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Born in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) in 1952, Semyon Bychkov was 20 when he won the Rachmaninov Conducting Competition. Two years later, having been denied his prize of conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra he left the former Soviet Union where, from the age of five, he had been singled out for an extraordinarily privileged education in music. First studying piano, Bychkov was then selected to study at the Glinka Choir School and received his first conducting lesson aged 13. Four years later he enrolled at the Leningrad Conservatory where he studied conducting with the legendary Ilya Musin. By the time Bychkov returned to St Petersburg in 1989 as the Philharmonic’s Principal Guest Conductor, he had enjoyed success in the US as Music Director of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra and the Buffalo Philharmonic. His international career, which had begun in France where he made his debuts with the Opera de Lyon and at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, had taken off when a series of high-profile cancellations resulted in invitations to conduct the New York Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. In 1989 he was named Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris; in 1997 Chief Conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne; and, the following year Chief Conductor of the Dresden Semperoper.

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Born in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) in 1952, Semyon Bychkov was 20 when he won the Rachmaninov Conducting Competition.  Two years later, having been denied his prize of conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra he left the former Soviet Union where, from the age of five, he had been singled out for an extraordinarily privileged education in music. First studying piano, Bychkov was then selected to study at the Glinka Choir School and received his first conducting lesson aged 13.  Four years later he enrolled at the Leningrad Conservatory where he studied conducting with the legendary Ilya Musin. 

By the time Bychkov returned to St Petersburg in 1989 as the Philharmonic’s Principal Guest Conductor, he had enjoyed success in the US as Music Director of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra and the Buffalo Philharmonic.  His international career, which had begun in France where he made his debuts with the Opera de Lyon and at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, had taken off when a series of high-profile cancellations resulted in invitations to conduct the New York Philharmonic, the Berlin Philharmonic and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.  In 1989 he was named Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris; in 1997 Chief Conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne; and, the following year Chief Conductor of the Dresden Semperoper.  

Semyon Bychkov’s approach to music making combines innate musicality with the rigours of Russian pedagogy.  With his time carefully balanced between the concert hall and the opera house, Bychkov conducts repertoire that spans four centuries. 

In the opera house Bychkov is recognised for his interpretation of Strauss, Wagner and Verdi. Nonetheless while Principal Guest Conductor of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino his productions of Janáček’s Jenufa, Schubert’s Fierrabras, Puccini’s La Bohème, Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov were awarded the prestigious Premio Abbiati.  Most recently Semyon Bychkov conducted Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina at the Vienna Staatsoper.  In 2015 he will conduct Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin at the Royal Opera House – his recording of the work was chosen by Opera Magazine as one of the 30 ‘all-time great recordings’; and, in 2016, Wagner’s Parsifal at Madrid’s Teatro Real.  Bychkov’s symphonic engagements include annual tours with the Munich Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Vienna Philharmonic, as well as guest engagements with orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI Torino, Orchestre National de France, Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.   

In 1986, Bychkov signed with Philips and began a significant recording collaboration which produced an extensive discography with the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio Symphony, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Philharmonia, London Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris. These were later followed by a series of benchmark recordings, the result of his 13-year collaboration (1997-2010) with WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne.  The repertoire includes a complete cycle of Brahms Symphonies, and works by Strauss (Elektra, Daphne, Ein Heldenleben, Metamorphosen, Alpensinfonie, Till Eulenspiegel), Mahler (Symphony No. 3, Das Lied von der Erde), Shostakovich (Symphonies No. 4, 7, 8, 10, 11), Rachmaninov, Verdi (Requiem), Detlev Glanert and York Höller. His recording of Lohengrin was voted BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Year in 2010.

Semyon Bychkov currently holds the Klemperer Chair of Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music, and the Günter Wand Conducting Chair with the BBC Symphony Orchestra with whom he appears annually at the BBC Proms.

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Reviews

"In Bychkov’s hands, the orchestra was a precision instrument. Even in so dense a score, every instrument could be heard clearly, perfectly in balance with the others but with main themes being brought to the fore at the right times. The pacing was impeccable… And Bychkov does rhapsody like nothing I’ve ever heard, with swelling phrases bursting into waves of emotion."

David Karlin, Bachtrack

"Bychkov is convinced and in turns convinces you of every bar of this score. He carves, he cares, without ever brutally imposing extraneous ideas or aesthetics on to the music. There is dazzle and noise, as there should be in Die Frau, but it was the tenderness, calm and space that he found that really astounded. Bychkov employed the detail of the passing moment to inform the whole structure in which the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House responded beautifully to every beat of his baton."

Gavin Plumley, Entartete Musik

"Bychkov calls the 'Leningrad' Symphony 'a cry from the heart against death'... His interpretation goes wider than anger and despair, though both emotions coursed through every bar. There was, throughout, a sense of historical and cultural continuity under threat. It's the best thing I've heard Bychkov do, and one of the greatest performances of the work in recent years."

Tim Ashley, The Guardian

"When it’s done right, Britten’s 'War Requiem' is a work of wrenching emotional power and philosophical profundity. Wednesday’s performance by the San Francisco Symphony was more than right; it was sensational... It was Bychkov’s wise, firm leadership that gave the performance its particular flavour."

SFGate

"On Thursday night Semyon Bychkov stood in for his indisposed colleague, Christoph von Dohnanyi, and produced pure magic with the Orchestra. The chemistry between Bychkov and the Gewandhausorchester appeared to be right - it is not every day that one gets to hear what Bychkov's distinct and effortless conducting drew from the orchestra. The structure of Mahler's First Symphony poses quite a challenge, and Bychkov turned everything inside out. He must have dissected the score to be able to achieve these results, but what happened on stage can only be as a result of his musicianship and through his expressiveness. Bychkov shaped the entanglement of themes both intelligently and suggestively; and the terrific Gewandhausorchester - even those who thought they knew the piece very well - did its utmost to discover nuances which they hadn't previously noticed. All in all, it was a profound musical occasion - as was the Concertgebouw's performance of the same piece, in the same place, under Leonard Bernstein."

Leipziger Volkszeitung

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Discography