The Hungarian pianist, Sari Biro, showed her talent for the piano already at the age of 4, and began piano lessons privately at the age of 6. Her first professional engagements were performances for the neighbors, and she was amply paid in candy. She soon began lessons at Budapest’s Fodor Music School with Gyorgy Kalman, who had studied with a pupil of Franz Liszt. At 13, she performed the Frédéric Chopin’s E minor Concerto with the Royal Opera House Orchestra, Istvan Kerner conducting. Biro was awarded a scholarship to the Franz Liszt Royal Academy of Music, and received an Artist Diploma in 1930, at the age of 20. Of her graduation recital, Budapest’s Pesti Naplo wrote, “She is a fully independent talent, whose artistic taste, lofty imagination and virtuosity secure her a distinguished place (among) the great pianists.”
Sari Biro was heard throughout Europe in recitals and with orchestras in Berlin, London, Warsaw, Rome, Milan, Amsterdam, The Hague, Zürich, Stockholm, Salzburg, Prague, Paris, and Vienna. She was also frequently featured on Hungarian Radio’s broadcasts, but the recordings of these performances were destroyed during World War II.
Sari Biro immigrated to the USA in 1939 and gave her debut recital in New York on May 6, 1940. The critics were unanimous in their praise, and these reviews launched her American career. The New York Times wrote, “Sari Biro…must be reckoned among the foremost women exponents of the keyboard….” Soon after, she was a soloist in J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy. In the ensuing years, Biro played hundreds of recitals in the USA, Europe, South America, Mexico, and Cuba; and was soloist with numerous orchestras. New York’s WABF, the first commercial radio station to broadcast live classical music on FM, inaugurated these broadcasts with 13 weekly live recitals by Biro. In 1949, she performed nine piano concerti in three consecutive programs at Carnegie Hall, the only woman to do so. She gave the New York premiere of the Milhaud’a Concerto No. 2 and Leó Weiner’s Concertino. Previously that year, the U.S. State Department named her the “most distinguished new citizen of the year.”
Subsequently, Sari Biro appeared on television in New York, and presented a series of thirteen live programs on San Francisco’s Public Television station KQED. In the scripts she wrote for these telecasts, she discussed the works she played and explained her teaching philosophy. In the mid-1950s, the U.S. State Department sponsored her on a tour of German cities. For the next two decades, Biro performed in Europe, Asia, and the USA, and was invited by Indiana University’s School of Music to give master-classes. She played her last New York recital at Tully Hall in 1972, and her last public recitals in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1980.
Sari Biro continued to teach privately until August 1990, passionate about transmitting to future generations of pianists the knowledge acquired from a life-long study of music, and the wisdom derived from her years of performing.
She championed both early and contemporary music, performing Giancarlo Menotti Darius Milhaud, Leó Weiner (with whom she had studied in Budapest) and, of course, Béla Bartók, who admired her interpretations of his works. She also made the first recording by a woman of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition in 1951. In contrast to her fragile appearance, her playing was powerful and commanding, and the elan and sense of communication in her performances made her a powerful advocate of the neglected music that she championed.
The Sari Biro Memorial Award was established in 1995 at the Franz Liszt Music Academy in Budapest, Hungary. The award is given each March 24 (Mme. Biro's birthday) in the form of a monetary prize to an outstanding young piano student at the academy.