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Semyon Bychkov


About this Artist

Semyon Bychkov’s tenure as Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Czech Philharmonic was initiated with concerts in Prague, London, New York, and Washington, marking the 100th anniversary of Czechoslovak independence in 2018. Since the culmination of The Tchaikovsky Project in 2019—a 7-CD box set released by Decca Classics and a series of international residencies—Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic have been focusing on the symphonic works of Mahler, with performances and recordings scheduled both at home and abroad.

During the 2021/22 season, Mahler’s Fifth and Ninth Symphonies will be heard on tour at the Grafenegg Festival in Austria, before performances in Prague. The Czech Philharmonic’s 126th season’s subscription concerts in October opened with Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. In the spring, a Czech Festival at Vienna’s Musikverein, featuring Smetana’s Má vlast—recorded by Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic during lockdown—alongside works by Kabeláč, Dvořák, Martinů, and Janáček, will be followed by an extensive European tour including concerts at the Philharmonie in Berlin, Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie, and two concerts at London’s Barbican Centre.

Especially recognized for his interpretations of the core repertoire, Bychkov has also worked closely with many extraordinary contemporary composers, including Luciano Berio, Henri Dutilleux, and Maurizio Kagel. In recent seasons, he has collaborated with René Staar, Richard Dubignon, Thomas Larcher, Detlev Glanert, and Julian Anderson, conducting premieres of their works with the Vienna Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the BBC Proms. Highlights of the new season include the German premiere of Larcher’s Piano Concerto with dedicatee Kirill Gerstein in Berlin, the Czech premiere of Bryce Dessner’s Mari, and the world premiere of Anderson’s Prague Panoramas, also presented in Prague. The three new works are amongst fourteen commissions initiated by Bychkov at the start of his tenure with the Czech Philharmonic.

In common with the Czech Philharmonic, Bychkov has one foot firmly in the culture of the East and the other in the West. Born in Saint Petersburg in 1952, Bychkov emigrated to the U.S. in 1975 and has lived in Europe since the mid-1980s. Singled out for an extraordinarily privileged musical education from the age of five, Bychkov studied piano before winning his place at the Glinka Choir School where, aged 13, he received his first lesson in conducting. He was 17 when he was accepted at the Leningrad Conservatory to study with the legendary Ilya Musin and, within three years, had won the influential Rachmaninov Conducting Competition. Denied the prize of conducting the Leningrad Philharmonic, Bychkov left the former Soviet Union.

By the time Bychkov returned to Saint Petersburg in 1989 as the Philharmonic’s Principal Guest Conductor, he had enjoyed success in the U.S. 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. New productions in Vienna included Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and Daphne, Wagner’s Lohengrin and Parsifal, 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, Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten, and Wagner’s Tannhäuser. Recent productions include Wagner’s Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival and Strauss’s Elektra at the Wiener Staatsoper.

On the concert platform, the combination of innate musicality and rigorous Russian pedagogy has ensured that Bychkov’s performances are highly anticipated. In the U.K., in addition to regular performances with the London Symphony Orchestra, his honorary titles at the Royal Academy of Music and the BBC Symphony Orchestra—with whom he appears annually at the BBC Proms—reflect the warmth of the relationships. In Europe, he tours frequently with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Munich Philharmonic, as well as being a frequent guest of the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic orchestras, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Orchestre National de France, and the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia; in the U.S., he can be heard with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and Cleveland Orchestra. This season, in addition to extensive concert commitments with the Czech Philharmonic, Bychkov’s guest conducting engagements include further performances of Mahler’s symphonies with the Orchestre de Paris, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Oslo Philharmonic, and Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Strauss’s Elektra at the Opéra National de Paris. 

Bychkov made extensive recordings for Philips with the Berlin Philharmonic, Bavarian Radio, Royal Concertgebouw, Philharmonia, London Philharmonic, and Orchestre de Paris. Later, his 13-year collaboration (1997-2010) with WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne (1997-2010) produced a series of benchmark recordings that included 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), a complete cycle of Brahms Symphonies, and works by Detlev Glanert and York Höller. His recording of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin was recommended by BBC’s Radio 3’s Building a Library (2020); Wagner’s Lohengrin was BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Year (2010); and Schmidt’s Symphony No. 2 with the Vienna Philharmonic was BBC Music Magazine’s Record of the Month (2018).

In 2015, Semyon Bychkov was named Conductor of the Year by the International Opera Awards.