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INTERVIEW WITH VLADIMIR ASHKENAZY (article first published : 2001-01-19)

It was two decades ago that a South African audience first had the privilege of hearing Vladimir Ashkenazy perform live. He accepted an invitation to appear in the Western Cape, with the prior assurance that he would be playing before a racially un-segregated audience. At that stage he was already one of the world’s most celebrated pianists with a major recording contract under his belt that had produced a stream of acclaimed releases of orchestral, solo and chamber repertoire.

The Ashkenazy career has since continued unabated with the maestro turning increasingly to conducting while maintaining his activities as a pianist. He has appeared in all the world's most prestigious venues and has collaborated with virtually every orchestra of note on the globe. His string of recordings include, among many others, the complete sonatas of Beethoven - both for piano and for piano and violin - as well as the piano concertos of Mozart, Beethoven, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev, and the symphonies of Sibelius and Shostakovich.

Speaking to him, one is struck by a sense of unabated passion, an “otherness” about his views that encompass a vision far beyond the considerations of a solo career and of personal achievement, no matter how illustrious.

Vladimir Ashkenazy has often been quoted as saying that for him music is indivisible. This conviction is borne out by his passionate engagement with so many different aspects of music-making whether as conductor, piano recitalist or chamber musician or as the architect of large-scale projects encompassing the full range of musical activities. What comes across is his patent sense of fulfillment in working in a medium of expression that is always significant, always valuable beyond the bounds of mere entertainment:

“Music belongs to us all. It is one of the most potent means of upliftment of the spirit we have. Governments owe it to their people to sustain healthy musical growth as a means of achieving spiritual sustenance within communities. It carries the priceless gift of letting us soar beyond the daily business of getting on with our lives.”

He expands: “The social benefits of music have been scientifically proven in comprehensive experiments conducted in the United States and Europe. Children who are exposed to musical education, as opposed to those who are not, manifest improved learning skills in virtually all other areas of activity.”

He is saddened by the musical state of the nation in this country. The need to find funds for music making, specifically on an orchestral level, is very much a priority in his life. Since 1998 Ashkenazy has been the Chief Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. Like most former eastern block arts bodies, this world-renowned ensemble is proverbially cash-strapped and has to maintain a rigorous schedule of international touring to generate income. He tours and records extensively with the orchestra, while maintaining a busy schedule of appearances both as a soloist and with other august orchestras such as the Philharmonia in London and the Cleveland Orchestra in the United States.

Ashkenazy’s Durban concert will feature performances of two of the concert repertoire’s most famous showpieces, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 20 in D minor (with the maestro conducting from the keyboard) and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.

Booking for the KZN Philhamonic’s gala concert on January 29 in the Durban City Hall at 19:30 is through Computicket. Tickets cost: R180, R145, R100, R80, R35 (20% discount available to KZNPO subscribers: call 369 9404 or email subs@kznpo.co.za).




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