery in Budapest, the resting place of many eminent Hungarian artists, authors and musicians. Zoltan Kodaly, with whom he studied and whose work he championed, Bela Bartok, Lajos Bardos, and Georg Solti are all buried there.

Records and Recording described Laszlo Heltay as "One of the finest and most inspiring choral trainers in the world....Through his efforts the whole British choral tradition has been given a new look and a new set of standards to aim for."