The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky has died at 87 | June 19, 2018

By Jacob Stockinger

This past Saturday, the great Soviet and Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky (below) died at 87.

A friend of the blog said to The Ear, “He certainly deserves a mention.”

The Friend is right. Indeed he does.

In fact, Rozhdestvensky he deserves more than a mention.

The Ear isn’t sure why the West generally knows the names of Russian instrumentalists – pianists Sviatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels, violinists David Oistrakh and Leonid Kogan, cellist (later turned conductor) Mstislav Rostropovich – more than its knows the names of conductors.

Perhaps it has to do with infrequent touring and the priority in using non-Russian conductors by major recording labels.

But as far as Russian conductors go, Gennady Rozhdestvensky was the last of The Great Four that The Ear recalls.

The other three were: Kirill Kondrashin, who conducted Van Cliburn in his victory concerts in Moscow and New York City and died at 67 in 1986; Yevgeny Mvrinsky, who died at 84 in 1988; and Yevgeny Svetlanov, who died at 73 in 2002.

Rozhdestvensky (below, conducting in his young years) was particularly well-known for his championing the music of his compatriot Dmitri Shostakovich both in his homeland and in the West.

(You can hear some of his interpretation of music by Shostakovich, which many considered definitive and revelatory, in the YouTube video of the electrifying finale of the well-known Symphony No. 5 at the bottom.)

Here is his entry in Wikipedia:

Here is the obituary by The New York Times:

Here is the obituary by the BBC:

And here is an obituary by The Guardian:

Do you ever hear Gennady Rozhdestvensky live?

Do you have any comment about him?

Please leave it the comment section.

The Ear wants to hear.

1 Comment »

  1. You raise a good question about why Russian conductors (and many soloists) are not better known in the West. They have a long history of great classical music, and wonderful training schools and academies.

    Your suggested answer is partly, but only partly correct: “…it has to do with infrequent touring and the priority in using non-Russian conductors by major recording labels.”

    Yes, but with more emphasis on politics, especially in pre-Glasnost times. But not much has changed since then which suggests other underlying causes: such as the recording labels and also the penchant for German music, whereas the Russians are frequently seen as too emotional (like Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, despite their huge popularity with the public). Plus, the West (especially elites) have been at war with the Soviet side of Russia since 1917.

    By the same token, we probably see (and hear) too much of British conductors for similar reasons but on the opposite side.

    I think most public radio announcers long ago determined to play more Haydn and to turn him into a joker and Papa figure. That’s more fun (for them but not their audiences).

    In my opinion, the preeminent Russian conductor today is probably Valery Gergiev.

    Fortunately, listeners can do end-arounds about the gatekeepers of classical music and listen to many conductors and groups on their own at You Tube.


    Comment by fflambeau — June 19, 2018 @ 12:48 am

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