Vladimir Ashkenazy is an acclaimed pianist and conductor, and in both fields is one of the foremost interpreters of Russian classical composers. He has assembled an immense and comprehensive catalogue of recorded works, including interpretations of many of the great pieces written for piano, and is the recipient of five Grammy Awards.
Ashkenazy was born in Gorky, then in the Soviet Union. Although his father was a professional pianist it was his mother that fostered their son’s musical abilities, finding him his first teacher at the age of six. Two years later he made his concert debut in Moscow, which set him on the path to become a concert pianist and eventually enroll in the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied with Lev Oborin. While Ashkenazy was still in his late teens he entered the international spotlight with several impressive piano competition performances, including receiving second place in the International Chopin Piano Competition in 1955 and first prize in the Queen Elizabeth International Piano Competition the following year.
By the early 1960s Ashkenazy’s fame was growing, as he continued to travel in Europe and tied for first place in the 1962 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition. However, the more he saw of life outside of the Soviet Union, the greater his dissatisfaction with his homeland, and the KGB (the Soviet Secret Police) were beginning to take notice. In 1963, following a successful debut with the London Symphony Orchestra and a recital at Festival Hall, Ashkenazy chose to remain in the United Kingdon, permanently parting with the Soviet Union. He eventually settled with his wife Thorunn Johannsdottir in her home country of Iceland before moving to Switzerland in 1973.
In June 2013, Gramophone magazine enthused “It is rare to find, in the same artist, the very highest levels of musical talent living alongside the deepest genuine humility. None has that rare combination in higher degree than Vladimir Ashkenazy.”