Kertész was born in Budapest. His family were Jewish. His father was director at a leather factory. When his father died of appendicitis in 1938, his mother had to go out to work to earn money. It was not easy at the time for women in Hungary to find work, but she was successful. István started to learn the violin when he was six, and after a few years he started learning the piano as well.
When the Nazis invaded Hungary during World War II his family had to hide. Most of them were found and taken to Auschwitz where they died. In spite of the terrible situation István’s mother encouraged him to keep practising music. After the war he graduated from school and went to the Royal Academy of Music (now the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, where he studied violin, piano, and composition. Zoltán Kodály was one of his teachers. He soon became interested in conducting, and learned a lot from Bruno Walter, and Otto Klemperer, then the director of the Budapest Opera.
From 1953 to 1955, István Kertész conducted at Györ, and the Budapest Opera orchestra. After the 1956 uprising in Hungary he and his family left their country and went to Germany. He settled there and took German nationality.
Kertész became conductor at Augsburg (1958-1963) and then at Cologne. He first appeared in Britain in 1960 with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and then with the London Symphony Orchestra. He first conducted in America in 1961, touring with the Hamburg RSO. He conducted at Covent Garden in 1965, and then took over from Pierre Monteux as conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.
Kertész had a very large repertoire and conducted nearly all of the world’s great orchestras. He conducted many operas, and was especially fond of the music of Bartok, Henze, Stravinsky and Britten. He gave the first Vienna performance of Britten’s War Requiem and the first performance in Germany of his opera Billy Budd. He made many recordings.
- New Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie; 1980; Template:Catalog lookup linkScript error: No such module "check isxn".
- Istvan Kertesz Biography at Decca Records