San Diego's Ocean Beach

Professor Professes Passion to Professor

La Jolla Light, 2004
by Jim Kelly

"Today's our anniversary," Professor Janos Negyesy said, referring to his wife, Paivikki Nykter. "We've been married 11 years, six months and three days."

Negyesy's fondness of his time together with Nykter is a common thread in the fabric of their love for each other.

This love has made them inseparable in life, especially on the campus of U.C.S.D. where they are both professors in the music department.

"When Paivikki turned 40, János threw a surprise birthday party for her" another member of the department said. "It was almost impossible to do because she is always with him."

"But he did pull it off," Nykter admitted. "I was completely surprised. I don't know how he did it."

Negyesy came to La Jolla in 1979 after receiving an invitation to teach at U.C.S.D.

He received a phone call in Lisbon at 3 a.m. one morning asking him if he would join the Music Department and he asked, "Do you know what time it is?" He told them when they should call back and they did. However, he said he didn't want to teach.

In Europe, teaching is much different than in the U.S. Nykter explained.

It is much more focused on instructing students how to play and there isn't much emphasis on theory. "It is so specialized there and János had no interest in doing it," she said.

Negyesy also lacked enthusiasm over the offer because, when he was awakened from his sleep, he thought the person who called him said the position was in Santiago, not San Diego. "I had no interest in going to Chile," he said.

After 10 days of daily phone calls asking him to come to U.C.S.D., he finally relented and agreed to take the job on a temporary basis.

He explained his change of heart came after looking up information on San Diego in an old tourist guide from 1931. "It said San Diego had the best climate in the world... and hotel rooms were only one dollar per night."

He said the guide was slightly out of date but it was the best decision he ever made because he met Nykter in 1986, when she took a hiatus from her position as first chair in the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and came to San Diego to study with him.

According to Nykter, their first time playing together was perfect harmony.

"He was very reluctant to play with me because he didn't like the composer of the music I had selected. But he did play and it was beautiful.

We had instant rapport. It was amazing... absolutely like we were one. This is very difficult when you play the same instrument. Normally with a new teacher you have a little bit of grinding to do to get rid of the sharp edges but it was very natural from the beginning with János. This had never happened to me before.."

Negyesy fell in love with Nykter in the first moment he saw her. "She never said a word," he said. "But inside, I knew she felt the same way."

The two violinists were in perfect harmony on the music level but it took some time for them to reveal their personal feelings for one another.

Nykter went back to Norway after studying with Negyesy for a year. All her friends were there and she had her position with the orchestra, but thoughts of San Diego haunted her. "So I came back to study with János again," she said. "But because I'm a Finn, it wasn't easy for me to show the feelings I had for him."

Negyesy, however, was aware of how she felt. "I knew she would return," he said.

In addition to her shyness, Nykter said there were a number of things that should have made a personal relationship unlikely." János is older than me and we came from completely different backgrounds," she revealed.

Negyesy was born in Hungary in 1938 and his father was taken by the Nazis and put into a concentration camp. "He never came back," Negyesy said. In spite of the hardships of living under Nazi control, on Negyesy's fourth birthday, his family gave him a violin. He asked them, "What is this?"

"It's a violin," they said.

"So what do you do with it? he asked. They showed him and he immediately began playing the instrument.

Six months later he gave his first public concert at school. "There were about 450 students and they were absolutely quiet. After I played for a couple of minutes, they applauded the performance and I knew this was what I wanted to do in life."

In 1956, Negyesy watched Russian tanks roll into Budapest.

"Trucks were coming through the streets and all you had to do was climb on them. A lot of people tried to leave the country that way," he said. "But I didn't leave because I don't like to run."

Negyesy said his decision probably saved his life because the communists were killing people at the border.

Negyesy stayed behind the Iron Curtain for another eight years. In 1964 he received an invitation to study in Germany.

"I applied for a passport to go as a student," he said. I got it and on the night I arrived in Frankfort, two KGB agents in brown, leather coats came to my door and asked me for it. One of them put the passport in his pocket and they left."

Although Negyesy never discovered who called the authorities, he said it had to be one of his neighbors spying on him. But he was still determined to go.

"There were two types of passports issued from two different places," he explained. "One was for students and the other was for tourists. I took a chance and applied for a tourist passport, hoping they wouldn't check with the other authorities. His gamble worked and soon he found himself in Switzerland, where he was running out of money.

But his luck continued. "You could only take 20 Francs, the equivalent of $5 out of the country," he said. "I used the last of my money for an espresso and a pack of cigarettes."

While he was having his coffee a lady sitting with her husband at the next table asked him if anything was wrong. He told her he was out of money and couldn't even afford to call his new teacher to tell him where he was.

When he told her his teacher's name, the lady's husband said, "I know who he is. Here's $500 Francs and my card. You can pay me when you start working."

The man's generosity enabled Negyesy to complete his journey to Germany and started him on his way to becoming a world-class performer.

Nykter said what she loves most about Negyesy is his kindness.

This trait was tested once when he was giving a performance in Europe. "The city did a great job of promoting me," he said. "They even had large banners hung across the streets. On stage, the lights were so bright I couldn't see the audience but after I finished my first piece I heard only a couple of people clapping."

Negyesy walked to the front of the stage and looked out. There were six people in the audience. Instead of being upset, Negyesy continued with the concert with one alteration to the event.

"I invited them to come onstage and sit in some comfortable chairs they had there," he said. "It was a nice intimate performance and afterwards I took them all to dinner."

"He's always optimistic," Nykter said. "I believe he could walk through a mountain if he wanted to." She also revealed their time together has been wonderful. "I would not change one day if I could," she said.

One of the benefits of being in love with Negyesy, she admits, is living in La Jolla where she is able to teach at U.C.S.D. "It's a great school with wonderful students," she said. "There is no better place than here."

Negyesy also loves his work at U.C.S.D. He has embraced the electric violin and combines his musical performances with original computer art. "I came to teach for only one year and found it so enjoyable I stayed." he said.

As for his relationship with Nykter, Negyesy remains an optimist. When asked about what he thought about the future, he replied, "I can't wait for tomorrow."

On this question, Nykter was in full agreement. "It keeps getting better and better," she said.

Because of their reputation for creating beautiful music, Negyesy and Nykter have had dozens of compositions written for them by composers all over the world.

Collections of these works, performed by the two violinists can be purchased in the bookstore at U.C.S.D.

For more information, contact the UCSD music department at (858) 534-3230.