His œuvre to date is mainly classed by the music critics as belonging to the pioneering, experimental branch of contemporary Hungarian music. Nevetheless, sensuous beauty of sound plays important role in his music. Serei’s most important experiences as a performer, too—works by Schönberg, Webern, Stravinsky, Bartók, Varèse, Boulez, Stockhausen, Cage and Feldman—have had considerable influence not only on his compositional techniques but also on what s become for him an essential creative requirement, that methods are merely aids for organizing musical ideas.
Apart his two operas, his œuvre has comprised mainly instrumental and vocal chamber or solo compositions so far. His scores are characterized by refinement of sound, subtle tone colouring and a rich variety of moods, and he likes to make use of aphoristically concise small forms, in which a major role is played by the logic of the thematic and motivic construction and the balance created in the sound system of the given work.
Zsolt Serei was born on April 3, 1954, in Takácsi, in western Hungary.
In 1973-1978 he studied composition with Endre Szervánszky and Emil Petrovics at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, than he also graduated in conducting as a pupil of Endre Szervánszky and Emil Petrovics in 1982. In addition he studied privately under Zoltán Jeney and Albert Simon.
From 1978 to 1990 he was member of the Budapest–based New Music Studio. He took part in the ensemble’s concerts as an instrumental performer, as conductor and as a composer.
Since 1986 he has taught in the Composition Department at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music.
In 1989 he founded the Componensemble instrumental group, which - during its two decades long activity - was one of the most important base of Hungarian contemporary music performances.
The Hungarian premieres given by the Componensemble have included those of Eclat/Multiples by Pierre Boulez, What is the word by György Kurtág, and For Samuel Beckett, Routine investigation and For Frank O’Hara by Morton Feldman’s. Apart from chamber works by 20th–century classics such as Berio, Boulez, Xenakis and others, the ensemble’s repertoire predominantly features contemporary Hungarian music. As director of the Componensemble Zsolt Serei has made many radio and TV recordings of compositions by Hungarian contemporary composers.
In 1991 he conducted the Dutch Niew Ensemble in works by Pierre Boulez.
His works Rege (1982 in Brussel) and his Calyx (1986 in Budapest) were performed at the program of the ISCM Festivals.
In 1999, his chamber opera One-Minute Stories (Egypercesek) based on short stories by István Örkény was premiered at the Budapest Autumne Festival.
Artisjus-prize with Comonensemble (several times) for the outstanding performances of new Hungarian Music; Soros Foundation Prize (1999); Erkel Prize (2003); Artisjus prize (2003); Bartók-Pásztory Award (2010)