This month we’re speaking with renowned pianist and former Principal Conductor for Sydney Symphony, Vladimir Ashkenazy.
AL: We’ve just had the 40th anniversary of the Sydney Opera House and would love to know how you feel about our wonderful building. What is there you love about the SOH as a concert venue? Are there any things you’d like to see improved? How satisfied have you been with the acoustics in the concert hall? Are there different requirements for you as conductor? As soloist?
VA: I like the Opera House very much. I know that there are some small acoustic problems for the orchestra in the concert hall, but the players are used to it and can usually overcome any difficulty to produce a balanced and well rounded sound. Whenever I’ve come to listen to a concert in the past, I’ve usually always enjoyed the acoustic very much.
AL: As Principal Conductor your duties must be very extensive, ranging from rehearsing and performing through to being the public face of the orchestra and sponsor relations. Can you tell us more about this? How do you divide your time between all your responsibilities?
VA: I take things very realistically and as Principal Conductor of Sydney Symphony I discussed all repertoire with the orchestra’s management, usually to find the best solutions for both the musicians and the audience. There is no problem finding the time for that and I feel, for the most part, that we have been very successful in the last five years in presenting a wide variety of soloists and repertoire.
AL: How would you plan and present your “perfect concert”?
VA: In my opinion there’s no such thing as a perfect concert – so I can’t really answer this question!
AL: When the orchestra accompanies a solo pianist, do you stand back and give them full rein? Or do you, with your personal experience of the piece, guide them as to interpretation and pace?
VA: I’ve been very lucky because I’ve had the opportunity to work with some very high level soloists and almost without exception I’ve enjoyed working with them and have usually appreciated their concept of the pieces they’ve played. Naturally there can sometimes be a discussion over a particular passage, but I’m always happy to give my assessment of the situation.
AL: You have brought some wonderful young pianists to Australia to play with the orchestra. Do they sometimes seek career advice from you? Do you take on a mentoring role with some pianists? If so, can you tell us about one such young person and how he or she responded?
VA: I can’t remember talking about careers specifically – we usually discuss music and interpretations. I’ve never assumed a mentoring role for anyone.
AL: Sadly for us your tenure with the Sydney Symphony is now over. What are your plans for the immediate future?
VA: I’m looking forward to making music, both as a conductor and a pianist. I’m very happy to work with different orchestras and also to learn and record new repertoire as a pianist.
AL: You started out as Principal Conductor in Sydney in 2009 imagining that you and the orchestra would achieve certain things together. Looking back, have you achieved those initial aims? What are you most happy with about your time here?
VA: I don’t have any aims when I conduct – I just want to make good music. My five years with Sydney Symphony have been very inspiring and satisfying in that respect and I have nothing but positive memories of my time with the orchestra. I very much look forward to returning in a couple of years time to conduct a Beethoven cycle.
AL: Can you tell us your impressions of Sydney? How have you and your wife enjoyed the city, the people, the musicians and audiences?
VA: Sydney is one of the most wonderful cities in the world, both geographically and spiritually. I have always found its people very friendly, straightforward and sincere. I have also always enjoyed the musicians’ attitude to music and have found audiences very attentive and enthusiastic. I have very fond and lasting memories of Sydney!
AL: Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview. And thank you above all for the generosity of spirit you have given to us, your Sydney audience.