Gennady Rozhdestvensky (1931-2018)


"Hearing this man conduct the orchestra at Salle Pleyel was a spiritual experience. His broad tempos and depth of understanding are combined with a magic - is there another word? - he has over musicians."

Frank Cadenhead, La Scene Musicale

"It’s always a treat to have Rozhdestvensky back: he teases out the music with the nudge-and-wink school of conducting, and with a razor-sharp mind behind it all."

Hilary Finch, The Times

"Few conductors do so little and achieve so much as Rozhdestvensky."

Keith Powers, The Boston Herald

Download full biography

Gennady Rozhdestvensky (4th May 1931 - 16th June 2018) was one of greatest conductors of the last half century. Born in Moscow, he studied the piano with Lev Oborin and conducting with his father, Nikolaï Anosov, at the Moscow Conservatoire. At the age of 20, he was engaged at the Bolshoi Theatre where he made his début conducting Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty. His was to be a long term relationship with the Bolshoi: he became their principal conductor between 1964 and 1970, and in 2000 was appointed their General Music Director.

For many years, he also headed the Moscow Radio Orchestra and became the first Soviet conductor, ever to be appointed principal conductor of various foreign orchestras: the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London, the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, and the Stockholm Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Gennady Rozhdestvensky also conducted an impressive number of performances at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden (Boris Godunov and new productions of The Golden Cockrell and The Nutcracker), at the Paris Opera (The Queen of Spades), at La Scala (The Legend of Tsar Saltan by Rimsky-Korsakov and Der fliegende Holländer) among others.

He has also participated in dozens of world premieres of new or newly found works, some of which were dedicated to him: works by composers including Prokofiev, Shostakovich, John Tavener, Alfred Schnittke, Rodion Shchédrine etc. In 2001, he gave the first performance of the original version of Prokofiev’s opera The Gambler at the Bolshoi Theatre.

His prolific discography reveals his insatiable curiosity and makes him one of the most recorded conductors of all time. His present catalogue features well over 400 records comprising the astounding number of 786 different works.

In 2011, he celebrated his 80th birthday together with the 60th anniversary of his conducting debut with a special evening at the Bolshoi Theatre (New Stage) in which he conducted scenes from The Sleeping Beauty, the Coronation scene from Boris Godunov and Rachmaninov’s 2nd Symphony.

Rozhdestvensky is the recipient of the French Legion of honour, of the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun, and an Honorary Member of the Stockholm and British Academies.

In 2014, he received an honorary CBE for his services to music and led the Bolshoi Opera in concert performances of The Tsar’s Bride at Lincoln Centre, New York. Sedgwick Clark in Musical America referred to him as ‘this great conductor’ and called for his return. He did indeed return to the US to conduct six performances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra last season which also saw him celebrate his 85th birthday in a month-long series of concerts in Moscow.

In 2016, Gennady Rozhdestvensky was awarded the 7th International Shostakovich Prize by the Staatskapelle Dresden. The award is given in association with the orchestra’s annual Shostakovich Festival in Gohrisch (Saxonian Switzerland), which Mo Rozhdestvensky opened in June 2017.

This biography is for information only and should not be reproduced.

8th International Shostakovich Festival

Staatskapelle Dresden, Semperoper Dresden (June 2017)

...The richly-coloured early work and the naked horror of Shostakovich's late music -  who could reveal them better than Rozhdestvensky, who is famous, but also notorious for his thorough interpretations? The 86-year old Russian relentlessly opens up the scores, creating an extremely effective interpretation, in which the sounds penetrated right to the marrow as well as earning loud bravi that expressed the audiences full respect for the life and work of Rozhdestvensky. The Dresden Staatskapelle so surrendered itself to the charisma of the Director on the rostrum that one was listening to sounds one never imagined possible... Maestro Rozhdestvensky conducted also the constant oscillation of the percussion in the final bars and then smilingly enjoyed the ovations. He drew a veil over his own self and devoted this applause to the scores by Dmitri Shostakovich. The suspenseful ambivalence between the modesty of this gesture and the simultaneous total determination in the approach to the work and performance perhaps describes the greatness of Gennady Rozhdestvensky - it was a memorable evening and concert.

Alexander Keuk, Kultur

...Rozhdestvensky made the music of his life companion, Shostakovich, blaze anew and euphorically thrilled the audience. Standing ovations were longer than usual - more out of consideration for the age of the legendary conductor.

Karsten Blüthgen, Saechsische Zeitung

A very great evening which ended in triumph for the conductor.

Vincent Guillemin, Res Musica

Vaughan Williams Complete Symphonies / USSR Ministry of Culture State Symphony (MELCD1002170)

USSR Ministry of Culture State Symphony (MELCD1002170)

Rozhdestvensky launches the work [the Sea Symphony] with tremendous majesty and thrust. Consistently well-chosen tempos reveal a real feeling for the music. He is well in control of the huge forces - you could say he runs a tight ship. The first movement risers to a superb climax, and the nocturnal postlude to the second movement is very atmospheric indeed. He inspires his great forces to great energy in the Scherzo… Rozhdestvensky’s pacing of the first movement [of the London Symphony] is exemplary, observing many of the tempo changes indicated in the score, and occasionally doing the opposite. He is brilliant at climaxes, both here and in the second movement, where the emotional temperature is very high… [This recording] from Rozhdestvensky and his fabulous Russian forces is a must for dedicated Vaughan Williams enthusiasts.

William Hedley, International Record Review

The Tsar’s Bride / Lincoln Centre, New York

Lincoln Centre, New York (July 2014)

What a night at the concert opera, primarily due to the conducting of Gennady Rozhdestvensky! Returning to New York after far too many years for a pair of performances of Rimsky-Korsakov's opera, he reminded listeners once again of the importance of character in a musical performance. A silly, self-evident observation, you say? Some complained of ragged attacks-in fact, the opening of Act III was so messy that Rozhdestvensky banged his music stand twice with his baton to get the Bolshoi players in tempo-but I couldn't have cared less in light of the abundant warmth and beauty achieved at their maestro's broad pacing… Rozhdestvensky is 83, and the Met, the Philharmonic, Lincoln Center, or Carnegie would do well to get this great conductor back to New York again before it's too late.

Sedgwick Clark, Musical America

Rozhdestvensky’s... expansive reading had the weight of authenticity behind it and brought forth burnished sounds from the orchestra.

George Loomis, Opera Magazine

Shostakovich Symphony No. 8 / London Philharmonic Orchestra (Remaster of 1983)

London Philharmonic Orchestra Recording (Remaster of 1983)

This is a magnificent interpretation of one of the greatest post-Mahlerian symphonies of the twentieth century which should be heard by all admirers of this composer (which means admirers of both composers). It is a performance from 1983, recorded live, which implies that not every last note is quite perfect, but the sweep and intensity of Gennady Rozhdestvensky’s conducting are remarkably impressive and the LPO plays with considerable commitment and attention to detail. Rozhdestvensky’s tempos are exactly right and his coherence throughout this hour-long work is exemplary: this is very fine conducting indeed... it is the consistent intensity and imagination of Rozhdestvensky’s conducting that capture the listener.

Robert Matthew-Walker, International Record Review, April 2013

Conducted by Gennady Rozhdestvensky, it's a formidable performance, less self-consciously ironic than some, but immensely strong on raw power … Rozhdestvensky is particularly good at cumulative tension: the gathering dissonances of the first movement, the relentless pace of the second scherzo and the formal grief of the passacaglia are immaculately judged.

Tim Ashley, The Guardian

Shostakovich / Teatro dell'Opera di Roma

Teatro dell'Opera di Roma (January 2013)

L’Alfa e l’omega di Shostakovich. In uno straordinario concerto dell’Orchestra del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma il maestro Gennady Rozhdestvensky ha diretto sabato la prima e l’ultima Sinfonia di Shostakovich, la Prima e la Quindicesima. L’orchestra romana è di portentosa abilità. Se dovessi citare il nome di tutti i solisti occuperei lo spazio di un’intera pagina. Il maestro Gennady Rozhdestvensky, ottantenne, è uno dei più grandi direttori viventi; fu sodale di Shostakovich sì che per questo e per le sue eccezionali qualità risulta l’interprete più fedele del compositore. Ha una tecnica del gesto tutta sua, con bacchetta lunghissima, basata sulle articolazioni del polso. Anche lui, tanto per cambiare, venne portato in Italia da Francesco Siciliani. E non con un autore russo, ma con un autore del quale in Russia esiste una radicatissima tradizione, Hector Berlioz.

Paolo Isotta, Corriere della Sera

Si apre con un vero e proprio evento musicale la nuova stagione sinfonica 2013 del Teatro dell’Opera. Una inaugurazione preziosa per l’unione di due famose composizioni di un grande musicista e l’esecuzione del suo massimo interprete: Dmitri Shostakovich e il maestro Gennady Rozhdestvensky, quest’ultimo amico e protagonista della riscoperta delle opera del musicista russo.

La Repubblica

Prima Gennady Rozdestvensky - ultimo superstite di coloro che furono amici e sodali di Sostakovic e ne ricevettero precise indicazioni su come eseguirne la musica - ha offerto un'esecuzione memorabile della prima e dell'ultima sinfonia del compositore russo, ottenendo dall'orchestra una risposta magnifica... Lo spazio costringe a un generico "bravi tutti" gli interpreti dei cinquanta personaggi…lunghi applause

Mauro Mariani, Il giornale della musica

Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra Programme

Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra (February 2012)

[The Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra] have achieved remarkable success through their enthusiasm to open up new avenues with a Russian series. With the greatest maestro of the former Soviet Union, Gennady Rozhdestvensky as guest conductor, the orchestra surpassed their previous self-confidence and maturity. In particular, Shostakovich Symphony No. 8 was, without a doubt, fantastic. Despite the weakness of the work due to the ambiguous ending, they made such great powers of persuasion that it blew away all your worries. The Maestro made his own very unique interpretation not yet heard on any recordings. The madness and the catastrophe of the Second World War emerged so clearly

Moon-Kyung Kim, SPO Magazine

These photos are available to be downloaded.
Right click on a desired image and select the "Save Link As" option.