Otto Klemperer Chair of Conducting, Royal Academy of Music (London)
Günter Wand Conducting Chair, BBC Symphony Orchestra
Managed in association with Enticott Music Management
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 later 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 Opéra 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, Berlin Philharmonic and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestras. 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.
Widely recognised for his interpretation of Strauss, Wagner and Verdi, Bychkov’s operatic repertoire is broad and, as Principal Guest Conductor of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, was awarded the prestigious Premio Abbiati for his productions of Janáček’s Jenufa, Schubert’s Fierrabras, Puccini’s La bohème, Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. Most recently, Semyon Bychkov conducted Wagner’s Parsifal at Teatro Real, Madrid and the Vienna Staatsoper, and Mozart’s Così fan tutte at the Royal Opera House.
Starting the 2016-17 season with the launch of the Tchaikovsky Project: Beloved Friend, with festivals in London with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and New York with the New York Philharmonic, together with recordings of the symphonies and concertos with the Czech Philharmonic; Bychkov toured with the Concertgebouw Orchestra to Vienna, Bratislava, Washington and New York, as well as giving guest performances with the Munich Philharmonic, Orchestre National de France, Vienna Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, Leipzig Gewandhaus, and the Cleveland Orchestra.
Bychkov’s recording career began in 1986 when he signed with Philips and began a significant collaboration which produced an extensive discography with the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio, Royal Concertgebouw, Philharmonia, London Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris, with whom he recorded Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin later chosen by Opera Magazine as one of the 30 ‘all-time great recordings’. These were 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 (Symphony Nos. 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. In October 2016, Decca released the first CD of the Tchaikovsky Project, a long-term collaboration with the Czech Philharmonic which will encompass all of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies. The first release featured Symphony No. 6 Pathétique coupled with Romeo & Juliet Fantasy-Overture.
Semyon Bychkov currently holds the Klemperer Chair of Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music, and the Gunther Wand Chair with the BBC Symphony Orchestra with whom he appears annually at the BBC Proms. Semyon Bychkov was named 2015 Conductor of the Year by the International Opera Awards.
“From the first trumpet call to the final hectic bars of the crowning rondo, the Kennedy Center audience was in thrall. Quiet and attentive throughout, it exploded with applause at the final chord. Each orchestral section was superb, from high brass (that trumpet again), to solid, musical low brass in perfect ensemble, Mahler’s all-important horns speaking loudly when asked, with the strings, high to low, smooth, singing and powerful, winds inaudible in the tuttis but brightly characterful when Mahler asks for their individual or sectional presence, and, of course, the superb percussion. All responded alertly to Bychkov’s requests from very loud to very soft and all gradations in between. It was amazing to hear subito-pianos and pianissimos so miraculously achieved by so many musicians.
None of this would have made a difference without Bychkov himself on the podium. Yes, the opening funeral cortege was a bit measured, and the movement as a whole, no matter how well conducted (and it was last night), is a bit of a trial. Reaching Parts II and III, the music, conductor, and orchestra came fully into accord: The Scherzo was a delight (if the music is a little long winded, blame the composer), and the Adagietto came across as a love song, not an endless dirge. The humorous Rondo brought out the best from everyone.
So back to the question: which orchestra is the world’s greatest? On this occasion, there was only one correct answer: the Royal Concertgebouw under Semyon Bychkov. Case closed.”
“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.”
“Conductor Semyon Bychkov… succeeds in maintaining lucid orchestral textures and achieves a finely judged balance between stage and pit.”
“Each of [this new work’s] four movements is fastidiously shaped, and in each there are outbursts of anarchically dissonant fury. But under Semyon Bychkov’s baton the BBC Symphony Orchestra delivered a superbly detailed performance, with the sudden turns into pastiche-Mahler and pastiche-Bach opening like wondrous flowers in a parched terrain. The rest of this Prom was of a similarly high standard. Mezzo Elizabeth Kulman brought rare grace to Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder – the beauty of her ‘Im Treibhaus’ took the breath away – while Strauss’s An Alpine Symphony did all that such high-octane program-music is supposed to do.”
“In the Albert Hall’s generous space Strauss’s colossal aural panoroma of a day’s hike on a Bavarian mountain seemed to have found its natural home. Conductor Semyon Bychkov gave the grand passages the time they needed to glow as well as roar, and he made sure the rare delicate passages really told, like the wonder-struck moment when the climber reaches the summit and is lost for words. Strauss’s symphony was the Prom’s summit in terms of aural splendour, but the Symphony No.2 ‘Cenotaph’ by 53-year-old Austrian composer Thomas Larcher wasn’t far behind. There wasn’t a dull moment in this 35-minute piece, cast in the traditional symphonic four movements. Familiar ideas were made to seem brilliant and new, partly by super-bright orchestration, partly by sheer insistence … In between these two diverting pieces, both huge but somehow weightless, it was good to hear something of real substance. Wagner’s Wesendonck-Lieder are often given a sultry air, as if to reveal the all-too-human erotic feelings behind the mystical sentiments of the poetry. Here mezzo-soprano Elisabeth Kulman gave the songs a lovely chaste quality, supported with the utmost delicacy by Bychkov and the BBC SO, which was surprising and deeply moving.”
“The Philharmonic remains a superb Mahler orchestra more than a century after the composer led it and half a century after Leonard Bernstein secured its Mahler tradition, and Mr. Bychkov made the most of it despite the hall’s intractable acoustics. Nothing was overblown, and the balances among the various sections, especially between brasses and woodwinds, were exquisite … All in all, an excellent outing for orchestra and conductor.”