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Biography

Russian-born conductor and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy was born into a family of musicians; his father was a professional light music pianist and his mother was daughter of a chorus master in the Russian Orthodox church. Mr. 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. He made his San Francisco Symphony debut as a pianist in 1958 and as a conductor in 1990.

Conducting has formed the larger part of Mr. Ashkenazy’s activities for the past thirty years. He continues his longstanding relationship with the Philharmonia Orchestra, who appointed him Conductor Laureate in ­­2000. With that orchestra he has developed projects such as Prokofiev and Shostakovich Under Stalin and Rachmaninoff Revisited, and toured China, Latin America, and Europe.  

Mr. Ashkenazy is also Conductor Laureate of both the Iceland and NHK symphonies and Principal Guest Conductor of the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana. Recently he stepped down from the music directorship of the European Union Youth Orchestra, a post he held for fifteen years. Previously he has held posts as principal conductor and artistic advisor to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, and music director of NHK Symphony. 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).  

Mr. Ashkenazy’s recent recordings as a pianist include a Grammy award-winning disc of Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues, Rautavaara’s Piano Concerto No. 3 (a work which he commissioned), Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, Rachmaninoff transcriptions, and Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations. 2013 saw the release of Ashkenazy: 50 Years on Decca, a fifty-CD box set celebrating his long-standing relationship with the label. In 2014, Decca released a milestone collection of Ashkenazy’s catalogue of Rachmaninoff’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, and he has collaborated extensively with documentary filmmaker Christopher Nupen. He has been involved in programs 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 programs with NHK-TV and a documentary based around his Prokofiev and Shostakovich Under Stalin project.

(June 2016)