László Tihanyi was born in Budapest on 21 March 1956 and pursued musical studies at the Liszt Academy of Music, Budapest, where he studied composition with Rezső Sugár and conducting with András Kórodi. Since 1979 Tihanyi has himself been a professor at the Academy of Music, where he also acted as vice-rector between 2000 and 2005.
He regularly conducts at home and abroad, typically 20th century classical and contemporary programmes. He has appeared with all the major Hungarian orchestras and with significant European contemporary music ensembles such as the Ensemble Modern, Contrechamps and Musikfabrik. In 1991 he participated in the production of Maderna's Hyperion at the Festival d'Automne Paris and in the subsequent European tour. In 2002 Peter Eötvös asked him to be second conductor of his Three Sisters for the 2002 production in the Wiener Festwochen (Eötvös himself being first conductor). In 1985 Tihanyi founded his own instrumental ensemble, Intermodulation, dedicated to 20th and 21st century music, and has been its artistic director ever since.
Before his as yet greatest project, the opera Genitrix, Tihanyi composed mainly for orchestra and chamber ensembles. Commissions and requests included Irrlichtspiel, a chamber concerto for violin and ensemble in 1991 (for the Hungarian Radio), Summer Music for the Ensemble Contrechamps in 1992, l'Épitaph du Soldat, a sequel to Stravinsky's A Soldier's Tale, in 1994 for Radio France, and Serenata for four instruments in 1996 for "Rainbow over Bath"; Schattenspiel was composed in 1997 for the Forrás Chamber Music Workshop, and premiered by them in its original, four-movement version in the same year in Vienna. In 1998 the Swiss foundations Pro Helvetia and the Zuger Kulturstiftung Landis & Gyr commissioned Matrix for four hands. Atte was premiered in 1999 in Berlin by the UMZE Ensemble, which has toured it since in many countries. In 2002 Musikfabrik premiered Kosmos, a chamber concerto for piano four hands and ensemble. The next Hungarian RSO commission, Twenty Nightly Meditations for 8 soloists and orchestra with double strings, had its western hemisphere premiere in February 2007 at the Juilliard School, New York.
His first opera, Genitrix, based on the novel by François Mauriac and commissioned by the Opera de Bordeaux and the French State, received its premiere on 25 November 2007 in Bordeaux; in 2008 the performance toured to Budapest.