Saturday, September 17, 2011

Vladimir Ashkenazy: Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1

Vladimir Ashkenazy performs Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No.1: 3rd movement, at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, Russia (April 1–May, 7, 1962). The competition, which began in 1958, is held every four years. This performance was from the second edition, where Ashkenazy shared first place with John Ogdon. The list of prize winners is as follows:
First Prize: Vladimir Ashkenazi (USSR), John Ogdon (Great Britain)
Second Prize: Susan Starr (USA), In Chen Zong (China)
Third Prize: Eliso Virsaladze (USSR)
Fourth Prize: Marina Mdivani (USSR)
Fifth Prize: Valery Kamyshov (USSR)
Sixth Prize: Christian Biyo (France), Alexey Nasedkin (USSR)
A year later, in 1963, Vladimir Ashkenazy and his wife Thorunn Johannsdottir (nicknamed Dodie) left the USSR for London, England. He had met his wife, a native of Iceland and also a pianist, while she was in the USSR as a student at the Moscow Conservatory. After a few years in London, they settled in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1968. In 1972 he became a citizen of Iceland. Since 1978, the couple has established a home in Meggen, outside Lucerne, Switzerland, chiefly for its proximity to European centres. The couple, who married in 1961, have five children: Vladimir Stefan, Nadia Liza, Dmitri Thor, Sonia Edda, and Alexandra Inga.

Ashkenazy, who was born to Evstolia Plotnova and David Ashkenazy in Gorky, USSR (now Nizhny Novgorod, Russia)  on July 6, 1937. His father was a non-observant Russian Jew, and his mother was a Russian of Eastern Orthodox faith. He is known for favouring turtlenecks over more formal attire.

Ashkenazy, now 74, remains active as both a pianist and conductor. He is currently Principal Conductor and Artistic Adviser of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. He is particularly known for his performance of Romantic and Russian composers including Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Chopin and Schumann.

Ashkenazy returned to Russia, after an absence of 26 years, in November 1989, when the political situation was changing. The Los Angeles Times reported then, on November 13, 1989:
Crowds filled the streets outside the Moscow Conservatory, where he performed, the luminaries of Soviet culture came to pay homage, taking up virtually every waking moment of his five days here, and gray-haired grandmothers who knew Ashkenazy when they were all at school came to renew their friendship.
"The emotions of a return like this are tremendously conflicting," Ashkenazy said at the outset of his visit. "But the joy of coming back under these circumstances and seeing this rebirth here overcomes the sadness of the past."

Invited back by the Soviet Cultural Fund, which operates under the patronage of Raisa Gorbachev, the wife of the country's president, Ashkenazy conducted two charity concerts over the weekend by Britain's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, of which he is the music director and which is en route to Japan for a tour.

"Had I been invited earlier, I would have thought not just twice or three times about accepting, but 10 times or more before agreeing to come," Ashkenazy said. "What was happening to this country and its people then had to be opposed and denounced. . . .

"But I thought that by accepting now and coming to Moscow that I would in a modest way endorse what is happening in my country, to support the changes that perestroika, glasnost and democratization are bringing."

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