“The real test came the evening before the Resurrection when the Philharmonic presented the Cello Concerto and Seventh Symphony of Dvořák… Rest assured, this is still the Czech Philharmonic of warm strings, penetrating brasses and fleet-footed danciness. But it does have a slight Russian accent under Mr. Bychkov’s direction. The orchestra’s sound may be a bit more international these days, but its players are still the masters of their own country… Let’s hope that, under Mr. Bychkov, we don’t have to wait another four years to here them hear again.”
Celebrating both his fifth season as Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Czech Philharmonic and his 70th birthday, Semyon Bychkov will celebrate his birthday with three concerts in November pairing Beethoven’s Fifth with Shostakovich’s Fifth. It is a season which opens in Prague with the official concert to mark the Czech Republic’s Presidency of the EU and continues with concert performances of Dvořák’s Rusalka as part of the Dvořákova Prague International Music Festival. Later in the season, Bychkov will conduct Rusalka at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
Bychkov’s inaugural season with the Czech Philharmonic was celebrated with an international tour that took the Orchestra from performances at home in Prague to concerts in London, New York, and Washington. The following year saw the culmination of The Tchaikovsky Project – the release of a 7-CD box set devoted to Tchaikovsky’s symphonic repertoire and a series of international residencies. Bychkov also instigated the commissioning of 14 new works to be premièred by the Orchestra over subsequent seasons.
In the past two seasons, the focus of Bychkov’s work with the Czech Philharmonic has turned to the music of Gustav Mahler with performances of the symphonies at the Rudofinum, on tour and ultimately on disc. This season, the Orchestra will tour extensively featuring symphonies by Mahler at the Edinburgh International Festival, Leipzig’s Gewandhaus Mahler Festival, and in Paris, Luxembourg, Graz, Vienna, Budapest and Milan. PENTATONE’s complete Mahler cycle with Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic launched in spring 2022 with Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 and continues this autumn with the release of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.
Especially recognized for his interpretations of the core repertoire, Bychkov also worked closely with many extraordinary contemporary composers including Luciano Berio, Henri Dutilleux and Maurizio Kagel. More recent collaborations include those with Julian Anderson, Bryce Dessner, Detlev Glanert and Thomas Larcher whose works he has premièred with the Czech Philharmonic, and with the Vienna, Berlin, New York and Munich Philharmonics, Royal Concertgebouw and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
In common with the Czech Philharmonic, Bychkov has one foot firmly in the culture of the East and the other in the West. Born in St Petersburg in 1952, Bychkov emigrated to the United States in 1975 and has lived in Europe since the mid-1980’s. Singled out for an extraordinarily privileged musical education from the age of 5, Bychkov studied piano before winning his place at the Glinka Choir School where, aged 13, he received his first lesson in conducting. He was 17 when he was accepted at the Leningrad Conservatory to study with the legendary Ilya Musin and, within three years had won the influential Rachmaninov Conducting Competition. Denied his prize of conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic, Bychkov left the former Soviet Union.
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 began in France with Opéra de Lyon and at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, took off with a series of high-profile cancellations which 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.
Bychkov’s symphonic and operatic repertoire is wide-ranging. He conducts in all the major opera houses including La Scala, Opéra national de Paris, Dresden Semperoper, Wiener Staatsoper, New York’s Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and Teatro Real. Madrid. While Principal Guest Conductor of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, his productions of Janáček’s Jenůfa, Schubert’s Fierrabras, Puccini’s La bohème, Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov each won the prestigious Premio Abbiati. New productions in Vienna have included Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and Daphne, Wagner’s Lohengrin and Parsifal, and Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina; while in London, he made his operatic debut with a new production of Strauss’ Elektra, and subsequently conducted new productions of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten and Wagner’s Tannhäuser. Recent productions include Wagner’s Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival and Strauss’s Elektra at the Wiener Staatsoper. This season in addition to Dvořák’s Rusalka in London, he will conduct Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde at Teatro Real in Madrid.
On the concert platform, the combination of innate musicality and rigorous Russian pedagogy has ensured that Bychkov’s performances are highly anticipated. In the UK, in addition to regular performances with the London Symphony Orchestra, his honorary titles at the Royal Academy of Music and the BBC Symphony Orchestra – with whom he appears annually at the BBC Proms – reflect the warmth of the relationships. In Europe, he tours with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Munich Philharmonic, as well as being a frequent guest of the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Orchestre National de France and the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia; in the US, he can be heard with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Symphony, Philadelphia and Cleveland Orchestras.
Bychkov made extensive recordings for Philips with the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio, Royal Concertgebouw, Philharmonia, London Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris. His 13-year collaboration (1997-2010) with WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne produced a series of benchmark recordings that included 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 (The Bells, Symphonic Dances, Symphony No. 2), Verdi (Requiem), a complete cycle of Brahms Symphonies, and works by Detlev Glanert and York Höller. His recording of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin was recommended by BBC’s Radio 3’s Building a Library (2020); Wagner’s Lohengrin was BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Year (2010); and Schmidt’s Symphony No. 2 with the Vienna Philharmonic was BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Month (2018). Of The Tchaikovsky Project released in 2019, BBC Music Magazine wrote, “The most beautiful orchestra playing imaginable can be heard on Semyon Bychkov’s 2017 recording with the Czech Philharmonic, in which Decca’s state-of-the art recording captures every detail.”
In 2015, Semyon Bychkov was named Conductor of the Year by the International Opera Awards. He received an Honorary Doctorate from the Royal Academy of Music in July 2022.
Bychkov was one of the first musicians to express his position on the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, since when he has spoken in support of Ukraine in Prague’s Wenceslas Square; on radio and television in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Austria, the UK and the USA; written By Invitation for The Economist; and appeared as a guest on BBC World’s HARDtalk.
Chief Conductor & Music Director, Czech Philharmonic
Otto Klemperer Chair of Conducting, Royal Academy of Music (London)
Günter Wand Conducting Chair, BBC Symphony Orchestra
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Music Director Semyon Bychkov and Czech Philharmonic’s seven-disc recording collection “The Tchaikovsky Project” to be released on Decca Classics on 30 August
Inspired by his lifelong passion for the music of Tchaikovsky, Semyon Bychkov partnered with the Czech Philharmonic three years ago to launch The Tchaikovsky Project, an in-depth multi-season exploration of the composer’s music through concerts and Mr. Bychkov’s...
“The Czech Philharmonic is among the very few orchestras that have managed to preserve a unique identity. In a music world that is increasingly globalized and uniform, the Orchestra’s noble tradition has retained authenticity of expression and sound, making it one of...
Prior to his performance of Shostakovich's epic Seventh Symphony - the "Leningrad" - at the BBC Proms, Semyon Bychkov took some time to speak with John Wilson at BBC Front Row and to BBC World Service about the work, which is so connected to his birthplace. You can...