Saturday 3 May 1997

PÉTER WOLF

The following article is an overview of the career of Hungarian pianist, composer, and arranger Péter Wolf. The main source of information are two interviews with Mr Wolf, conducted by Bas Tukker, the first being in Budapest, August 2007; the second via video connection, January 2024. The article below is subdivided into two main parts; a general career overview (part 3) and a part dedicated to Péter Wolf's Eurovision involvement (part 4).

All material below: © W.B. Tukker / 2007 & 2024


Contents
  1. Passport
  2. Short Eurovision record
  3. Biography
  4. Eurovision Song Contest
  5. Other artists about Péter Wolf
  6. Eurovision involvement year by year
  7. Sources & links
PASSPORT

Born: June 21st, 1947, Budapest (Hungary)
Nationality: Hungarian

SHORT EUROVISION RECORD
 
Péter Wolf conducted two Hungarian entries in the Eurovision Song Contest, ‘Kinek mondjam el vétkeimet for Friderika Bayer (1994) and ‘Miért kell, hogy elmenj’ for V.I.P. (1997), for both of which he also wrote the orchestration. Moreover, in the 1993 Eastern European preliminary round, in which seven ‘new’ EBU members vied for three places in the contest’s final in Ireland, he was Hungary’s juror.

BIOGRAPHY

Born in the Hungarian capital Budapest two years after the end of World War II, Péter Wolf was the son of a Jewish father and a Christian mother. Both of his parents were musicians; while his mother was an actress and singer, his father worked as a pianist, accompanying singers as well as theatre pieces.

“Originally, my father’s ambition was to be an engineer,” Péter Wolf explains. “He had been forced to study abroad because of anti-Jewish laws in Hungary in the 1930s. A numerus clausus had been introduced, capping the number of Jewish students at universities in Hungary. In the end, he obtained his degree in Brno in Czechoslovakia. Coming back to Budapest, he couldn’t find work as an engineer, though, which is why he turned to music instead. In fact, he had been a music academy student for three years in parallel with his engineering studies. His music upbringing was purely classical, but when he first sat at the piano in a café in Budapest to entertain the guests, nobody was interested in Liszt or Chopin. The repertoire of dance music was absolutely unknown to him, so he had to start practising this music. Soon after, World War II broke out – and right at the beginning, he travelled to Switzerland, where he spent several years as the pianist in an orchestra entertaining the guests in an expensive hotel in St. Moritz. He decided to come back to Budapest in 1944, which is when the problems began (as the virulently antisemitic Arrow Cross Party seized power in Hungary – BT), but he survived. Never going back to engineering, he continued working as a musician after the war; and quite successfully so. In my childhood, whenever I mentioned my surname, people were aware immediately that I was the son of a famous musician.”

“The first toy I had was my father’s piano. As a toddler, I sat underneath it and pushed the pedal, causing it to produce a strong noise as the echo came back. That’s how it all started. My parents sent me to a special kindergarten, where education was based on music. My life was determined from the very beginning. The overriding memory of my childhood is that I had no childhood. I went to music school every day and spent at least three hours a day practising the piano at home. Sometimes, I could hear my schoolmates calling my name through the open window behind me. They hoped that I would join them in the park to play football, but my father was always around to check if I was practising diligently. You see, there was no way out for me!”

Péter and his girlfriend Zsuzsa, who was a fellow student at the Béla Bartók State Conservatoire, on their wedding day in 1967

“Politics were an unknown feature in our family. Life was based on culture and education. The fascists hadn’t managed to break my father’s back; and, after the war, he was determined to survive communism as well. By the time I was fourteen, I was due to be sent to music school, the Bela Bartók State Conservatoire, but there was a problem. Because I was from a family which was categorised as intelligentsia, I wasn’t accepted as a new pupil initially. It was a stamp put on our family… there wouldn’t have been an issue if I had been from a real workers’ family. You may not believe it, but that was how it worked in Hungary in the early 1960s. Eventually, some of my father’s friends lent a helping hand – and that’s how the door opened for me. My piano teacher in those first years at the conservatoire was Kornél Zempléni. He was an excellent pianist and, more generally speaking, a man of culture. We had interesting conversations about art and literature as well. I learnt more from him than just playing the piano.”

“Beside his work in the theatre, my father was also a sought-after studio musician. However, if a recording session was scheduled at 9am, he couldn’t go, because he had been working in the theatre well into the night – so he was still in bed. When I was fifteen years old, he started sending me instead to replace him. There I was, practically still a child, in a studio full of music professionals. I had to show that I was able to keep up with their level, because in a studio it’s pretty simple; if you’re not good enough, you can go home. It was an excellent school for me – and I quickly became the favourite of the people who organised the sessions, because I never said no to any recording. Instead of going to school, I went to the studio, earning a lot of money. Most of those recordings took place at Hungarian radio, which had the best equipment. After a session was over, I took a taxi which took me to the conservatoire – it was also a way of showing off to my fellow students that I could afford to do such a thing. I was as stupid as you would imagine from an adolescent boy with money in his hands.”

“Gradually, I discovered what studio work was about. After some time, I ventured into the part of the studio where the tonmeister was doing his job, learning about sound engineering. Then, when I was seventeen, I wrote my first arrangement – and I can assure you that it was awful. I didn’t even know that the gap between a baritone saxophone and a tenor saxophone was more than an octave – so my harmonies were all over the place. It was unbearable to listen to. Fortunately, there was help on hand from a fantastic composer and arranger, András Bágya. He was about my father’s age and he happened to be present in the studio that day. Kindly, he showed me what I had done wrong. Bágya was very important in my life; an unofficial teacher, if you like. Slowly but steadily, I learnt from my mistakes… and I began to write arrangements for other composers. It was hard work, but I enjoyed it very much.”

“At the music academy, I took some classes in choral conducting; because I had been recording my arrangements in the studio from such a young age, I had started to conduct well before that – but perhaps it’s better not to use the word ‘conducting’ for what I was doing in those sessions. First, the rhythm parts were recorded, then the strings… and, as an arranger, you were expected to give directions to the musicians; so I stood up and conducted them. I simply imitated what I had seen older arranging colleagues doing when I was playing the piano in their studio sessions. It wasn’t difficult; just keeping the rhythm and giving cues to the players of the different groups in the orchestra.”

International record release of Ex Antiquis' 1971 album - with Péter Wolf second from left

“Those were the years when pop music was changing profoundly. When I first became a session player, popular music involved educated singers performing light-entertainment music with a soft rhythm… but then The Beatles came! Their first records were smuggled into Hungary by people who had made trips to Western Europe. Those records were copied and exchanged endlessly. When I first heard ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles, I was shocked. What kind of music was this? Then I began to figure out what kind of harmonies and melodies they used. You could say I became a student of pop music. The influence of The Beatles on me was profound; and I wasn’t the only one to come under their spell. After a talent show on Hungarian television had featured youngsters playing very simple pop music, pop groups were founded all over the country. Because I was young, I was better equipped to work on this type of music than older arrangers. For instance, writing parts for electric guitar was something which was a strange language to the older guys, something which they had to study hard in order to grasp; and to me, it was like a mother tongue. That was the difference. In those circumstances, I became one of the main arrangers of this wave of pop groups which flooded Hungary in the 1960s.”

“Another important influence on me was jazz. Until the mid-1960s, jazz was forbidden in Hungary, but just like we had been listening clandestinely to pop music via Radio Luxembourg, there was Willis Conover’s jazz hour on The Voice of America, another radio station from the West. Furthermore, my father somehow always managed to obtain the finest records of jazz and modern classical music, probably via his colleagues in the theatre. That’s how I first discovered the music of Rachmaninov, which was never played on Hungarian radio, but dad also brought with him records by Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Horowitz, and of course Yehudi Menuhin.”

“At some point, Hungarian authorities mellowed their stance towards jazz. Someone had a genius idea to explain to communist party officials that jazz was the music of the repressed black slaves in America. How could those poor slaves be the enemies of the working classes of Hungary? The first jazz artist to be invited to Hungary was Louis Armstrong, who gave a concert in the Nép Stadium in Budapest (in 1965 – BT) for an audience of some 70,000 who had come to listen to Satchmo! Afterwards, Oscar Peterson and others also came to Hungary. They were wildly popular. In some way, attending jazz concerts was also regarded as an act of defiance against those in power in our country.”

“All the while, I was still a student at the Béla Bartók State Conservatoire and the Franz Liszt Academy of Music to fulfil my father’s dream of his son becoming a concert pianist. That was the track he had in mind for me, but it’s fair to say that The Beatles hijacked his plan! When my parents heard the first pop song I had composed, they smiled politely, because they didn’t want to make me feel unhappy, but they weren’t really fond of this new career of mine. I continued studying to satisfy my parents, but at the same time I chose my own path. As a studio musician and arranger, more work was offered to me than I could take on. I was even in a position to refuse commissions. Partly because of this popularity, I secretly felt that I had learnt enough – which was really stupid of me. Later, I came to realise that learning is an unfinished process in any human life.”

German release of Ex Antiquis' 1975 album - with Péter Wolf on the far right

“In 1969, I was invited to join Ex Antiquis, which was the ensemble of Tamás Hacki. Tamás was a medicine student who had made a trademark of whistling pieces of classical music without pursing his lips – which might sound like a circus act, but it wasn’t, because Tamás is a very talented, artistic person. We didn’t know each other, but on a tour in West Germany, the original pianist of the group refused to come back to Hungary. They were urgently in need of someone who could learn their entire repertoire within two weeks, when their next international concert tour was due. At the time, I was extremely busy, but I agreed to give it a try, signing a six-month contract with them to see if we were happy working together.”

“Our first trip was to West Berlin, where we were booked to do a short radio concert. We flew to East Berlin, where there were soldiers and people wearing uniforms to check on us – and then we were allowed to cross the border to the western sector. I remember it well, because I had never been abroad, let alone to the West; this was my first smell of free air! Of course West Berlin was a cage, but I can assure you it was a great moment in my life. I had never imagined something like this could happen to me. It was the start of a life of touring, because we did concerts just about everywhere. Our trademark was playing the top selection of classical music, but done in a contemporary way, with rhythm instruments – bass guitar, keyboards, and drums. It was semi-classical music, intended to draw younger audiences towards the classics. The repertoire had to be selected to fit the range of Tamás’ whistling. We were on the look-out for suitable pieces all the time. Slowly, I reworked the arrangements of their older repertoire, while inventing all new arrangements as well. After those first six months were over, we were all satisfied and I decided to stay with the group. Simultaneously, to the dismay of my parents, I left the music academy. The studies simply couldn’t be fit into my schedule.”

“We were especially popular in Italy, West and East Germany, and Sweden. Once, when we were in Sweden, we did a television performance – and the night after, we played a concert in St James’s Church, the biggest church in Stockholm. That church was packed to the rafters, mainly with young people; and the atmosphere was electric! When on tour abroad, we often did multiple concerts a day. In Sweden, we once did three daytime performances in schools and then a concert for an adult audience in the evening. At the end of a month’s tour in Sweden, we were paid 20 percent extra because we hadn’t had a day off in between concerts and another 20 percent because we had had to live apart from our families for so long. This was all thanks to Swedish trade union rules. I was the Finance Minister of the group and I simply couldn’t believe how much money was put in my hands.”

“Travelling unlimitedly everywhere, we did concerts across Europe, but also in Japan and in the United States. Coming to New York in 1971, I had an absolute culture shock when our American manager handed us free tickets for a Broadway show… it was Jesus Christ Superstar! Previously, in Hungary, the closest thing to a musical I had seen was an operetta, but here before my eyes a rock opera was performed and the music was out of this world. Really fantastic! One of the gimmicks of that show was that, after the actors had left the stage, the orchestra continued to play until all spectators had gone. Those guys in the band must have hated me, because I couldn’t bring myself to leave that theatre; I just had to listen to that wonderful music. That night on Broadway was the most important music event in my life. Since that time, I’ve continued to travel to New York and London to attend musicals. Just like a painter has to visit the Louvre in Paris, a musician, especially a musician interested in light music, has to go to Broadway and the West End to be imbued with the influences of the two main hotspots of musicals worldwide.”

Péter Wolf wrote the soundtrack to the internationally acclaimed animation film 'Vuk' (1981)

“In the first ten years with Ex Antiquis, we did some 3,000 concerts; and at least three quarters of those concerts were performed abroad. As a father of three children, I had to spend a lot of time away from my family. It was quite difficult, but thanks mainly to my wife we managed. The main decision I took was to spend 24 hours with my family during those periods of the year when I wasn’t on tour. I refused many commissions, but I tried to keep on working as an arranger by taking my work with me on tour. While the other group members went out sightseeing or visiting a museum, I usually stayed behind in the hotel writing as many scores as I could. I really can’t tell you how I was able to work so much, but I’ve always been a workaholic. I’m also very grateful to my fellow arranger Miklós Malek, who was about my age and who took care of a lot of my compositions, writing arrangements to dozens of my pop songs and theatre music pieces. He’s an excellent professional and has remained a good friend until the present day.”

“One of my compositions arranged by Miklós was ‘Most kéne abbahagyni’, which was a huge hit for Kati Kovács in 1971. She was a big name in Hungary at the time. One time, while I was sitting in a coffeehouse in Budapest where musicians used to gather, someone walked in looking for songwriters who could provide material for Kati’s new album. When he saw me sitting there, he asked me if I had a song. I lied, claiming that I had one, but that it hadn’t been put to paper yet. The guy then said, ‘Alright, I’ll sit down to have a coffee, while you write down your song for me.’ Fortunately, there turned out to be a lyricist sitting in that café, someone who I had worked with previously, but just on one occasion (Tibor Kalmár – BT). He agreed to write the song with me on the spot. I hummed the start of a melody, to which he immediately added a line of lyrics. Working this way, line by line, we created a song in five minutes. In the following five minutes, I managed to find a piece of paper, drew five lines on it to allow music notation, and wrote down what we had just concocted. After ten minutes, I gave that sheet to the guy who had been waiting, he took it with him… and that went on to become the biggest hit I ever wrote!”

Another song I wrote in the 1970s was ‘Sziklaöklű Joe’. One time, when I was on tour in Italy with Ex Antiquis, we went to the cinema… and what kind of a film do you watch when you’re visiting a country of which you don’t speak the language? Of course, you go to a Western! That gave me the idea to write a song about a hero in the Wild West. When we came back to Budapest, I told a lyricist about the storyline of the film. He then wrote the lyrics, to which I added a country tune. The song was performed by a girl singer called Sarolta Zalatnay at the Táncdalfestival, the main popular music festival in Hungary. I took part in that festival as a songwriter on many occasions, but I never had any success – not with this song either, but it was a big hit afterwards. Stories like this show that I never really spent enough time to compose perfect pop songs. It was always something going on on the side.”

“Although Ex Antiquis continued to perform in the 1980s, the number of performances decreased somewhat in the course of that decade, mainly because Tamás Hacki also had an academic career as a doctor, teaching otolaryngology at universities in Germany. This meant there was more time to do other things. Of course, I continued to work as a composer and arranger of pop songs, but there was more. One of the most interesting commissions in those years was to deputise as an arranger and conductor of the RTV Novi Sad Big Band in Vojvodina, just across the border in Yugoslavia. The regular conductor of that band was an old man who had fallen ill. He was replaced by various others, and I was one of the musicians to be asked to stand in. There is a considerable Hungarian minority living in Vojvodina – and some people working at Novi Sad’s radio knew about me. It was very interesting to go there, because there were no big bands in Hungary at the time. I took with me from Hungary a trumpet player; a very good one, Rudolf Tomsits, who continued working with them long after I had stopped. I did the job for some two years, going there every three months or so. I spent excellent times with that orchestra.”

Conducting a gala concert, mid-1980s

“From the second half of the 1970s onwards, I also wrote a lot of music for animated films. It was great to work on, because the studio where those cartoons were made was full of talented people. The quality of those children’s movies was usually very high. The most popular of these films was ‘Vuk’ (released in 1981 and based on the eponymous youth novel by István Fekete – BT), in which a little fox was the main character. The director, Attila Dargay, initially wanted me to write an arrangement of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to be performed with Ex Antiquis, but I said this was a bad idea. He could have thrown me out, but fortunately he didn’t and went on to ask what type of music I would suggest instead. I then immediately played him the melody which would end up being the leitmotif of the film. I was very happy to work on this story, which is very lovely and warm-hearted. It was even marketed abroad. As it happens, younger generations still like this movie and it’s still being broadcast on Hungarian television around Christmas time. I was very lucky to be asked to write the music to it and I’m very proud of it.”

“As the 1980s were drawing to a close, the socialist regime ruling our country wasn’t as harsh as in the old days. Every day, life seemed to become a bit easier. Still, I couldn’t imagine the Warsaw Pact falling apart anytime soon. Earlier on in my life, I had never felt the urge to get away from Hungary. As a musician with Ex Antiquis, I had been travelling the world to my heart’s content. Given the life I was leading, I had never felt a prisoner in Hungary like others did. By the time I was forty years old, though, I felt I had seen the length and breadth of my country’s music industry. I couldn’t help feeling a little bit bored at times. I decided I wanted to try my luck in America with my family.”

“In early 1989, I travelled to New York on my own to find a job – and I planned to stay there for two months to get a foothold, which would allow my wife and children to join me. Only a couple of days after arriving in New York, I met a very nice, old man, who told me, ‘Young man, you’re very naïve! You were thinking you could come here, sit in a bar and play the piano – and then it turns out we like you and we decide that you can stay in America! Perhaps it worked that way in the 1920s, but not today! If you want to stand any chance, you’ll need a lawyer first to help you obtain a Green Card.’ I realised that he was right. I had come without a plan. Instead of staying for the two months I had had in mind, I escaped after just one week. My wife and children never came to America. At that point, I realised I didn’t have problems with the world around me; I had problems with myself. This was a good occasion to conduct a thorough self-analysis. I decided it was time for change, real change; from then on, I no longer focused on pop music, although I’ve done some projects I liked here and there. Deep down, I wanted to be a composer of serious music – and that’s been the focal point of my life ever since.”

“After I had taken that decision, the first thing I wanted to do was write a ballet. It was a dream I had had for many years. A friend of mine was the ballet director at the opera house in Budapest. He gave me a contract to compose a work about the Russian ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. It took me three full years to write it. I enjoyed those years greatly, but when I had finished it, the choreographer who I wanted to work with passed away suddenly – and I never found somebody else willing to stage it. You have to realise this is an old-style ballet for an extended group of dancers and a big orchestra, whereas budgets for ballet performances in the 1990s were decreasing. Classical ballet had gone out of fashion. To cut a long story short, my ballet has not been performed until the present day. Can you imagine? A score of almost 400 pages, all written by hand; a big stack of music paper, almost a telephone book. I’m still hoping it will be picked up by someone, but admittedly I’m not very hopeful. Of course it was disappointing, but the experience was extremely useful to me. I learnt a lot in the course of the writing process. It’s part of my development as a composer.”

Péter Wolf working on the 'Caprice Viennois' project with master violinist Isaac Stern (1998)

“Somehow, I didn’t go bankrupt in those years. The royalties from my earlier life as a studio arranger and film composer kept me afloat. I was lucky. Famous artists came to ask me to work with them – not vice versa. The most special one of them is violinist Isaac Stern. In 1998, I was contacted by the leader of the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra, who were about to do a concert with Stern in Budapest. As it turned out, Stern wanted to play a piece by Fritz Kreisler as an encore, but the arrangement he had brought was for a large orchestra, not for a string ensemble. Could I write an arrangement of that piece? So I asked, ‘When is this concert?’, and the answer was, ‘Tomorrow’. I had 24 hours to write the arrangement! There was no copyist available, so after I had invented the score, I sat down until deep into the night to write out all parts myself.”

“The next day at 9am, we did a rehearsal; and behind me stood Isaac Stern, listening to what I had written. When we had finished, he applauded and asked me, ‘How much do I owe you?’ I couldn’t answer the question. I said I had enjoyed listening to his renditions for decades, adding that this arrangement was my way of thanking him for all his brilliant performances. He was astonished, but he said he would think of another way of rewarding me. I thought it was just a hollow phrase on his part, but it wasn’t. One month later, Sony New York sent me a lavish contract to make a full CD of Kreisler pieces with Isaac Stern. I wrote all the arrangements; and Stern came back to Budapest to record the album (entitled ‘Caprice Viennois’ – BT) with that same chamber orchestra. He was very friendly and in that short space of time, we struck up a wonderful friendship.”

“As it happened, it was one of his last recordings, because he passed away not long after. I’m extremely proud of that album. I mean, the main auditorium in Carnegie Hall in New York was named after this man who picked me to do a recording with him. Moreover, after that album, other violinists came looking for me to do a recording as well, so it was a good introduction into that corner of the world of music. Still, I made one silly mistake. Before he left, Isaac Stern gave me the contact details of his agent, encouraging me to come to America. However, in those years, I was working extensively for theatre and television in Hungary and I didn’t feel the urge to try my luck this time around. Who knows what could have happened if I had given it a try in New York with the back-up of Isaac Stern? I guess we’ll never know.”

Around the turn of the century, Péter Wolf was the musical director of the Moulin Rouge nightclub in Budapest for a short while. In 2007, he was commissioned to write a cycle of rhapsodies for flute and chamber orchestra, based on Transylvanian folk melodies. Apart from his activities as a composer, Wolf also worked continuously as a music teacher from the 1980s onwards.

With fellow-arranger and longtime friend Miklós Malek (Budapest - 2007)

“Teaching was something I did as a hobby. Working in the studio, I discovered that others were looking to me to explain about the technicalities of music. As an experiment, I thought I might try my hand at teaching. Ever since I started, I enjoyed it greatly; the contact with young students, the relationship you build with them. They were quiet, they listened to me and to each other, they were eager to play together. At the music school of the Hungarian Musicians’ Union, my students were mainly gypsy children, who were very conscientious and who realised that there was only one way to make it as a musician; by studying and practising diligently.”

“In the end, I decided I wanted to found a school especially for those children; not only to teach them music, but to give them a background to become an intelligent person, a real artist. In order to do so, I had to get back to the academy, because you require a Ph.D. to lead a school. So in 2007, when I was exactly sixty years old, I went back to the Franz Liszt Academy of Music which I had left in 1969 to finally obtain my diploma – although admittedly I had taken some jazz music courses with János Gonda in the early 1970s. That’s where I took up my studies; and I consider myself lucky to be given the opportunity to graduate in jazz composition working with Kálmán Oláh, one of the brightest jazz musicians of our age.”

“Subsequently, for the doctor’s degree, the academy professors immediately suggested that I should write about jazz arrangement. The board was full of classical musicians who were eager to have a book about arranging; about how to write for drums, how to create saxophone harmonies. Given my background in light music, it was an obvious choice. So that’s what I did and I eventually obtained my Doctor of Liberal Arts degree in 2015. By that time, I had gathered a lot of sponsors who provided me with the money to buy musical instruments and even to rent a building in Budapest for my school. Unfortunately, Fidesz, the ruling party in Hungary, wasn’t really creating the ideal circumstances to form a school. They weren’t interested in education. So I was very sorry to have to give up my plan. After that, I continued working as a guest teacher at SET School of Entertainment and Technology in Budapest for some years, my specialised subject being media composition. I might go back to teaching again in the future, because it’s something I’ve always liked doing.”

“In the background, Ex Antiquis is still part of my life as well. I’ve been in it for over fifty years now; our group never disbanded. Recently, we did a little concert at a congress of doctors – who are Tamás Hacki’s colleagues, but everyone knew that he was a musician in a previous life. In 2022, Tamás and I did a small theatre programme in Budapest, speaking about our lives and performing two small pieces. We found that people over 70 were interested in listening to anecdotes of the times of old. The theatre was packed and the audience was really enthusiastic. Our impresario is considering staging the same programme elsewhere in Hungary and perhaps even in Germany as well.”

Péter with his daughter Kati (2018)

“My favourite year as a professional musician doubtlessly was the year of the COVID lockdown in 2020. Everybody was complaining about being locked in their houses, but for me, the circumstances couldn’t have been better. There were no visitors who came to my house. There was no noise outside of festivals which made me nervous. This was absolute paradise for a composer! In that year, I wrote a lot, an awful lot; an adagio for flute and piano; a piano sonata; a series of jazz preludes, and the list is longer. I don’t think I’ve ever felt such an amount of creativity at any other time in my life.”

“Also in 2020, a conductor of a university choir commissioned me to write a Latin mass. It had been a long-standing dream of mine to compose such a mass, but to be able to create one you need to study a lot. There’s much more to it than creating just thirty minutes of music. Diving into the history of masses, I listened to just about all masses ever written. In the end, I created a piece containing the traditional lyrics of a mass plus one extra tenor aria between the Sanctus Benedictus and the Agnus Dei. Although I’m not a religious person myself, I’m extremely proud of this mass – especially because other choirs in Hungary and abroad have put it on their repertoire. I’m trying to sell the piece to choirs everywhere in the world, but self-management has never been my forte. Marketing music is a completely different job to composing it.”

“Two weeks ago, just before Christmas (in 2023 – BT), I conducted my mass myself at the St Peter and Paul Church in Szentendre. Make no mistake, leading an orchestra for a classical piece is something completely different to conducting an arrangement of a pop song in the studio. With a classical orchestra, you have to know the score in detail, analysing even the smallest parts, while keeping an eye on the bigger picture as well. Secondly, you have to make the correct gestures in order to direct the musicians, but the third and most important element of conducting is the psychology which comes into it. In front of you there’s an orchestra, an orchestra consisting of individuals, each of whom needs to feel the motivation to accept your analysis and imagination, merging it with their own views to create something which an audience can appreciate. I wouldn’t call myself a professional conductor, because I’ve never seriously studied the subject with good teachers. In terms of importance, it has always come in third place behind composing and playing the piano, but I have the utmost respect for those making a career as a conductor. It’s a complicated profession.”

“Watching the television news, I cannot help cursing these terrible politicians who are practically hijacking my beloved country. Our current political leaders are the worst we’ve had in peacetime. As a composer, though, I have to accept the situation as it is. In my inner life, there is complete peace. Closing the window, I lock myself away from the outer world and try to compose beautiful music; the music that I like. My latest work is a set of pieces for children beginning to learn to play the piano. This April (2024 – BT), I’ll finally be going back to the United States. An American concert pianist, Sara Davis Buechner, has discovered my piano pieces and is due to put them on her repertoire. Needless to say I’m really excited about this. New hope in America! Let’s see what will come of it.”

Conducting a rehearsal with Mendelssohn Chamber Orchestra at the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall in Budapest for a concert with Jamie Winchester and Róbert Hrutka (2017)

EUROVISION SONG CONTEST

Péter Wolf took part as a conductor for Hungary in the Eurovision Song Contest on two occasions, including the first time the country took part in the festival final in 1994, but he knew and watched the programme long before Hungary became a member of the Eurovision family. “Oh yes, because Hungarian television broadcast it. I remember watching Sandie Shaw, and before her France Gall (in 1967 and 1965 respectively – BT). These were the days of black and white television. We loved watching all those big international stars, but we couldn’t imagine that Hungary would ever be part of the competition. When it happened, it was a big step for all of us, for everyone in our music industry.”

In 1993, Hungarian state broadcaster MTV made its first attempt at taking part in the contest, submitting a song to a qualifying round in Ljubljana, in which seven new member states of the European Broadcasting Union vied for three places in the international Eurovision final in Millstreet, Ireland. Hungary’s candidate was Andrea Szulák, but her song ‘Árva reggel’, scored by Péter Wolf’s arranging colleague Miklós Malek, didn’t manage to win enough points to qualify. The tickets for the final were won by the three former Yugoslavian states taking part in the competition, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and host country Slovenia. Wolf was present at this so-called Kvalifikacija za Millstreet, not as Hungary’s conductor – the orchestra for ‘Árva reggel’ was led by Slovenian host conductor Petar Ugrin – but as a juror. Each country taking part delegated one juror to Ljubljana. 

When asked about ‘Árva reggel’, Wolf comments, “I have absolutely no idea how the song was chosen or why Miklós wasn’t sent along to conduct it. Probably Hungarian television didn’t have the budget to let him go to Ljubljana. I spent a couple of days in Slovenia, enabling me to attend the rehearsals of all entries. I distinctly remember how tidy the city looked and how friendly people were. This was the time of the Yugoslav civil war, but the Slovenians were the only breakaway republic who managed to escape from it more or less unscathed. They are a clever, well-organised people.”

“As for the event itself, I don’t really have good memories of it. It was worrying to see that the three ex-Yugoslavian states seemed to take the opportunity to manipulate the voting to allow all three of them to pass to the final. I can’t prove it and I won’t accuse anyone, but it wasn’t a coincidence that Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia made it through at the expense of the four others. In the hotel where all delegations were staying, I couldn’t help noticing that conversations were going on between those countries’ jurors at the breakfast table. What could I do about it? I simply voted my conscience, judging the composition, the lyrics, and the singers. I remember I felt that the song from Estonia deserved to make it through, but they had no chance – and neither did we. Afterwards, the Slovak delegation cursed me, because they thought I had voted against their song due to the historic animosity between Hungary and Slovakia, but there was no truth in it. My choice was based on music alone.” (Slovakia’s group Elán missed out on the ticket to the final by just 1 vote – BT)

Hungary's juror at the 1993 Eurovision semi-final in Ljubljana

“Coming home to Hungary, I was criticised by some people for not voting tactically to give Andrea a better chance to progress to the final. They should have sent somebody else if they wanted that. I didn’t want to do anything which was illegal or unfair. In the end, it was completely irrelevant which countries qualified, because none of the songs in Ljubljana would have stood any chance in the final. The result didn’t harm Andrea Szulák’s career. She continued to enjoy popularity in Hungary. I’d like to point out that she never spoke badly of me or my votes. My contact with her has always been good, both before and after that semi-final.”

In 1994, the four countries which had not made it in the Ljubljana qualification programme automatically qualified for the final. Hungary came up with a wonderfully crafted ballad composed by Szilveszter Jenei, ‘Kinek mondjam el vétkeimet’. Performed by a young girl singer, Friderika Bayer, this song won the Hungarian pre-selection in Budapest, beating fourteen other potential entries; and it went on to do Hungary proud at the international contest in Dublin, finishing in a well-deserved fourth place. The song was orchestrated and conducted by Péter Wolf. Before asking Mr Wolf himself about his recollections, we were curious to learn about the origins of the song – and so we contacted composer Szilveszter Jenei.

“One day, the then chief music editor of Hungarian radio, Gergely Koltay, got in touch with me,” Jenei recalls. “He handed me a cassette with demo recordings by a young girl singer who called herself Friderika Bayer. ‘This little girl here, she sings quite well… try to write her something!’, he said. I had never heard of Friderika before; she was just one of many aspiring singers hoping that sending demos would get them onto a talent show, Sztárkereső. There was no talk of Eurovision at that time. Looking for something suitable for this young girl, I found an instrumental piece I had written several years previously – bits and pieces of it had been used as background music for a miniseries on Hungarian television, Juliánus barát (from 1991 – BT). For that production, the soundtrack had been written by that same Gergely Koltay, but I had composed additional pieces for it here and there.”

“After finding this old melody, I rewrote it as a song, adding lyrics to it,” Jenei continues. “Friderika then did a recording in the studios of Hungarian radio; and, with the addition of a small arrangement I did for guitar, oboe, and a string quartet, it sounded astonishing! During the session, Péter Wolf happened to be around; and when he heard what we had just recorded, he immediately said the song should be included in the Hungarian final for the Eurovision Song Contest. Péter then rewrote and expanded my arrangement, adapting it to the possibilities of the orchestras, first in Budapest; and later also at the international contest in Dublin. Eternal thanks to him, because he did a wonderful job on it!”

Friderika Bayer in 1994

As it happens, Péter Wolf’s own memories of how he first discovered ‘Kinek mondjam el vétkeimet’ are slightly different. “Remember that all of this happened more than thirty years ago,” Wolf smiles. “Your memory can play tricks on you! I guess we’ll never know if Szilveszter’s version or mine is the correct one. As far as I recall, the song first came to my attention when I was on the selection jury for the Hungarian pre-selection for the Eurovision Song Contest. Hundreds and hundreds of songs had been submitted. There was to be an open selection programme shown on television, exactly as it should be. I was part of the jury going through all songs to determine which fifteen would be picked for that final. It was a rather small group of people, no more than five or six; apart from me, Miklós Malek was also in it.”

“The selection was done based on sheet music only,” Wolf continues. “There were no demos. Somehow, I opened the score of ‘Kinek mondjam el vétkeimet’ first, and when I read through it, I told Miki and the others loudly, ‘Stop searching, because the winner is in my hands!’ I had never heard of the songwriter and we didn’t know who was going to sing it, but there was something unique in that score. It obviously wasn’t a mainstream tune; not a song type with predictable harmonies. I liked it a lot instantly. We were all surprised to find such an unconventional piece among the material which had been sent to Hungarian television.”

“For the Hungarian final, Miklós and I were the two conductors. In the old days of the Táncdalfestival, the main popular music festival in Hungary in the 1960s and 1970s, there had usually been two different conductors who each led the orchestra for half of the participating entries – and in 1994, that same system was chosen. I had never conducted in the Táncdalfestival in the old days, but I had taken part as a composer and arranger. For the 1994 selection, Miklós and I were the logical choice to take care of the conducting job. Arrangers for pop songs had come and gone in Hungary, but we were the two main guys who had stayed around until the 1990s. You might have thought we were each other’s rivals, but that was not the case. There was always plenty of work for both of us; and moreover, we’ve always been very good friends.”

“The core of the orchestra formed by Miklós and me for the Hungarian final consisted of the musicians of the Radio Dance Orchestra; a rhythm section with three saxophones, two trumpets, and two trombones. We added string players, most of whom usually played at the opera, and an extra guitarist and a percussionist. We then randomly subdivided the songs which were accompanied by the orchestra among the two of us; and as it happened, ‘Kinek mondjam el vétkeimet’ ended up in my hands. We wrote the arrangements for the songs which hadn’t come with an orchestration, but in the case of ‘Kinek mondjam el vétkeimet’, the arrangement was already there. The composer, Szilveszter Jenei, had written a very small orchestration of guitar, oboe, and a little bit of strings in the background. As far as I recall, I simply used that score for the Hungarian final, without any additional elements. Szilveszter played the guitar on the podium and he took an oboe player with him. All I had to do was conduct the string section of the orchestra.”

Songwriter Szilveszter Jenei with Friderika at the 1994 Táncdalfestival in Budapest

“The song and the arrangement were beautiful, but the real surprise of that Hungarian final was Friderika. I don’t know where she came from. She was an absolute debutante. Her stage presence was completely natural, which really lifted the song an extra level. Examining the results of the final, it turns out that the songs which finished second and third in the voting came quite close to the number of points gathered by ‘Kinek mondjam el vétkeimet’, but this song was the best in the competition, hands down; composition, performance, everything. I don’t even remember any other entry which took part that night.”

“It had been predetermined that whoever conducted the winning song in the Hungarian final would also be the conductor of the song in Dublin… so I was that lucky person. For the large orchestra in Ireland, I rearranged the song a little bit, but with all due respect to Szilveszter’s original approach, which had been very successful in the national final in Budapest. The strength of the song lay in its romantic simplicity. It would have been stupid to kill that. As an arranger, I’m a servant, not an inventor; it’s your job to support the composer’s imagination. There were just some additional strings and timpani here and there, but nothing more; it was a bit like chamber music – really subtle and beautiful. Interestingly, Szilveszter Jenei is an accomplished musician and he wrote a lot of songs in his life, but none of them was even nearly as successful as this one.”

“Before arriving in Dublin, I made a private trip to Glasgow, where my son was studying on a scholarship at that time. I had never been to Scotland before; and not to Ireland either. I liked Dublin instantly; a warm, welcoming city. I thought that my English was pretty good, but speaking to the Irish in the street I had to think again! Their accent was pretty much unintelligible to me. In Dublin, I met the rest of the Hungarian delegation, which was very small; apart from Friderika and Szilveszter, there were just a couple of people from Hungarian television, including my good friend István Vago, who did the television commentary. Apart from the job we were supposed to be doing, István and I were some kind of impromptu translators for our delegation, as we were the only two able to make ourselves understandable in English; but István more so than me. Being the son of a diplomat, he spoke many languages perfectly.”

“The atmosphere in Dublin was even better than I had expected. There was little or no rivalry between the delegations from the various countries; it was a nice gathering of musicians from all corners of the continent, hanging out together in a very relaxed way. Furthermore, the Irish organisation was absolutely perfect. I found the orchestra well prepared; they played our score flawlessly from the start.”

Friderika backstage in Dublin

“In rehearsals, each country was allowed exactly half an hour on stage. This meant you never had to wait, which was something I wasn’t used to from my experiences in Hungarian television or elsewhere. In the days when I toured internationally with Tamás Hacki and Ex Antiquis, I remember one time when we did a performance for Spanish television. We told the crew we needed a chair. Then they started telling each other that they had to get a chair, but nobody did anything. In the end, I went backstage and got myself the chair I needed. In Dublin, such things didn’t happen. Everything ran smoothly. After the rehearsal, you were taken to a room where you could watch a video of the performance to comment on things that required attention. The next rehearsal, you found that everything you had mentioned to them had been fixed to perfection.”

“The Irish were really good hosts. Just after arriving at the hotel, I told someone that swimming is a fixed part of my morning routine in Hungary… and the next day, I was told that I could go to the in-house swimming pool of the Guinness Beer Brewery in Dublin if I wanted to. Every day between 9 and 10am, that pool was mine and mine alone! Before that time, there was a class of school children who were given swimming lessons, and after I had come out, there was another class waiting to get into the water. While waiting for the taxi to take me back to the hotel, I was always offered a pint of Guinness. I usually drink wine instead of beer, but on that occasion, I was glad to make an exception. You can’t help but love the Irish, can you?”

“Don’t forget that ‘Riverdance’ was the interval act in this edition of the Eurovision Song Contest. I watched all those dancers practising their performance in rehearsals. I’m not exaggerating when I say that they were the most memorable part of that festival. Having first seen them while rehearsing, I called my wife and urged her not to forget to record the programme on video because of this incredible dance show. ‘You haven’t seen anything like it in your life,’ I told her. Really, I was completely blown away by them – a bit like that time when I was in New York with Ex Antiquis in 1971 and saw Jesus Christ Superstar being performed on Broadway. Later in 1994, I took my family to London just to see ‘Riverdance’ again; and the year after we saw them again in a show in Germany. I’m a fan; the music, the dancing, it’s all so passionate, so wonderful. I’m proud to have been there in Dublin when that show was born.”

“I didn’t just stay in the auditorium to watch the rehearsals of the interval act; I also listened to the other songs. Having heard all of them, I was sure that Friderika would finish in the first five. Friderika was just so likeable; a very friendly, accessible girl-next-door with a special talent. She brought a natural naivety to the stage which fitted the song perfectly. She was a star without knowing she was one. During press conferences, the journalists ate out of her hands, simply because she had an aura around her. There are artists trying their whole lives to create a natural stage presentation without ever managing; but Friderika, who had no experience at all, just stood there and did it. The charisma was there from the start.”

Friderika rehearsing on the Eurovision stage in Dublin

When asked about her memories of Péter Wolf in Dublin, Friderika herself told us in 2007, “Péter managed to give me a lot of confidence in a very nice way; the night before the contest, all members of the Hungarian delegation took part in a bet in which they all guessed the place that I would get. Péter was the only one to predict that I would land a spot among the first five. For me, this was a real morale boost at that time!”

“Mind you, I wasn’t the only one who believed that she could do well in the voting,” Wolf himself stresses, “but I may have been the first one to express my confidence in her. The girl was amazing. The most striking thing was that she didn’t seem to be nervous. Given that she was so inexperienced, she may not have realised what happened to her. When I had placed that bet, my friend István Vago took me apart and said, ‘Péter, let’s hope we won’t win, because that would mean we will be kicked out of the competition. The annual budget of Hungarian television isn’t enough to finance such an international contest!’

“On the night of the contest, I was a bit nervous – but on a healthy level. It’s part of our profession to feel a little bit worried when you’re about to go on stage. You never know how an audience will respond. My overriding emotion, though, was pride. In Hungary, we had been watching the contest for decades; now to be in it as a participant was a big step. As I stood there in front of the orchestra, I couldn’t help thinking of my friend Miki Malek. I wish I could have shared this proud moment with him. Given that songs in the Hungarian selection had been randomly subdivided among the two of us, the chances of each of us of making it to Dublin were fifty percent. It was plain luck that this wonderful song ended up with me; it could just as well have been his. That’s life.”

“Friderika gave a wonderful performance; the same as she had done back in Budapest and in rehearsals in Dublin. On stage, she was completely reliable; her performance was never better, never worse; always simply good, very good. As you may remember, the first three countries to vote (Sweden, Finland, and Ireland – BT) all gave our song the maximum; 12 points. Backstage, I was sitting with Friderika and Szilveszter; and we were just looking at each other and saying, ‘Jesus, it would be a disaster if we win!’ We were genuinely worried, you know! In the end, we were happy to finish in fourth place. It was just perfect. Until the present day, it’s the best result Hungary has ever managed in the Eurovision Song Contest.”

Szilveszter Jenei (far left) and Friderika receiving the 1994 Emerton Award, bestowed on them in honour of their Eurovision achievement, from the hands of the Head of Hungarian Radio's Music Department, Imre Kiss, while his deputy Vilmos Körmendi is looking on

“For me, that festival in Dublin was a special occasion for more than one reason. I didn’t know anything about it, but as it turned out, the members of the Irish orchestra had held a poll who their favourite conductor was… and I was voted in first place! After the show was over, two very attractive ladies from the string group came looking for me backstage, giving me a flower as a token of their appreciation. I don’t have a clue why they chose me… perhaps because I’m always being polite, never raising my voice? I never try to push an orchestra in a direction they’re not willing to go themselves. As you can imagine, I felt surprised, but honoured at the same time.”

“When we came back to Budapest, there was a press conference at the airport with Friderika, Szilveszter Jenei, and me. At that meeting, I told the journalists that Friderika could be an international star, if a group of professionals could be found to surround her and organise her life as an artist. At the time, she had just Szilveszter and nobody else. I added that the project would fail without such a group of people around her… and unfortunately that’s exactly what happened. At the time, artists’ management was unknown in Hungary. Friderika made a couple of more albums, but they never had the impact of her Eurovision song, which was a huge success in Hungary. She joined the Pentecostal church and hosts a religious radio show nowadays. Some years ago, she called to invite me to do an interview on her show, which I was happy to do. She’s just as kind as she used to be. Occasionally, she still sings, but only in her church. That’s all wonderful, but it’s not the career that I had imagined for her. With her personality, she could have achieved a lot more. I don’t think Friderika regrets it. The truth is that she is a happy person – and that is more important than anything else.”

In 1997, Péter Wolf had a second go as a conductor in the Eurovision Song Contest. On that occasion, the festival was held once again in Dublin’s Point Theatre, the exact same location where he had enjoyed such success as Hungary’s conductor three years previously. Hungary was represented by boyband V.I.P. and their ballad ‘Miért kell, hogy elmenj?’, which finished twelfth in a field of entries from 25 competing nations.

“The memories I have of this second Eurovision I did are far less specific,” Wolf comments when asked about the 1997 contest. “For a start, I had had no part in the Hungarian final. I wasn’t in the selection committee, and although the Radio Dance Orchestra still existed, it wasn’t involved in that year’s final. All songs were performed to backing tracks. After V.I.P. had won the national selection, I was asked to write an orchestration to their song. I don’t even remember who asked me. Possibly it was Viktor Rakonczai, the leading member of the group and one of the songwriters. I had never met him before. The song wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t say I liked it. It’s more accurate to say that I didn’t hate it. I’m not interested in this type of plastic music. I had a meeting with Viktor and asked him what he had in mind. Honestly speaking, though, it wasn’t a difficult question what to do with the song. Nothing intricate; just some soft strings in the background, written in a way which was as simple as possible.”

V.I.P. at their Eurovision press conference in Dublin, from left - Alex Józsa, Gergõ Rácz, Viktor Rakonczai, and Imre Rakonczai

“Coming to Dublin, I found the organisation of the festival was just as magnificent as it had been in 1994. Perhaps the best thing about the Irish is that they are friendly in all circumstances. That’s a huge bonus when you’re hosting such a colossal event. Still, the feeling of being there was totally different than with Friderika. The 1994 festival had been one big adventure for me. Now, it felt like a business trip. I was doing a job and I was trying to accomplish it to the best of my ability, but the excitement just wasn’t there. The four guys in V.I.P. were quite good singers and the song wasn’t bad, but there was nothing which made the performance stand out; unlike Friderika and her song, this was just mediocre. I don’t remember having high expectations or feeling excited about the voting. If we had come first or last, it wouldn’t have made much difference to me.”

“One of the reasons why I felt less excited was certainly the fact that I now had to work with a backing track. The only element in the music which was performed live were the strings which I had written. I was wearing headphones and there was a click track. With Friderika, everything had been live, even Szilveszter’s guitar on stage. That’s how it should be, because I hate all artificiality in music. Working with a backing track in a concert is exactly the same as going to a theatre and being shown a movie on a big screen instead of watching actors perform a play on that stage in front of you. Theatre-going audiences wouldn’t accept it. In Las Vegas, all music shows are performed completely live with a real orchestra. There were plans to work with backing tracks at some point, but at that point artists like Barbra Streisand stood up and said that they refused to perform in such a way. I really don’t understand why artists and audiences in the Eurovision Song Contest accept working with tracks without even raising their voice against it.”

“Visiting the rehearsals of the other countries in 1997, I was also struck how similar many of the songs in the competition sounded. Three years before, this wasn’t the case. You could sense the world of music was changing. The contest was becoming more and more commercial. Songwriters were starting to write music which fitted a certain mould. Our entry certainly was an example of this… and you know what surprised me most? In Dublin, Viktor Rakonczai and I had long conversations about music. I found that he was an accomplished musician. Shortly after we had returned home, he brought me some of his unreleased compositions, which were absolutely wonderful – well written, with beautiful strings to them. I then asked him why he didn’t publish such excellent songs. The answer he gave me startled me. He explained that radio stations wouldn’t play them. Except for classical music stations, today’s radio is about nothing else than commercial pop music. It really worries me that young colleagues of mine, young composers, no longer have a podium to showcase their real songwriting talent the way that I and my contemporaries used to have in our time.”

As it happened, fourteen years after his participation as a performer in the Dublin contest, this same Viktor Rakonczai, who had meanwhile become Hungary’s most successful composer and producer of pop songs, wrote ‘What About My Dreams’, the song with which Péter Wolf’s daughter Kati represented her country at the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest in Düsseldorf. 

V.I.P. on the 1997 Eurovision stage in Dublin

“Speaking about my daughter brings me to a funny analogy,” Wolf smiles. “When she was a young girl attending the music academy, I believed she would be an opera singer, but in the end she did to me what I had done to my father back in the 1960s; in spite of receiving a classical education, she turned to popular music – which I was disappointed about, because I know how good a singer she really is. Initially, she had a regular job (as an air-hostess – BT), but later she formed a band with which she started performing at wedding parties. In 2010, she decided to enter the Hungarian X Factor, which brought her fame. People loved her, a mother of two who could still have a career in showbusiness. The following year, she was invited to represent Hungary at the Eurovision Song Contest.”

“When Kati went to Düsseldorf, I accompanied her. Very good friends of mine live in Düsseldorf and my wife and I were their guests for the week. We also attended the contest to see Kati perform her song. She was one of the favourites to win the competition. When she was on stage, it seemed as if the whole audience of 24,000 people was singing along with her. Her song was clever, very commercial. On the night, I was convinced that she would win the contest. In the end, it didn’t work out that way. I think politics played its part in this. One day before the final, Kati received a text message from Prime Minister Orbán, ‘Hajrá, Kati!’ (or in English, ‘Come on, Kati!’ – BT). Already at that time, Orbán was very unpopular in other parts of Europe. People may not have wanted Hungary to win the contest for that reason.”

“Attending the event in Düsseldorf, I could see with my own eyes how much the contest had changed since the days when I was in it. The atmosphere in the hall in Germany was fantastic, but it was more like going to a football match than attending a concert. It was so loud that I wish I had brought earplugs. The volume was just unbearable. Of course, all music is now being played from a playback tape; and what’s more, whichever country you represent, you can sing in English. I find that very alienating. Eurovision has turned into the music equivalent of junk food; that’s junk music. The show around it has become more important than artistic values. I don’t watch it every year, simply because I’m not interested in a large show. Even when I worked as a studio musician writing arrangements to commercial pop songs, I was in it because I enjoy working on good music. Of course, also in my day, pop music was always partly about art and partly about business – but at least the artistic factor was taken into account. Nowadays, unfortunately, it’s just about business and nothing else. Just switch on your radio and you’ll note that you’ll hear nothing else than songs with a heavy beat. It’s just very sad.”

“Just to give you an example; whenever Kati has the opportunity to do intimate concerts with live musicians, she often sings old songs that I once composed for other artists in the 1960s and 1970s. Audiences always appreciate those performances, but if she wants to stay on the surface in the media, she doesn’t stand a chance other than with upbeat, danceable tracks in the same vein as her Eurovision entry. ‘What About My Dreams’ is still her most popular song. She continues to receive invitations to perform it at Eurovision parties across the country. It was a huge hit in Hungary – in fact the biggest hit in the past fifteen years.”

Péter Wolf with his daughter Kati at the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest in Düsseldorf

“Nowadays, there is still an annual song contest being held in Hungary (called A Dal – BT), but the winner does not go to Eurovision any longer. It’s not a matter that keeps me awake at night, but the reasoning behind Hungary’s withdrawal from the competition is depressing. Our authorities, the politicians in power in my country, Orbán and his Fidesz party, are convinced that the Eurovision Song Contest nowadays is essentially about promoting homosexuality. That is why they deny it; of course, it’s not a Christian thing, it’s the devil. ‘We shouldn’t go there.’ Unfortunately, that’s how the moral compass of those in power in Hungary works.”

“Looking back on my two Eurovision participations, I don’t think they were all that important events for me personally. They didn’t put my career in a different direction. By that time, in the 1990s, I had turned to composing classical works and music for theatre. Although I hardly ever wrote arrangements for pop productions any longer, I was asked to do Eurovision because people were aware that I knew how to work with an orchestra. Still, that first contest with Friderika in 1994 was a proud moment and a nice memory.”

OTHER ARTISTS ABOUT PÉTER WOLF

Tamás Hacki, Péter’s long-time colleague of Ex Antiquis, comments, “Péter isn’t only a talented musician, but a gifted entertainer and stage personality as well. Since 1969, we have performed together in over three thousand concerts. He has been an agreeable and reliable friend with an indomitable sense of humour: he knows every facet of irony, sarcasm and satire – which can sometimes be recognised in his arrangements, too. Péter is quite unbeatable as a musical director during studio recordings; not least because of his psychological and organisational qualities, he always succeeds in bringing the best out of symphony orchestras and jazz and pop artists alike.” (2008)

Szilveszter Jenei, composer of ‘Kinek mondjam el vétkeimet’ worked with Péter Wolf for the first time in 1994, “I made the original arrangement for the song, and that was the basis for Péter’s orchestration in Dublin. He did a great job; I was very satisfied with the music. Furthermore, since neither Friderika nor I speak English very well, he acted as our interpreter in Dublin. He is a gentleman and one of the best musicians and composers in Hungary.” (2008)

With Friderika Bayer in 2018, 24 years after their shared Eurovision experience in Ireland

EUROVISION INVOLVEMENT YEAR BY YEAR

Country – Hungary
Song title – “Kinek mondjam el vétkeimet”
Rendition – Friderika Bayer
Lyrics – Szilveszter Jenei
Composition – Szilveszter Jenei
Studio arrangement – Szilveszter Jenei
Live orchestration – Szilveszter Jenei / Péter Wolf
Conductor – Péter Wolf
Score – 4th place (122 votes)


Country – Hungary
Song title – “Miért kell, hogy elmenj?”
Rendition – V.I.P. (Alex Józsa / Gergõ Rácz / Imre Rakonczai / Viktor Rakonczai)
Lyrics – Krisztina Bokor Fekete / Attila Környei
Composition – J. Gabor / Sandor Józsa / Viktor Rakonczai
Studio arrangement – Gergõ Rácz / Viktor Rakonczai
Live orchestration – Péter Wolf
Conductor – Péter Wolf
Score – 12th place (39 votes)


SOURCES & LINKS
  • Bas Tukker did an interview with Péter Wolf (and Miklós Malek); this interview was previously published in the Dutch language under the title ‘De beste dirigent van het songfestival’, in: EA-Nieuws (2008-2009, no. 1), the magazine of Eurovision Artists
  • Bas Tukker did a second interview with Péter Wolf using a video connection, January 2024
  • A playlist of Péter Wolf’s music can be accessed by clicking this YouTube link
  • Heartfelt thanks to Friderika Bayer, Tamás Hacki, and Szilveszter Jenei for their additional comments about Péter Wolf (2007-08)
  • Photos courtesy of Péter Wolf, Szilveszter Jenei, and Ferry van der Zant
  • Thanks to Mark Coupar for proofreading the manuscript
WEBSITE

1 comment: