Tamás Vásáry was born in Debrecen, Hungary. He was a child prodigy, making his debut at age 8 with a performance of Mozart's concerto in D major, K. 107. He studied briefly with Ernö Dohnányi, and then, at 14, won the first prize in the international Franz Liszt competition. Vásáry studied at the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest with József Gat. Later at the Liszt Academy, Vásáry was an assistant to Zoltán Kodály, who was a mentor to the young pianist. Tamás Vásáry rose to fame as a virtuoso pianist from a Soviet-dominated Hungary, but flourished internationally in the 1960s and 1970s after his departure to the West.
In the 70s he toured the world, especially offering recitals in the USA.
In 1956, Vásáry fled Hungary after the revolt, and settled in Switzerland. His career flourished after his first recording (1958) and his debuts in London (1961) and New York (1962), thanks to which the name Vásáry was catapulted internationally.
Vásáry made his conducting debut in 1971, but received his first position in 1979, as co-artistic director of the Northern Symphony, until 1982. From 1989 to 1997, he was principal conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and since 1993 of the Symphony from Budapest.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Vásáry was also invited to conduct major orchestras in New York, Baltimore, Detroit, London, Paris, and Berlin. And in turn, he continued his career as a pianist.
In the 20th century, Vásáry has remained active, working with different artists or groups such as the Zoltán Kodály Youth Orchestra, which he founded in 2006.
As a pianist, Vásáry is best known for his renditions of Chopin, although he also gained recognition for his renditions of Rachmaninoff, Liszt, Brahms, Mozart, and Bach. As conductor Vásáry is known for his extensive repertoire, making several recordings with the Budapest Symphony Orchestra performing the full cycle of Beethoven symphonies, the Northern Symphony Orchestra with Chopin Concertos, and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta with works by Honegger and Respighi. Vásáry's recordings are available from DG, Chandos, Decca, Globo, Hungaroton, Supraphon, and Brilliant Classics.