Vladimir Davidovich Ashkenazy (Russian: Владимир Давидович Ашкенази, Vladimir Davidovič Aškenazi; born July 6, 1937) is a Russian-Icelandic conductor and pianist. Since 1972 he has been a citizen of Iceland, his wife Þórunn's country of birth. In 1970, he helped to found the Reykjavík Arts Festival, of which he remains Honorary President. Since 1978, because of his many obligations in Europe, he and his family have resided in Meggen, near Lucerne in Switzerland. He is currently Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. His eldest son Vladimir (Vovka) is a pianist who performs with his father; his second son is clarinetist Dimitri Ashkenazy who has also performed with his father in Sydney and across Europe and Canada.
Ashkenazy was born in Gorky, Soviet Union (now Nizhny Novgorod, Russia), to the pianist and composer David Ashkenazi and to the actress Yevstolia Grigorievna, born Plotnova. His father was Jewish and his mother was the daughter of a family of Russian Orthodox peasants.
He began playing piano at the age of six and, showing prodigious talent, was accepted to the Central Music School at age eight studying with Anaida Sumbatyan. Ashkenazy went on to graduate from the Moscow Conservatory where he studied with Lev Oborin and Boris Zemliansky, winning second prize in the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1955 and the first prize in the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition in Brussels in 1956. He shared the first prize in the 1962 International Tchaikovsky Competition with British pianist John Ogdon. As a student, like many in that period, he was harassed by the KGB to become an "informer". He did not really cooperate, and despite pressures from the authorities, in 1961 married the Iceland-born Þórunn Jóhannsdóttir, who studied piano at the Moscow Conservatory. To marry Ashkenazy, Þórunn was forced to give up her Icelandic citizenship and declare that she wanted to live in the USSR.
After numerous bureaucratic procedures, the Soviet authorities several times agreed to the Ashkenazys to go to the West for musical performances and for visits to his parents-in-law with their first grandson, but in 1963 Ashkenazy decided to leave the USSR permanently, establishing residence first in London where his wife's parents lived.
Ashkenazy moved to Iceland with his wife in 1968 and became an Icelandic citizen in 1972. In 1978, the couple, with five children (Vladimir Stefan (Vovka), Nadia Liza, Dimitri Thor, Sonia Edda, and Alexandra Inga), moved to Switzerland.
He has recorded Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier; the complete 24 Preludes and Fugues of Shostakovich; the complete sonatas by Beethoven and Scriabin; the complete works for piano by Rachmaninoff, Chopin and Schumann; and seven of Liszt's 12 Transcendental Études. He has also recorded the piano concertos of Mozart (conducting from the keyboard with the Philharmonia Orchestra); Beethoven (with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Sir Georg Solti; with Zubin Mehta and the Vienna Philharmonic; and conducting from the piano with the Cleveland Orchestra); Brahms (No. 1 with Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra; and No. 2 with Bernard Haitink and the Vienna Philharmonic); Bartók (with Georg Solti and the London Philharmonic Orchestra); Prokofiev (with André Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra); and Rachmaninoff (with André Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra, and with Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra). In public performances, Ashkenazy was known for rejecting a tie and button shirt in favor of a white turtleneck; and for running (not walking) onstage and offstage to the piano. He has also performed and recorded chamber music.
Midway through his pianistic career, Ashkenazy branched into conducting. He has particularly been praised for his recordings of orchestral works by Sibelius, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Scriabin, Richard Strauss and Stravinsky.
He was the principal conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from 1987 to 1994 and was principal conductor of the Czech Philharmonic from 1998 to 2003. He became musical director of the NHK Symphony Orchestra in 2004.
Besides these positions, Ashkenazy is conductor laureate of the Philharmonia Orchestra, conductor laureate of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, and music director of the European Union Youth Orchestra, with which he performs regularly.
Ashkenazy has also appeared in several Christopher Nupen music films, conducting extracts from the composer profiled, including Ottorino Respighi and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and performing at the piano.
There has been a CD produced of his works named 'The Art of Ashkenazy', and a biography of Ashkenazy, 'Beyond Frontiers', has been published.
Awards and recognition
- 1955 International Chopin Piano Competition, Warsaw (Second prize)
- 1956 Queen Elisabeth Music Competition for piano, Brussels
- 1962 International Tchaikovsky Competition, Moscow
- 2000 Hanno R. Ellenbogen Citizenship Award, with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducting corps
- Current president of the Rachmaninoff Society.
- 1974 Beethoven: The Piano Concertos (Vladimir Ashkenazy, Sir Georg Solti & Chicago Symphony Orchestra)
- 1979 Beethoven: Sonatas for Violin and Piano (Itzhak Perlman & Vladimir Ashkenazy)
- 1982 Tchaikovsky: Piano Trio in A minor (Vladimir Ashkenazy, Itzhak Perlman, Lynn Harrell)
- 1988 Beethoven: The Complete Piano Trios (Vladimir Ashkenazy, Itzhak Perlman, Lynn Harrell)
- 1986 Ravel: Gaspard de la nuit; Pavane pour une infante défunte; Valses nobles et sentimentales
- 2000 Shostakovich: 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87
- Vladimir Ashkenazy. Encyclopædia Britannica.
- Reykjavík Arts Festival
- European Festivals Association. Efa-aef.eu. Retrieved on 2013-10-29.
- Ashkenazy – Still Russian to the core, The Independent, 3 October 2008 (retrieved 23 October 2008)
- Iceland Review Online: Daily News from Iceland, Current Affairs, Business, Politics, Sports, Culture. Icelandreview.com (2005-12-06). Retrieved on 2013-08-02.
- Ashkenazy, Vladimir. Enotes.com. Retrieved on 2013-10-29.
- Vladimir Ashkenazy. European Unions Youth Orchestra.
- Joyce Morgan; Paul Bibby (2007-04-12). "Maestro's star power a masterstroke for orchestra". The Sydney Morning Herald. p. 13. Retrieved 2007-04-12.
- Albert Grudziński (1955). "Competition V". IFCPC Official Site. Retrieved 2007-05-04.
- Ashkenazy, Vladimir; Parrott, Jasper (1985). Beyond Frontiers. New York: Atheneum. ISBN 0-689-11505-9.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Vladimir Ashkenazy.|
- Vladimir Ashkenazy at the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra
- Vladimir Ashkenazy at the Philharmonia Orchestra, London
- Piano Competitions & Music Competitions by Bakitone International
- An interview with Ashkenazy on Shostakovich
- Classical Archives Interview
- Vladimir Ashkenazy digitized photographs from the James Arkatov Collection held at UCLA Library Special Collections.
|Principal Conductor, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
|Music Director, NHK Symphony Orchestra
|Chief Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra
2009 – present