Hungarian-Canadian conductor János Sándor is a familiar name to consumers of budget-line CDs on the Laserlight and Delta labels, among others; he has also recorded for the flagship label of his home country, Hungaroton.
He often favored the Central European light music that has delighted audiences from the Strauss
family's time until the present, and thus has conducted performances of marches, dances, and works of national flavor that have been frequently anthologized. Sándor was born in Budapest, where he earned honors as a graduate of the Franz Liszt Academy of Music. While still a student he took third prize at the International Young Conductors Competition in Besançon, France. He paid his dues as a conductor of the regional Györ Philharmonic Orchestra and Opera Pecs in Hungary in the 1960s and early '70s, and in 1975 he became conductor of the Budapest State Opera. Hungarian musicians were somewhat freer than those from other East Bloc countries, but the degree to which Sándor was able to travel and make music in the West was somewhat unusual and perhaps resulted from his specialty in working with young musicians. In Hungary he was a co-founder of the youth orchestra Jeunesses Musicales and conductor of an international music camp organized around the orchestra in Pecs. That led to guest conducting engagements at international youth orchestra festivals in Switzerland, Scotland, and, as early as 1974, Canada, where he was featured at the first Festival of Canadian Youth Orchestras in Alberta. By the late '80s Sándor was comfortably ensconsed at the top levels of Hungarian musical life: his recordings of Bartók
with the Budapest Philharmonic
on Hungarton, undertaken as part of the label's complete edition of the composer's music, were internationally praised and awarded, and from 1986 to 1989 he served as head of the music department at Budapest's Academy of Drama and Film. In 1991, however, he moved to Canada. He landed guest conducting engagements with the Victoria Symphony Orchestra
, the CBC Vancouver Orchestra
, the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra
, and other ensembles in the western regions of both Canada and the U.S. Soon he was able to exploit his enthusiasm for working with young players: he was made artist-in-residence at British Columbia's University of Victoria and then music director and conductor of its symphony orchestra. Sándor became music director of the Greater Victoria Youth Orchestra in 1998 and has conducted youth ensembles in other parts of Canada, as well. In 2000 he directed musicians of all ages in the first performance of Mahler
's Symphony No. 8 in E flat major, "Symphony of a Thousand," ever mounted on Vancouver Island. He has maintained musical connections in Hungary and holds the title of Music Director Emeritus of the Györ Philharmonic. Sándor and his violinist wife, Maria, live in Victoria, British Columbia. As of 2009 he continued to serve as conductor of the University of Victoria Orchestra.