(K. Brent Tomer),
WHEN Semyon Bychkov raises his baton at the start of his Tchaikovsky series at London’s Barbican on October 19th, the hall will be packed, as will New York’s Lincoln Centre when he arrives in January. Few conductors fill large auditoriums through their own charisma. Mr Bychkov is one of them.
Yet no personality cult has ever surrounded this great Russian bear (whose physical presence that cliché fits perfectly). He much prefers talking about music to talking about himself. Born in Leningrad in 1952, he studied piano and conducting at the conservatory, where music was pursued with a do-or-die intensity unimaginable to students in the West. Mr Bychkov recalls climbing over the concert-hall roof to sneak in on the other side to hear the visiting Berlin Philharmonic, and long nocturnal discussions about the transition from page to stage of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin”. That later became the first opera he conducted, and his recording of it from 1993 remains a benchmark today.
Increasingly penalised for his open contempt for Soviet officialdom, he applied to emigrate in 1974, at a time when the Soviet Union was relaxing emigration…Continue reading