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. He was accepted to the Central Music School at age eight studying with Anaida Sumbatyan. Ashkenazy attended the Moscow Conservatory where he studied with Lev Oborin and Boris Zemliansky. He won 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, despite pressures from the authorities. In 1961 he married the Iceland-born Þórunn Jóhannsdóttir, who studied piano at the Moscow Conservatoire. 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 going to the West for musical performances and for visits to his parents-in-law with their first grandson. In his memoirs, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev recollects that Ashkenazy had married an Englishwoman [sic] and on a visit to London refused to go back to the Soviet Union. Khrushchev mentions that Ashkenazy then went to the Soviet Embassy in London and asked what to do, who in turn referred the matter to Moscow. Khrushchev claims to have been of the opinion that to require Ashkenazy to return to the USSR would have made him an 'Anti-Soviet'. He further claims that this was a good example of an artist being able to come and go in and out of the USSR freely, which Ashkenazy himself said was a gross "distortion of the truth" [clarification needed]. [Khrushchev Remembers, London 1971 p521] In 1963 Ashkenazy decided to leave the USSR permanently, establishing residence in London where his wife's parents lived.
The couple moved to Iceland in 1968 where, in 1972, Ashkenazy became an Icelandic citizen. In 1970 he helped to found the Reykjavík Arts Festival, of which he remains Honorary President. In 1978 the couple and their five children (Vladimir Stefan, Nadia Liza, Dimitri Thor, Sonia Edda, and Alexandra Inga) moved to Meggen, Switzerland, however he is currently residing in the small village of Pura in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. His eldest son Vladimir, nicknamed 'Vovka', is a pianist and his second son Dimitri is a clarinetist.
Ashkenazy has recorded a wide range of piano repertoire, both solo works and concerti. His recordings include:
- Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier
- 24 Preludes and Fugues of Shostakovich
- complete sonatas by Beethoven
- complete sonatas by Scriabin
- the complete works for piano by Rachmaninoff
- the complete works for piano by Chopin
- the complete works for piano by Schumann
His concerto recordings include:
- the piano concertos of Mozart (conducting from the keyboard with the Philharmonia Orchestra)
- three cycles of the Beethoven concerti
- 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)
- two cycles of the Rachmaninoff concerti
(a) with André Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra
(b) 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. In Europe, Ashkenazy was principal conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from 1987 to 1994, and of the Czech Philharmonic from 1998 to 2003. Ashkenazy is also conductor laureate of the Philharmonia Orchestra, conductor laureate of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, and music director of the European Union Youth Orchestra. In July 2013 he became director of the Accademia Pianistica Internazionale di Imola, succeeding its founder and director Franco Scala. His recordings as a conductor include complete cycles of the symphonies of Sibelius and of Rachmaninoff, as well as orchestral works of Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Scriabin, Richard Strauss, Stravinsky, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky.
In other media, Ashkenazy has also appeared in several films on music by Christopher Nupen. He has also made his own orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky's piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition (1982). There has been a CD produced of his works named 'The Art of Ashkenazy', and a biography of Ashkenazy, 'Beyond Frontiers', has been published.
In 2015 he visited The Purcell School of music and was interviewed by the head of Percussion, Wind and Brass, he then gave a masterclass in which three students played.
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
- 2014 Sergei Rachmaninov International Award
- Ashkenazy, Vladimir; Parrott, Jasper (1985). Beyond Frontiers. New York: Atheneum. ISBN 0-689-11505-9.
- 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. Encyclopædia Britannica.
- Reykjavík Arts Festival
- European Festivals Association. Efa-aef.eu. Retrieved on 2013-10-29.
- Interview with Vladimir Ashkenazy as published by the Basler Zeitung (03.03.2015): http://bazonline.ch/leben/gesellschaft/Es-ist-schwer-die-Sowjetunion-zu-vermissen/story/12490064
- Vladimir Ashkenazy at the Wayback Machine (archived April 20, 2008). European Unions Youth Orchestra.
- "Musica: Vladimir Ashkenazy nuovo direttore dell'Accademia pianistica di Imola". La Repubblica (Bologna). 2013-07-15. Retrieved 2014-01-12.
- 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.
|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