Vladimir Ashkenazy



 Vladimir Davidovich Ashkenazy (Russian: Владимир Давидович Ашкенази, Vladimir Davidovič Aškenazi) (born July 6, 1937) is a Russian conductor and virtuoso pianist. He has been a citizen of Iceland, the home of his wife Þórunn, since 1972 and currently lives with his family in Switzerland.

Early life

Ashkenazy was born in Gorky, Russia to an Ashkenazi Jewish father and an ethnic Russian mother. He began playing piano at the age of six and, showing prodigious talent, was accepted at the Central Music School at age eight. A graduate of the Moscow Conservatory, he won second prize in the International Frederick 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, he became a KGB informant but was dismissed when he married his foreign-born wife in 1961.


Vladimir Ashkenazy is renowned for his performances of Romantic and Russian composers. There has been a CD produced of his works named 'The art of Ashkenazy', and a biography of Ashkenazy, 'Beyond Frontiers', has been published. He has recorded the complete 24 Preludes and Fugues of Dmitri Shostakovich, Alexander Scriabin's piano sonatas, Rachmaninoff's, Frédéric Chopin's and Robert Schumann's entire works for piano, Beethoven's piano sonatas, as well as 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), Béla Bartók (with Solti and the London Philharmonic Orchestra), Sergei Prokofiev (with André Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra) and Sergei Rachmaninoff (with André Previn & London Symphony Orchestra and with Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra). He has also recorded Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, which was well received by critics, and has performed and recorded chamber music. He continues to record and perform internationally.

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, conductor laureate of the Icelandic 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 Tchaikovsky and performing at the piano.

On April 11, 2007, his appointment as the next chief conductor and artistic director of the Sydney Symphony was announced. He succeeded Gianluigi Gelmetti in January 2009.

He has also made his own orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky's piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition (1982).

Ashkenazy is also known for his slightly unusual habits in solo piano performance: spurning coat and tie in favor of a white turtleneck and black suit; running (not walking) onstage to the piano; and running offstage after finishing and taking his bow.

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Composers' compositions