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Seen and Heard News Article

Vladimir Ashkenazy to lead the Sydney Symphony 11.04.2007 (TP)

Vladimir Ashkenazy has today been announced as the new Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor designate of the Sydney Symphony.  He will take up the newly created position for a three year term commencing in January 2009.

There has been a lot of speculation as to who would succeed the Sydney Symphony's incumbent Chief Conductor and Artistic Director, Gianluigi Gelmetti, when his contract expires at the end of the 2008 season.  A number of conductors were touted as likely contenders for the job.  One was the American conductor, Hugh Wolff, who until recently was the Principal conductor of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra.   Young guns Tugan Sokhiev and Yannick Nézet-Séguin were also considered likely successors after each of them garnered very positive reviews having stepped in at short notice to conduct the Sydney Symphony in place of an indisposed Lorin Maazel in 2004.

Ashkenazy's appointment comes as an unexpected but very welcome surprise.  He will spend at least 8 weeks conducting the Sydney Symphony at home each year, and will also tour with the orchestra to Asia and Europe.  He will advise the orchestra on  programming and artistic issues and will be involved in the development of the orchestra's guest conductor and soloist portfolio.  Although widely perceived as a specialist in Russian and Scandinavian music, which he has conducted and recorded to wide acclaim, he has an enormous repertoire as a conductor, and is as exciting in Brahms or Richard Strauss as he is in Shostakovich or Sibelius.  Sydneysiders will also hope that this superb pianist conductor will choose to direct the odd Mozart or Beethoven concerto from the keyboard.

Ashkenazy has long been a favourite visitor to Sydney.  He brought the Philharmonia Orchestra to the Sydney Festival in January 2000, leading them in a moving account of Mahler's 9th Symphony.    More recently he has built a warm relationship with the Sydney Symphony as an eagerly anticipated guest conductor.  In 2004 he presided over a superb Sibelius festival, in which he led the orchestra through all seven symphonies, Tapiola and the violin concerto.  At the end of the final concert, which featured the sixth and seventh symphonies and Tapiola, he told the enthusiastically applauding audience that he had never heard an orchestra play Sibelius as well as  the Sydney Symphony had played Sibelius that night.  He returned last year for a single all Rachmaninov concert, a foretaste of the Rachmaninov festival he will conduct at the end of this year, in which the Sydney Symphony will perform all three symphonies, the Symphonic Dances the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and the second, third and fourth piano concertos under his baton.

Speaking after accepting his new position, Ashkenazy said “
I am very happy to accept the role of Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor with the Sydney Symphony.  I have conducted the orchestra several times and consider it to be a world-class ensemble, and I look forward to our working together on some exciting projects, tours and recordings.  I see great possibilities with this talented, hardworking and committed group of outstanding musicians and the organisation which supports it.”

The mention of recordings is significant for the Sydney Symphony.  Although the orchestra has recorded periodically for ABC Classics and produced one or two discs for Naxos, it has never really recorded under an internationally renowned conductor on an internationally distributed label.  With Ashkenazy in the podium, there is now talk of recordings for the Japanese label, Octavia Records.  There has also been mention made that this year's Rachmaninov festival will itself be recorded, an interesting prospect given Ashkenazy's Decca recordings of Rachmaninov's symphonies remain among the very best available, some 20 years since they were committed to disc.

These are exciting times for Sydney and its orchestra.


Tim Perry


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