Tamás Vásáry was born in Debrecen, Hungary, on August 11, 1933. He was a child prodigy, debuting at eight in a performance of the Mozart D major Concerto, K. 107. He briefly studied with Ernö Dohnányi and then, at 14, captured first prize at the 1948 Liszt Competition. Vásáry studied music in Budapest at the Franz Liszt Academy under Józef Gát. Later on at the Liszt Academy, Vásáry served as assistant to Zoltán Kodály, who mentored the young pianist. In 1956, the year of the failed Hungarian Revolt, Vásáry fled Hungary and settled in Switzerland. His career soon flourished: after his first recording (1958, on DG) and his debuts in London (1961) and New York (1962), Vásáry rose to international renown. Vásáry debuted as a conductor in 1971, but received his first appointment in 1979, as co-artistic director of the Northern Sinfonia, serving until 1982. From 1989-1997 Vásáry was principal conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and from 1993 served as music director of the Budapest Symphony Orchestra.
Throughout the 1980s and '90s, Vásáry also guest-conducted various ensembles, including the major orchestras of New York, Baltimore, Detroit, London, Paris, and Berlin. He also continued to appear as pianist, sometimes conducting from the keyboard. In the new century Vásáry has remained active, working with, among other artists and ensembles, the Zoltán Kodály World Youth Orchestra, which he founded in 2006.