Alexander Vedernikov

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The Russian conductor who dramatically left the Bolshoi Theatre in 2009 talks about Rachmaninov, Scriabin and the difference between Russian and English orchestras

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In 2009, Alexander Vedernikov made headlines around the world by walking out of his role as musical director at the Bolshoi Theatre, saying the theatre was putting ‘bureaucratic interests before artistic ones’. Now he’s enjoying a season of performing with English orchestras – we spoke to him ahead of a concert with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

Alexander VedernikovYou’re conducting Scriabin’s Reverie, Mendelssohn’s Second Piano Concerto and Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony this month in Poole – why did you choose these works?
As usually happens the programme is the result of a compromise between the proposals of the orchestra and your own. The Mendelssohn Piano Concerto, and soloist Saleem Abboud Ashkar, had already been selected so I just had to choose the opener – the Scriabin – and the symphony. I chose the Scriabin orchestral piece because he was one of the most important composers writing for piano so it creates a link with Mendelssohn – there’s this direction of pianism from Mendelssohn to Chopin and Scriabin. It’s early Scriabin and only lasts about four minutes, but in those four minutes he’s able to demonstrate all the features of his symphonic style, the colour and feeling which he developed later in his symphonies.

And why did you choose to programme the Rachmaninov?
Scriabin and Rachmaninov are very close chronologically and they knew each other very well, but as musical personalities they are very different. I consider Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony to be probably the best of his symphonies – he put so much material in the score and created such a rich texture that even to listen to just the strings separately, is like another symphony.

How important is your own Russian background when you’re conducting Russian music?
Thank God that Russian music has an important role in the world symphonic repertoire. Being a Russian conductor it gives me an opportunity to remain really natural to myself, in the sense of my approach to the music. When you’re doing, for example, Czech music, French music or Italian music it always takes some time to penetrate the psychology of the composer.

And have you noticed any differences between how English and Russian orchestras approach this Russian repertoire?
Of course it’s different – that’s to be expected because the Russian orchestras know this repertoire very well and you can expect some really advanced results – but only if they are technically good enough. And usually English orchestras are not only very advanced in their technical skill but very smart – if you have told them something once about one section, they’re able to extrapolate that to other things.

Is there a composer whose music you enjoy conducting more than any other?
If we’re talking about Russian composers it changes – sometimes, you’re in love with one composer, then after some years you turn to another one. Right now I would say that the most interesting composers for me, of the Russians, are Glinka, Musorgsky, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev.

Alexander Vedernikov conducts the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra on 22 February at the Lighthouse, Pool and on 23 February at Portsmouth Guildhall.