© Keith Saunders
In the years since Vladimir Ashkenazy first came to prominence on the world stage in the 1955 Chopin Competition in Warsaw he has built an extraordinary career, not only as one of the most renowned and revered pianists of our times, but as an artist whose creative life encompasses a vast range of activities and continues to offer inspiration to music-lovers across the world.
Conducting has formed the largest part of his activities for the past 20 years and, following on from his period as Chief Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic from 1998 to 2003, Ashkenazy took up the position of Music Director of NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo in September 2004. In Autumn 2005 he completed his second highly successful European tour with them, including a televised concert at the Vienna Musikverein which marked the orchestra’s debut in this prestigious venue. Their regular work in Tokyo has included several television broadcasts and special programmes, such as a commemoration in Spring 2006 of Toru Takemitsu, a composer whom Ashkenazy greatly admires – and in homage to whom he directed Riverrun from the keyboard in this concert. After a short visit to Seoul in June 2006 they undertook a major tour of the United States including Disney Hall in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston and Carnegie Hall in New York.
Alongside his position with the NHK Symphony Orchestra, Ashkenazy continues to have a warm and rewarding relationship with the Philharmonia Orchestra as their Conductor Laureate. In addition to his performances with the orchestra in London and around the UK each season, he tours with them worldwide, and has developed landmark projects such as Prokofiev and Shostakovich Under Stalin in 2003 (a project which he also took to Cologne, New York, Vienna and Moscow) and Rachmaninoff Revisited in 2002 at the Lincoln Center, New York.
Ashkenazy also holds the positions of Music Director of the European Union Youth Orchestra, with whom he tours each year, and Conductor Laureate of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. He maintains strong links with a number of other major orchestras with whom he has built special relationships over the years, including the Cleveland Orchestra (of whom he is a former Principal Guest Conductor), San Francisco Symphony and Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin (Chief Conductor and Music Director 1988-96), as well as making guest appearances with many other major orchestras around the world.
While conducting takes up a significant portion of his time each season, Ashkenazy continues to devote himself to the piano, directing Mozart and Beethoven concertos from the keyboard in performances in Europe and Asia, and continuing to build his extraordinarily comprehensive recording catalogue with releases such as the 1999 Grammy award-winning Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues, Rautavaara’s Piano Concerto No. 3 (a work which he commissioned) and Rachmaninov Transcriptions. Most recently released is his recording of that most challenging and enriching of works, Bach's Wohltemperierte Klavier.
Beyond his hectic and fulfilling performing schedule, Ashkenazy continues to be involved in some fascinating TV projects, often inspired by his passionate drive to ensure that serious music continues to have a platform in the mainstream media and is made available to as broad an audience as possible. Many will remember the extraordinary Ashkenazy in Moscow programmes which marked his first visit in 1989 to the country of his birth since leaving the USSR in the 1960s. More recently he has developed educational programmes with NHK TV including the 1999 Superteachers working with inner-city London school children, and in 2003-04 a documentary based around his Prokofiev and Shostakovich Under Stalin project.
First Part – The Early Years
Maturity and silence
A film by Christopher Nupen