The greatly gifted Russian-born Icelandic pianist and conductor, Vladimir (Davidovich) Ashkenazy [sometimes transliterated Ashkenazi; Russian: Влади́мир Дави́дович А́шкенази], was born to an Ashkenazi Jewish father and a Russian Orthodox mother. His parents were professional pianists and taught him to play at an early age. Showing prodigious talent, he was accepted in 1945 (age of 8) at the Central Music School in Moscow, where he took formal lessons with Anaida Sumbatian. In 1955 he entered the class of Lev Oborin at the Moscow Conservatory, graduating in 1963. In 1955 he won 2nd prize at the prestigious International Frederick Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. A great turning point in his career was reached when in 1956, at the age of 19, he won 1st prize in the Queen Elisabeth of Belgium Competition in Brussels. In 1958 he made his fIrst tour of the USA. In 1962 he and John Ogdon were both awarded 1st prizes at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.
In 1961 Vladimir Ashkenazy married a young pianist, SofIa Johannsdottir of Iceland, who was studying in Moscow at the time. In 1963 they went to England while retaining their common Soviet citizenship. In 1968 they moved to Reykjavík, and in 1972 Ashkenazy became a naturalized Icelandic citizen.
As a piano virtuoso, Vladimir Ashkenazy has gained an international reputation for his penetrating insight and superlative technique; his mastery extends from Haydn to the contemporary era. He is renowned for his performances of Romantic and Russian composers. He has recorded the complete 24 Preludes and Fugues of Dmitri Shostakovich, Scriabin's sonatas, Chopin and Schumann's entire works for piano, L.v. Beethoven's piano sonatas, as well as the piano concertos of Mozart, L.v. Beethoven, Béla Bartók, Prokofiev, and Sergei Rachmaninov. He has also performed and recorded chamber music. He continues to record and perform internationally.
Midway through his pianistic career, Vladimir Ashkenazy also branched into conducting. In 1981 was appointed principal guest conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra of London. From 1987 to 1994 he was music director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London. He was also principal guest conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra from 1987 to 1994), and chief conductor of the (West) Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra (from 1989), and of its successor, the Deutsches Symphonie Orchester Berlin (from 1994). He was principal conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra from 1998 to 2003, and became musical director of the NHK Symphony Orchestra in 2004. Besides these positions, he is Conductor Laureate of the Philharmonia Orchestra, Conductor Laureate of the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, and Music Director of the European Union Youth Orchestra, with whom he performs regularly. As a conductor, he has demonstrated particular affinity for the 19th and 20th-century repertoire, and has particularly been praised for his recordings of orchestral works by Sibelius, S. Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, D. Shostakovich, and Scriabin. He has prepared and conducted his own effective orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.
Vladimir Ashkenazy has also appeared in several Christopher Nupen music films, conducting extracts from the composer profiled, including Respighi and Tchaikovsky and performing at the piano. An excellent resource covering Ashkenazy's musical philosophy and opinions on many other subjects is his Beyond Frontiers (London, 1984; New York: Atheneum, 1985), co-authored with his agent Jasper Parrott.
Awards and Recognitions: Vladimir Ashkenazy is currently President of the Rachmaninoff Society. Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance: Vladimir Ashkenazy, Lynn Harrell & Itzhak Perlman for L.v. Beethoven: The Complete Piano Trios (1988); Vladimir Ashkenazy, Lynn Harrell & Itzhak Perlman for Tchaikovsky: Piano Trio in A Minor (1982); Itzhak Perlman & Vladimir Ashkenazy for L.v. Beethoven: Sonatas for Violin and Piano (1979). Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (without orchestra): Vladimir Ashkenazy for D. Shostakovich: 24 Preludes & Fugues, Op. 87 (2000); Vladimir Ashkenazy for Ravel: Gaspard de la Nuit; Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte; Valses Nobles et Sentimentales (1986).