Q&A's Vladimir, Dimitri, and Vovka

Cambodian Business Review, March 2010

Q&A’s Vladimir, Dimitri, and Vovka

For Vladmir Ashkenazy

Q: you are one of the most revered pianists in the world. But you have carved out an illustrious career as a conductor as well. Not many pianists have been able to be something else other than pianists. How did you do this and what led you to be a conductor of orchestras?

I was totally fascinated by the symphony orchestra from childhood; I remember going to the Bolshoi Theatre at the age of six – I spent all the time listening to the orchestra in the pit, and not looking at the ballet on stage. That’s how it started. All my life I have identified with the symphony orchestra – I was delighted to play with an orchestra as a pianist, I played a lot of repertoire and amassed a tremendous collection of orchestral LPs, but I never thought I would conduct – so when the opportunity arose I thought it was a real fulfillment of my life. I’m very lucky.”

Q:  You have a comprehensive recording catalogue. How do you choose what music to record? Who are your favorite composers? Favorite pieces to perform?

Vladimir:  “I don’t have favorite composers – there are so many great composers that I would be very sorry not to be associated with and I have a very wide range of affections in music. That’s why you see a very extensive range of repertoire that I’ve played, conducted and recorded. I wanted to be a part of some of the great gifts in music from Bach to Sibelius.

Q : How do you prepare for a performance, be it as a pianist or as a conductor?

there is absolutely no ideology and no set of rules. Of course I have to be well rested and in good physical and mental shape, but that’s all. At least for me there are no special principles, no set of rules or anything like that.

Q: did you influence your children to become musicians?

No. Never! I left it to them to decide what they wanted to do – that’s their decision. I explained everything that’s involved in a musical career, the full ranges of circumstances, and left it to them to decide what they wanted to do. My wife and I always felt that it must be their decision. We explained all the benefits and pitfalls and left them to make up their own minds.

Q: You will be performing in Cambodia in March. Please share with us your thoughts in this forthcoming engagement.

The International Peace Foundation contacted me to ask if I’d like to participate in a special Concert for a Culture of Peace as part of their Bridges series – how could one not respond to this positively?

For Dmitri and Vovka Ashkenazy

Q : What was it like growing with a brilliant pianist for a father?

I grew up with the sound of the piano being a constant element in  the home environment, and so it was almost inevitable that I would want to play the piano myself. I fell in love with the piano before I knew what it was.

Dmitri: Both my parents are pianists, and there was music all around the family all through my childhood and youth, so both genetically and in my immediate environment, music was always a strong element of my life

Q : How did you shape your decision to become musicians? What led you to choose your musical instrument?

Music was to me like the air we breathe and it was inevitable that I would go into the music profession, but the decision to become a musician wasn’t exactly part of that. I would have been involved with music in any form, but this particular form I suppose I arrived at when I was in my teens and when I was told I had some talent and some potential.

Dimitri: That I chose to go into music professionally was a decision made based on the fact that I realised that I didn’t want to live without that feeling of having music at the centre of things – if I had chosen something else, music would automatically have taken on a lower priority.. My parents made clear to me what kind of dedication would be involved in being a performing musician, but otherwise did nit push me in one direction or another. When I first had music lessons, they were at the piano (naturally, one might say, given that I have three pianists in my family). That I changed to the clarinet a few years later was, perhaps, equally natural, as my family had already three pianists…! I wanted to have something I could call my own, and liked the sound of the clarinet – but I wasn’t thinking in terms of a future career at that point; that only came when I was around seventeen years old.

Q: You will be performing in Cambodia in March. Please share with us your thoughts on this forthcoming engagement.

I think it’s a wonderful idea to be involved in something that promotes cultural dialogue, and I hope that everyone involved will enjoy and benefit by it.

Dimitri:  Any venture which aims to build bridges between cultures and foster peaceful relations is, in my view, commendable, and I am proud to be associated with : “Bridges – Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace” I believe music is one of the best ways to transcend the day-to-day travails of life and, indeed, conflicts. On this trip, I will also be visiting Cambodia and the Philippines for the first time, and I very much look forward to the new experiences!

Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano

Vladimir Ashkenazy  first came to prominence on the world stage in the 1955 Chopin Competition in Warsaw and has since then built an extraordinary career, not only as one of the most renowned and revered pianists of our times, 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 largest part of Vladimir Ashkenazy’s activities for the past 20 years. Formerly Chief Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic (1998 to 2003) and Music Director of NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo (2004 to 2007), in January 2009 he has taken up the new position of Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. A regular visitor to Sydney over many years, he already shares a warm relationship with the Orchestra. They will collaborate on a number of exciting projects including composer festivals, major recording projects and international touring activities.

Alongside these positions, Vladimir Ashkenazy continues his longstanding relationship with the Philharmonia Orchestra of which he was appointed Conductor Laureate in 2000. In addition to his performances with the orchestra in London and around the UK each season, he tours with them worldwide and has developed landmark projects such as ‘Prokofiev and Shostakovich Under Stalin’ in 2003 (a project which he also took to Cologne, New York, Vienna and Moscow) and ‘Rachmaninoff Revisited’ in 2002 at the Lincoln Center, New York.

Vladimir Ashkenazy also holds the positions of Music Director of the European Union Youth Orchestra, with whom he tours each year, and Conductor Laureate of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. He maintains strong links with a number of other major orchestras with whom he has built special relationships over the years, including the Cleveland Orchestra (of whom he was formerly Principal Guest Conductor), San Francisco Symphony and Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin (Chief Conductor and Music Director 1988-96), as well as making guest appearances with many other major orchestras around the world. He returned to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic in October 2007.

While conducting takes up a significant portion of his time each season, Vladimir Ashkenazy continues to devote himself to the piano, these days mostly in the recording studio where he continues to build his extraordinarily comprehensive recording catalogue with releases such as the 1999 Grammy award winning Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues, Rautavaara’s Piano Concerto No.3 (a work which he commissioned) and Rachmaninov’s Transcriptions. Most recently released are his recordings of that most challenging and enriching of works, Bach's Wohltemperiertes Klavier and, released in June 2007, Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations.

Beyond his hectic and fulfilling performing schedule, Vladimir Ashkenazy continues to be involved in some fascinating TV projects, often inspired by his passionate drive to ensure that serious music continues to have a platform in the mainstream media and is made available to as broad an audience as possible. Many will remember his programmes with the outstanding director Christopher Nupen, including in 1979 Music After Mao, filmed in Shanghai, and the extraordinary Ashkenazy in Moscow programmes which marked his first visit in 1989 to the country of his birth 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 ‘Prokofiev and Shostakovich Under Stalin’ project.

Dimitri Ashkenzy, Clarinet

Born in 1969 in New York, Dimitri Ashkenazy began playing the piano at the age of six and then switched to the clarinet under the tuition of Giambattista Sisini, with whom he continued studying when he entered the Conservatory of Lucerne in 1989.

Since completing his studies, he has gone on to perform widely, both as soloist and chamber musician. On tour, he has appeared at the Royal Festival Hall in London with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, at the Hollywood Bowl with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, at the Sydney Opera House with the SBS Youth Orchestra, at the Casals Festival in Puerto Rico with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and in Japan with the Japan Philharmonic, Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony and Mito Chamber Orchestras.

In addition to the major concertos for the clarinet, his repertoire extends to include contemporary works such as Peter Maxwell Davies' Strathclyde Concerto No.4, which he has performed with the composer himself conducting in London, Budapest and Santiago de Compostela, and Krzysztof Penderecki's own transcription of his Viola Concerto with the composer himself conducting both in Poland and on tour in Spain. He also gave the world premiere performances of concertos by Marco Tutino (with the Filarmonici della Scala, Milan) and Filippo del Corno (with the orchestra "I Pomeriggi Musicali"), and of Peter Maxwell Davies' Clarinet Quintet "Hymn to Artemis Locheia" (with the Brodsky Quartet at the Lucerne Festival). An active chamber musician, he has performed with the Kodály and Faust Quartets and with partners such as Barbara Bonney, Helmut Deutsch, David Golub, Edita Gruberova, Ariane Haering, Antonio Meneses, Cristina Ortiz, Maria João Pires, and of course his brother Vovka and his father Vladimir Ashkenazy.

In addition to his concert activity, Dimitri Ashkenazy has made numerous CD (Pan Classics, Decca, Ondine), radio (Radio Nacional de España, France Musiques, Radio della Svizzera Italiana, DeutschlandRadio) and television recordings, and been invited to give master classes in Australia, Spain, Iceland, Switzerland, the USA and Romania.

Vovka Ashkenazy, Piano

After completing his musical studies at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, Vovka Ashkenazy, who is of Russian and Icelandic parentage, made his debut in London at the Barbican Centre in 1983 with the London Symphony Orchestra under Richard Hickox, with whom he performed Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto.

Since then, Vovka Ashkenazy's career has taken him all across Europe, and to Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the Americas. He has participated in the Marlboro Festival in Vermont, as well as the Edinburgh and Spoleto festivals. Orchestras he has appeared with include nearly all the major British orchestras as well as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Australian Chamber, and the Berlin Symphony Orchestras. Conductors he has worked with include Semyon Bychkov, Martin Fischer-Dieskau and Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, at venues such as the Hollywood Bowl, the Sydney Opera House, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Royal Festival Hall, London.

Vovka Ashkenazy is very active as a chamber musician and has recorded a CD of Italian music with his brother, the clarinettist Dimitri Ashkenazy, together with whom he toured Japan in 1997, 2000 and 2002. The year 2001 saw the start of a new piano-duo partnership with Greek virtuoso pianist, Vassilis Tsabropoulos. This duo has already performed at the Piano en Valois festival and twice at the Athens Megaron. Vovka Ashkenazy has also worked together with the Reykjavík Wind Quintet and has released a CD with them on the Chandos label. A second CD is due out this year.
Alongside his concert activities, Vovka Ashkenazy also devotes his time to teaching. He has given master classes in Australia, Denmark, England, Greece, Guatemala, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the U.S. and he has recently become a member of the chamber music coaching staff at Pro Corda in the UK. He was Professor of Piano at the Conservatoire Gabriel Fauré in Angoulême, France, from 1998 – 2007.

Vovka Ashkenazy lives in Switzerland and gives regular masterclasses in Italy.