Zsolt Hamar is a Hungarian conductor who in the 1990s showed great promise and strong signs of establishing a major international career. He began studying piano at the age of six, and by the time he was a teenager was already composing music. At the age of 14 he was accepted as a composition student at the Béla Bartók Conservatory in Budapest. For four years, his primary composition teacher was István Fekete-Györ.
On graduation in 1987, he entered the Franz (Ferenc) Liszt Academy of Music as a composition student of the eminent Hungarian composer and teacher Emil Petrovics. He won a prize in the Zoltán Kodály Composer Competition in Hungary and was commissioned to write music for the Zoltán Kodály State Foundation.
In 1991, he added conducting to his course of studies, with Ervin Lukács and Tamás Gál as his teachers. He rapidly distinguished himself. In 1992 he was appointed a conductor's assistant of the Academy's own symphony orchestra, working with conductors András Mihály and András Ligeti.
In 1993, he graduated with First Class Honors in music theory, and in 1994 with similar honors as a composer. At that point, he began to conduct widely in Hungary, leading the Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra, the Budapest Symphony Orchestra, the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra, the Budapest Concert Orchestra, the Hungarian Symphony Orchestra, the Savaria Symphony Orchestra, the Leo Weiner State Symphony Orchestra, the Duna Symphony Orchestra, and the Ernst (Ernö) von Dohnanyi Symphony Orchestras -- virtually every symphony orchestra in his homeland. He appeared abroad with the Tigu Mures (Rumania) Philharmonic Orchestra, the Cadaques Symphony Orchestra in Spain (where he won two prizes in the International Conductors' Competition there in 1996), and the Dortmund and the Berlin Symphonies in Germany.
In 1995, Hamar entered the entered the Eighth Hungarian Television International Conductors' Competition. This major event, organized to honor the deceased Hungarian master conductor Janos Ferencsik, is a hit item on European television. The public voted Hamar its Public Prize as the favorite conductor, while the jury awarded him Second Prize and the special prize for the best performance of a work by Béla Bartók.
Also in 1995, he was appointed artistic director of the Sonora Hungariaca Chamber Orchestra and Chief conductor of the Youth Symphony Orchestra of the Hungarian Radio. In the same year, he worked with the late Lord Yehudi Menuhin in the Gala Concert of the World Music Day. Afterwards, Menuhin wrote, "He is one of the most dynamic, precise, intelligent of young conductors I have heard."
In 1997, he received a number of conducting appointments in his homeland, joining the conducting staffs of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra, the Csokonai Theater of Debrecen, and the Hungarian State Opera, and became the First Permanent Conductor of the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra (the country's most prestigious) at the invitation of its co-founder and music director Zoltan Kocsis.
He recorded his first compact disc with the Hungarian National Philharmonic (a set of Liszt tone poems) for release in 1998, and in 1999 won another important international award, First Prize of the International Antonio Pedrotti Conductors' Competition in Trento, Italy. The win was followed by a number of engagements to conduct in Italy.
His repertory includes many major Hungarian and standard repertory works. Works he has conducted include Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, Erkel's opera Hunyadi Janos, and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. In November 1999, he conducted the world premiere of a piece written for him by his old composition teacher Emil Petrovics.