Born in St. Petersburg in 1952, Semyon Bychkov immigrated to the United States in 1975 and has been based in Europe since the mid-1980s. In common with the Czech Philharmonic, of which he became Music Director in 2018, Bychkov has one foot firmly in the cultures both of the East and the West. Following his early concerts with the Orchestra in 2013, Bychkov devised The Tchaikovsky Project, a series of concerts, residencies and studio recordings which allowed them the luxury of exploring Tchaikovsky’s music together, both in Prague’s Rudolfinum and abroad.
Bychkov won the Rachmaninov Conducting Competition when he was 20 years old. 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 was singled out for an extraordinarily privileged musical education. Starting with piano, Bychkov was later selected to study at the Glinka Choir School where he received his first conducting lesson aged 13. Four years later he was accepted at the Leningrad Conservatory as a student of 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 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. In 2018, he conducted Wagner’s Parsifal both
at the Wiener Staatsoper and Bayreuth. Other new productions in Vienna
include Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and Daphne, Wagner’s
Lohengrin 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 [DVD cover shown below], Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten
and Wagner’s Tannhäuser.
Recognised for his interpretations of the core repertoire, Bychkov has worked closely with many extraordinary contemporary composers including Luciano Berio, Henri Dutilleux and Maurizio Kagel. In recent seasons he has worked closely 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.
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. Subsequently a series of benchmark recordings – the result of his 13-year collaboration (1997-2010) with WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne – include 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 (The Bells, Symphonic Dances, Symphony No. 2), Verdi (Requiem), Detlev Glanert and York Höller. His recording of Wagner’s Lohengrin was voted BBC Music Magazine’s Disc of the Year in 2010; his recording of César Franck’s Symphony in D minor was the Recommended Recording of BBC Radio 3’s Record Review’s Building a Library; and his recent recording of Schmidt’s Symphony No. 2 with the Vienna Philharmonic was selected as BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Month.
Bychkov was named 2015’s Conductor of
the Year by the International Opera Awards.
== Text of biography from IMG Artists
© 1988 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded in Chicago on November 28, 1988. Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1992, 1999, and 2000; and on WNUR in 2004. This transcription was made in 2020, and posted on this website at that time. My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago. You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.