Born: July 6, 1937 in Gorky, USSR (now Nizhny Novgorod, Russia)
The greatly gifted Russian-born Icelandic pianist and conductor, Vladimir (Davidovich) Ashkenazy [sometimes transliterated Ashkenazi; Russian: Влади́мир Дави́дович А́шкенази], was born to an Ashkenazi Jewish father and a Russian Orthodox mother. His parents were professional pianists and taught him to play at an early age. Showing prodigious talent, he was accepted in 1945 (age of 8) at the Central Music School in Moscow, where he took formal lessons with Anaida Sumbatian. In 1955 he entered the class of Lev Oborin at the Moscow Conservatory, graduating in 1963. In 1955 he won 2nd prize at the prestigious International Frederick Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. A great turning point in his career was reached when in 1956, at the age of 19, he won 1st prize in the Queen Elisabeth of Belgium Competition in Brussels. In 1958 he made his fIrst tour of the USA. In 1962 he and John Ogdon were both awarded 1st prizes at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.
In 1961 Vladimir Ashkenazy married a young pianist, SofIa Johannsdottir of Iceland, who was studying in Moscow at the time. In 1963 they went to England while retaining their common Soviet citizenship. In 1968 they moved to Reykjavík, and in 1972 Ashkenazy became a naturalized Icelandic citizen.
As a piano virtuoso, Vladimir Ashkenazy has gained an international reputation for his penetrating insight and superlative technique; his mastery extends from Haydn to the contemporary era. He is renowned for his performances of Romantic and Russian composers. He has recorded the complete 24 Preludes and Fugues of Dmitri Shostakovich, Scriabin's sonatas, Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann's entire works for piano, L.v. Beethoven's piano sonatas, as well as the piano concertos of W.A. Mozart, L.v. Beethoven, Béla Bartók, Prokofiev, and Sergei Rachmaninov. He has also performed and recorded chamber music. He continues to record and perform internationally.
Midway through his pianistic career, Vladimir Ashkenazy also branched into conducting. In 1981 was appointed principal guest conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra of London. From 1987 to 1994 he was music director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London. He was also principal guest conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra from 1987 to 1994), and chief conductor of the (West) Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra (from 1989), and of its successor, the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin (from 1994). He was principal conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra from 1998 to 2003, and became musical director of the NHK Symphony Orchestra in 2004. Besides these positions, he is Conductor Laureate of the Philharmonia Orchestra, Conductor Laureate of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, and Music Director of the European Union Youth Orchestra, with whom he performs regularly. As a conductor, he has demonstrated particular affinity for the 19th and 20th-century repertoire, and has particularly been praised for his recordings of orchestral works by Sibelius, S. Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, D. Shostakovich, and Scriabin. He has prepared and conducted his own effective orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.
Vladimir Ashkenazy has also appeared in several Christopher Nupen music films, conducting extracts from the composer profiled, including Respighi and Tchaikovsky and performing at the piano. An excellent resource covering Ashkenazy's musical philosophy and opinions on many other subjects is his Beyond Frontiers (London, 1984; New York: Atheneum, 1985), co-authored with his agent Jasper Parrott.
Awards and Recognitions: Vladimir Ashkenazy is currently President of the Rachmaninoff Society. Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance: Vladimir Ashkenazy, Lynn Harrell & Itzhak Perlman for L.v. Beethoven: The Complete Piano Trios (1988); Vladimir Ashkenazy, Lynn Harrell & Itzhak Perlman for Tchaikovsky: Piano Trio in A Minor (1982); Itzhak Perlman & Vladimir Ashkenazy for L.v. Beethoven: Sonatas for Violin and Piano (1979). Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (without orchestra): Vladimir Ashkenazy for D. Shostakovich: 24 Preludes & Fugues, Op. 87 (2000); Vladimir Ashkenazy for Ravel: Gaspard de la Nuit; Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte; Valses Nobles et Sentimentales (1986).
Vladimir Ashkenazy was appointed Conductor Laureate of the Philharmonia Orchestra in 2000 and conducts the Orchestra in London, across the UK and internationally.
One of the few artists to combine a successful career as a pianist and conductor, Russian-born Vladimir Ashkenazy inherited his musical gift from both sides of his family; his father David Ashkenazy was a professional light music pianist and his mother Evstolia (née Plotnova) was daughter of a chorus master in the Russian Orthodox church. Ashkenazy first came to prominence on the world stage in the 1955 Chopin Competition in Warsaw and as first prize-winner of the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels in 1956. Since then he has built an extraordinary career, not only as one of the most outstanding pianists of the 20th century, 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 larger part of Ashkenazy’s activities for the past 30 years. In addition to his performances with the Philharmonia in London and around the UK each season, and in countless tours with them worldwide, he has also developed landmark projects such as Prokofiev and Shostakovich Under Stalin (a project which he also took to Cologne, New York, Vienna and Moscow) and Rachmaninoff Revisited (which was also presented in Paris). Last season Ashkenazy and the Philharmonia undertook a European tour with soloists Evgeny Kissin and Vadim Repin. In September 2014, he leads the orchestra in a ground-breaking tour of Latin America with soloists Nelson Freire and Esther Yoo, including concerts in Mexico City, Lima, Bogotá, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
Ashkenazy is also Music Director of the European Union Youth Orchestra, with whom he tours each year, and Conductor Laureate of both the Iceland and NHK Symphony orchestras. He has previously held posts as Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (2009-13), and Chief Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and Music Director of NHK Symphony Orchestra. He maintains strong links with other major orchestras including The Cleveland Orchestra (where he was formerly Principal Guest Conductor) and Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin (Chief Conductor and Music Director 1988-96). He regularly makes guest appearances with many other major orchestras around the world.
Ashkenazy maintains his devotion to the piano, these days mostly in the recording studio where he continues to build his extraordinarily comprehensive recording catalogue. This includes the Grammy award-winning Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues, Rautavaara’s Piano Concerto No.3 (a work which he commissioned), Bach's Wohltemperierte Klavier, Rachmaninov Transcriptions and Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations. Spring 2013 saw the release of ‘Ashkenazy: 50 Years on Decca’ - a 50-CD box-set celebrating his long-standing relationship with the label. In 2014, Decca released a milestone collection of Ashkenazy’s vast catalogue of Rachmaninov’s piano music, which also includes all of his recordings as a conductor of the composer’s orchestral music.
Beyond his performing schedule, Vladimir Ashkenazy has also been involved in many TV projects, inspired by his passionate drive to ensure that serious music retains a platform in the mainstream media and is available to as broad an audience as possible. He has collaborated extensively with legendary documentary-maker Christopher Nupen, and has been involved in programmes such as Music After Mao (filmed in Shanghai in 1979), and Ashkenazy in Moscow, which followed his first return to Russia 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 2003-4 a documentary based around his project Prokofiev and Shostakovich Under Stalin.