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Vladimir Davidovich Ashkenazi (Russian: Владимир Давидович Ашкенази) (Gorky, July 6, 1937) is a pianist and conductor of Russian origin. Nationalized Icelandic, he currently lives in Switzerland.
Ashkenazi was born in Nizhny Novgorod, then called Gorky (USSR), in a family of Ashkenazi Jewish father and Russian Orthodox mother. He began his studies at age six. When he was 18 years old, he entered the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow to study with Lev Nikolayevich Oborine. Graduated from the Moscow Conservatory, he won the second prize at the Frédéric Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1955, behind the Polish pianist Adam Haraziewitz. The following year he won the first prize in the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels in 1956. These awards opened the doors for the Soviet authorities to allow him to perform in the West, and his definitive consecration came in 1962 when he shared the first prize in the International Competition. Tchaikovsky with British pianist John Ogdon.
At the age of 26, Ashkenazy left the USSR and took refuge in the United Kingdom. That decision then took him to Iceland where he got married and, finally, to Switzerland, where he currently resides.
After his second prize in the Chopin Contest, Deutsche Grammophon hired him and the pianist recorded some albums for that brand, after which Áshkenazi ended up at the English record label Decca, of which he is an exclusive artist, and with which he would definitely jump to fame as a pianist and conductor.
Vladimir Áshkenazi is known for his interpretations of Russian composers and the romantic period. He has recorded the 24 preludes and escapes of Dmitri Shostakovich, Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, Aleksandr Skriabin’s sonatas, the complete works for piano by Rachmaninoff, Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann, Beethoven’s piano sonatas, as well as concerts for piano by Mozart, Beethoven, Béla Bartók, Sergei Prokofiev. He has also played and recorded chamber music.
Possessed of a refined technique and an exquisite musicality, his repertoire (in his facet as soloist at the piano) covers practically all the pianistic literature of classicism to our days. He is an excellent interpreter of Mozart, Beethoven (whose Sonatas for piano has made an integral recording, as well as the Sonatas for violin and piano, this time as an accompanist for Itzhak Perlman, and for concerts for piano and orchestra), Prokofiev and Shostakovich, however, his favorite author is Chopin, who has made a recording of his complete works considered a reference by critics.
Áshkenazi is also dedicated to orchestra conducting. He has been particularly praised for his recordings of Jean Sibelius, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Skriabin. He says about this double occupation: “The pleasure that the direction gives me is the same as the piano. Music is indivisible. Only that it is a different way of communicating: the piano is only with the audience and the direction is with the public and the orchestra. I never changed it completely. I combine it. And I never planned it, it happened in a natural way. “
He has been the principal conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra between 1987 and 1994, and was the principal conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra between 1998 and 2003. In 2004 he took the position of musical director in the NHK Symphony Orchestra.
In 1989 Ashkenazy witnessed the fall of the communist regime from which he had escaped. “It was autumn 1989 when, after 26 years of absence, I was invited to return to the Soviet Union to conduct concerts with the Royal Philharmonic,” recalls the teacher: “Just the afternoon after we returned, we were informed that Gorbachev was going to secretly, to my father’s apartment to greet me, but in the end, an emissary came to pay Mr. Gorbachev’s respects and excuse him saying that he had a very busy night, and that he was! I saw on television that the Berlin Wall had fallen, so Gorbachev had to put his appointment with Honecker ahead of the one he had with me, I will never forget him. “
In addition, he is honorary director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, and musical director of the Young Orchestra of the European Union, which he directs regularly.
On April 11, 2007, his commitment to succeed Gianluigi Gelmetti as head of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in January 2009 was announced.
He has also done an orchestration of the Cuadros suite of an exhibition by Modest Músorgski (1982).
While the direction has occupied most of his time each season, Ashkenazy continues to dedicate himself to the piano, conducting concerts of Mozart and Beethoven on the keyboard in various performances, and also continues his piano recordings as the piano concert number 3 of Rautavaara (work commissioned by him) and transcriptions of Rachmaninoff.
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