The pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy has announced that he is retiring with immediate effect.
The 82-year-old is one of the most celebrated and versatile musicians of his generation, renowned for recording and performing an enormous and varied repertoire as both a pianist and a conductor over his 70-year career.
Ashkenazy shot to fame in 1956 when he won the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, followed by the 1962 International Tchaikovsky Competition, an accolade he shared with pianist John Ogdon.
Although Ashkenazy continued to perform and record as a pianist, he also began conducting after a chance encounter with Gennady Rozhdestvensky led to an impromptu lesson in the Soviet conductor’s apartment. He went on to hold prestigious positions across the globe with orchestras including the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin (1988–96); Czech Philharmonic (1998–2003); the European Union Youth Orchestra (2000-2015); the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo (2004–7); the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (2009-2013); and the Philharmonia Orchestra.
In 1963, Ashkenazy defected from the Soviet Union during a visit to England. His piano and orchestral performances of Rachmaninov, Sibelius and Scriabin demonstrate his love of Russian music. As Decca’s longest contracted artist, his discography – which ranges from Bach to Rautavaara – is a testament to the depth and breadth of his musical interest and ability. In total, his collected recordings exceed 100 hours of music, spanning 39 composers over 55 years.
Speaking to BBC Music Magazine in 2017 about his enormous success and his famously intuitive approach to conducting, Ashkenazy remarked: ‘There are some things you cannot teach or understand. Just as we’ll never know why Beethoven was Beethoven or Mozart was Mozart. They were people just like you or I, and yet in their music they created something that is such a gift for us all. Incredible. It’s a mystery. We must be grateful for that.’