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50 years after he defected to the West, Vladimir Ashkenazy looks set to return to his native Russia, this time at the helm of the Sydney Symphony.
The SSO announced its plans today which include November performances in Moscow and St Petersburg. “The Sydney Symphony is a wonderful group of people – an orchestra of which Australia can be very proud,” said Ashkenazy. “I am greatly looking forward to taking the orchestra to my place of birth and showcasing their talents to the world.”
The Orchestra will perform at the iconic St Petersburg Philharmonic Hall and at the Moscow Conservatory, former stamping grounds of the likes of Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Rachmaninov. The tour kicks off with a performance at the Aram Khachaturian Concert Hall in the Armenian capital of Yerevan, a city that Ashkenazy last visited back in 1961. He is known to have a soft spot for the region however as his first piano teacher Anaida Sumbatian was an ethnic Armenian.
"It will be good for Russians to see an Australian orchestra," Ashkenazy told The Australian. "For Russians, it's (a case of) 'Australia? Where is it?' When we play there – as a world-class orchestra – I think they will say, 'Oh my goodness, listen to that.' They will be amazed."
No program details have been announced but following their recent survey of his music a Mahler symphony seems likely. The orchestra are currently engaged in a two week mini Sibelius festival, another composer who is probably on the shortlist. “The rest? Not sure,” according to Ashkenazy, “we might play an Australian piece.”
SSO Managing Director, Rory Jeffes, was clearly cock-a-hoop. “We are thrilled at the prospect,” he said, “The orchestra has never performed in Russia so to tour the country with Ashkenazy at the helm, well it simply doesn’t get much better.”
Ashkenazy's five year tenure in Sydney has included several high profile tours in the past including two visits to China, as well as Malaysia, Japan, South Korea and Europe. The SSO will be the first Australian orchestra to visit Russia since the Melbourne Symphony played in Moscow 10 years ago. Ashkenazy has been a vocal champion of his orchestra on the international circuit frequently referring to it as "a hidden treasure down under". This latest tour is another step in pursuit of his stated aim to "cement its place on the musical world stage".