“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.”
Semyon Bychkov’s second season as the Czech Philharmonic’s Chief Conductor and Music Director saw the culmination of The Tchaikovsky Project started in 2015 before Bychkov’s appointment to the Orchestra. In addition to the release on Decca Classics of all of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, the three piano concertos, Romeo & Juliet, Serenade for Strings and Francesca da Rimini, Bychkov and the Orchestra gave Tchaikovsky residencies in Prague, Tokyo, Vienna and Paris and appeared together for the first time at the BBC Proms. Highlights in Prague included the first time that Bychkov led the Orchestra in Smetana’’s Má vlast.
In the 2020/21 season, the focus moves from Tchaikovsky to Mahler with performances of the symphonies scheduled both at home and abroad, as well as a continuing recording cycle for Decca Classics. New music will also be brought to the fore when Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic give the world premières of works by Bryce Dessner, Detlev Glanert and Thomas Larcher: three of the fourteen composers – nine Czech, five international – whose new commissions were initiated by Bychkov at the start of his tenure. Following their premières in Prague, Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic have performances in Vienna, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and London featuring Dessner’s Symphony and Larcher’s Piano Concerto, composed for Kirill Gerstein.
Recognised for his interpretations of the core repertoire, Bychkov has also worked closely with many extraordinary contemporary composers including Luciano Berio, Henri Dutilleux and Maurizio Kagel. In recent seasons he has collaborated with René Staar, Thomas Larcher, Richard Dubignon, Detlev Glanert and Julian Anderson, conducting premières of their works with the Vienna Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw and the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms.
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 immigrated 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 the 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 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 include Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and Daphne, Wagner’s Lohengrin and Parsifal, and Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina; while in London, he made his 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.
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 frequently 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. This season, in addition to extensive concert and recording commitments with the Czech Philharmonic, Bychkov’s guest conducting engagements include concerts with the Royal Concertgebouw, the Munich and Berlin Philharmonics, Leipzig Gewandhaus and the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.
Bychkov made extensive recordings for Philips with the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio, Royal Concertgebouw, Philharmonia, London Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris. Later, 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. BBC Music Magazine voted Bychkov’s recording of Wagner’s Lohengrin Disc of the Year in 2010; and his recording of Schmidt’s Symphony No. 2 with the Vienna Philharmonic Record of the Month, while Record Review’s Building a Library on BBC Radio 3 chose his recording of César Franck’s Symphony in D minor as their Recommended Recording. In 2015, Semyon Bychkov was named Conductor of the Year by the International Opera Awards.
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...