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Vladimir Ashkenazy

b. 1937

Vladimir Ashkenazy (b. 1937), pianist and conductor, began playing the piano at age six. At eight he was accepted into the Central Music School of the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied with Lev Oborin. In 1955, in Warsaw, he won second prize in the International Frederic Chopin Piano Competition; the following year he won the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition in Brussels; in 1962 he was joint-winner of the International Tchaikovsky Competition. In 1963, frustrated by travel restrictions imposed by the USSR, he settled in London. He became an Icelandic citizen on emigrating there in the late 1960s, and in 1970 helped found the Reykjavik Arts Festival. Between 1974 and 2000 he won six Grammys. His numerous recordings, as a soloist and with orchestra, include the complete works for piano by Rachmaninov, Chopin and Schubert, and each of Mozart’s piano concertos. His recordings as a conductor include complete cycles of the symphonies by Sibelius and Rachmaninov. During the past 30 years he has served as chief conductor and music director of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, and music director of the NHK Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo. He was principal conductor and artistic adviser for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra from 2009 to 2013. A resident of Switzerland since the late 1970s, Ashkenazy has featured in a number of television documentaries, and in 2013 released a 50-CD collection of his key recordings as a conductor and soloist.

Ralph Heimans describes himself as passionate about classical music and a ‘lifelong fan’ of Vladimir Ashkenazy’s work. He decided to seek an opportunity to paint the maestro’s portrait after attending a performance of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in 2010. Heimans listened to all of Ashkenazy’s recordings before the two sittings, the first of which took place amidst a rehearsal and the second in the foyer of the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall. Heimans says he ‘wanted the portrait to reveal Ashkenazy’s warmth and humility, as well as an emotional depth that explores a lifetime dedicated to music’. He felt it was important for him to represent Ashkenazy in the context of the Opera House, so that the portrait might celebrate his contribution to Sydney and to Australian classical music. The painting was unveiled at the Sydney Opera House in May 2011 on the announcement of the continuation for a further two years of Ashkenazy’s contract as principal conductor and artistic adviser to the SSO.

Updated 2017