Internationally recognized for an approach to music making that combines innate musicality with the rigors of Russian music pedagogy, Semyon Bychkov will assume the title of Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Czech Philharmonic at the beginning of the 2018-19 season. At age 20, in 1973, he took first prize in the Rachmaninoff Conducting Competition, and since then he has conducted virtually all of the major orchestras in the U.S. and Europe, enjoying long-standing relationships with orchestras and opera houses in Amsterdam, Berlin, Chicago, Cleveland, Dresden, Leipzig, London, Los Angeles, Milan, Munich, New York, Paris, Philadelphia, Rome, San Francisco, and Vienna, among others. He currently holds the honorary Klemperer Chair of Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music and the Günter Wand Conducting Chair with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with which he appears annually at the BBC Proms. He also tours frequently with the Munich Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and Vienna Philharmonic, and will conduct a U.S. tour with the Czech Philharmonic in his first season leading that orchestra.
During the 2017-18 season, Mr. Bychkov travels to the U.S. for spring performances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, and San Francisco Symphony. In New York, he leads the Philharmonic in two programs headlined by signature works in his repertoire—Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony and Strauss’s Eine Alpensinfonie. Additionally, he conducts Brahms’s Tragic Overture, Mendelssohn’s First Piano Concerto featuring Bertrand Chamayou, and his late friend and collaborator Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia featuring contemporary vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth.
Mr. Bychkov also continues his focus on the music of Tchaikovsky that began last season with the launch of his international Tchaikovsky project, Beloved Friend, comprising concert series, residencies, and recordings. In the concert hall, he conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphonyand leads the Los Angeles Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony in the composer’s Second Symphony (“Little Russian”). The San Francisco program pairs the Second Symphony with Sergei Taneyev’s Overture to Oresteia, which reflects Mr. Bychkov’s focus not only on Tchaikovsky himself, but also on the music of those who influenced and were influenced by him. In addition to conducting Beloved Friend repertoire on these programs, Mr. Bychkov is joined by piano duo Katia and Marielle Labèque in Bruch’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra.
On record, Mr. Bychkov’s Tchaikovsky focus continues with his and the Czech Philharmonic’s recording of the Manfred Symphony, released in August 2017 as the second installment in their Tchaikovsky recording cycle for Decca Classics. Titled The Tchaikovsky Project, the cycle launched in October 2016 with a recording of the Sixth Symphony (“Pathétique”) and Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture. It will ultimately encompass the composer’s complete symphonies and piano concertos, as well as selected tone poems. Mr. Bychkov also explores the music of Tchaikovsky in concert with the Czech Philharmonic, leading the orchestra in the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies this season as Chief Conductor and Music Director Designate and in Tchaikovsky residencies planned for Paris and Vienna in 2019 after he assumes his directorship. Decca’s release of the complete Tchaikovsky Project box set is scheduled for 2020.
Beyond these performances with the Czech Philharmonic, highlights of Mr. Bychkov’s international season include leading the Vienna Philharmonic at the Musikverein and touring with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra to five European capitals. Additional engagements include Proms performances with the BBC Symphony Orchestra; a tour with the RAI National Symphony Orchestra; concerts with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, London Symphony Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic, Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Orchestre National de France, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, and Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, among other orchestras; and—in the opera house—productions of Wagner’s Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival and Vienna State Opera.
Born in what was then Leningrad, Mr. Bychkov studied piano from age five and was selected to attend the Glinka Choir School, where he shifted his focus to conducting at age 13. Four years later, he entered the Leningrad Conservatory, where he studied conducting under the legendary Ilya Musin, and after a few years at the Conservatory, he won the Rachmaninoff Competition. Having been denied his prize of conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, he left the former Soviet Union in 1975 and soon immigrated to New York, where he met and became friends with Kyriena and Oxana Siloti, whose father studied with Tchaikovsky and taught Rachmaninoff (his cousin).
After arriving in the U.S. at age 22, he enrolled at the Mannes College of Music, where he was appointed conductor of the student orchestra. In 1980 at age 28, he was hired by the Grand Rapids (Michigan) Symphony as Music Director and by the Buffalo Philharmonic as Principal Guest Conductor. In 1985, he left Grand Rapids to begin his four-year tenure as Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, during which time a series of high-profile cancellations led to conducting engagements with the Berlin Philharmonic replacing Riccardo Muti and Eugen Jochum, the New York Philharmonic replacing Rafael Kubelík, and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra replacing Bernard Haitink.
Mr. Bychkov subsequently held appointments as Music Director of Orchestre de Paris (1989), Principal Guest Conductor of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic (1990), Principal Guest Conductor of Maggio Musicale, Florence (1992), Chief Conductor of the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln (1997), and Chief Conductor of the Dresden Semperoper (1998). At Maggio Musicale, he was awarded the prestigious Premio Franco Abbiati della Critica Musicale Italiana for his interpretations of Janáček’s Jenůfa, Schubert’s Fierrabras, Puccini’s La Bohème, Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, and Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. He made his Covent Garden debut in 2003 with a new production of Elektra and returned later that year to conduct Boris Godunov. After concluding his 13-year tenure with WDR in 2010, he focused on fulfilling the high demand around the world for his leadership as a guest conductor, regularly conducting American orchestras including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and San Francisco Symphony. In October 2017, he accepted an appointment to succeed the late Jiří Bělohlávek as Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Czech Philharmonic. In common with the orchestra, Mr. Bychkov has one foot firmly in the cultures both of the East and the West. He currently leads the orchestra in a designate role and will assume his full title and responsibilities with the launch of the 2018-19 season.
Renowned for his mastery of an extensive and varied repertoire—from the Austro-German and Russian classics to the music of today—Mr. Bychkov has recorded extensively, his catalog including releases with the Bavarian Radio Symphony, Berlin Philharmonic, Czech Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris, the Philharmonia, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic, and WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln. During his time with WDR, he conducted such milestone recordings as a critically acclaimed Brahms symphony cycle and works by Strauss (Elektra, Daphne, Ein Heldenleben, Metamorphosen, Alpensinfonie, Till Eulenspiegel), Mahler (Symphony No. 3), Shostakovich (Symphonies No. 4, 7, 8, 10, 11), Rachmaninoff (The Bells, Symphonic Dances, Symphony No. 2), Verdi (Requiem), Detlev Glanert, and York Höller. His recording of Lohengrin with WDR was voted BBC Music magazine’s 2010 “Record of the Year,” while his recording of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin with the Orchestre de Paris was hailed by Opera magazine as one of the 30 “all-time great recordings.” In addition to leading the Czech Philharmonic in an ongoing Tchaikovsky recording cycle for Decca Classics, Mr. Bychkov recently recorded Franz Schmidt’s Second Symphony and Richard Strauss’s Dreaming by the Fireside with the Vienna Philharmonic.
In 2015, the International Opera Awards named Mr. Bychkov “Conductor of the Year.”