BPO Music Director: 1985-1989
Semyon Bychkov was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) on November 30, 1952. He began to take piano lessons at the age of five. He was admitted to the Glinka Choir School at the age of seven years, from which he graduated with honors in 1970. He then entered the Leningrad Conservatory as its youngest student, studying under Ilya Musin until his graduation in 1974.
Seeking to broaden his musical experience Bychkov emigrated to the United States in 1975. In turn he entered the graduate conducting program at the Mannes College of Music in New York from which he received an Artist Diploma in 1976. Shortly thereafter he was a prize winner in the Gino Marinuzzi International Conducting Competition in Italy. He then was assigned the task of directing the New York premiere of Tchaikovsky's Iolanta and became the Music Director of the Mannes College Orchestra. As a promising young maestro he was the subject of feature articles in both Ovation Magazine and Musical America.
In 1980 Bychkov was named Music Director of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra. On July 4th, 1983 he became a United States citizen before a crowd of 200,000 at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids. "This is a special day" Bychkov said, "for how often can a man be present at his own birth? Coming to America, becoming an American, feeling American, amounts to being reborn."
1984 began Bychkov's major exposure to the international music scene. Filling in on short notice for Bernard Haitink, he received a standing ovation and widespread acclaim for his conducting of an all-French program at a concert of Holland's famed Concertebouw Orchestra. He followed this one month later with his debut with the New York Philharmonic when he was asked to step in for an ailing Raphael Kubelik. The New York Daily News wrote, "This was probably the best Rachmaninoff Second Symphony this critic has ever heard."
In January 1985, with two days' notice, Bychkov made his debut concluding the world-renowned Berlin Philharmonic. The electrifying performance of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No.3 and Shostakovich's Symphony No.5 brought the appreciative audience to its feet in a ovation that recalled the young maestro to the stage even after he had changed from concert dress to street clothes. The Berlin Philharmonic immediately re-engaged him for future appearances.
Along the way Bychkov had made a variety of guest conducting appearances with the BPO in concerts at Artpark and Kleinhans. With rapport already well established with local audiences and musicians, he was named to the post of Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic at the beginning of its 50th celebration year in the fall of 1985.
With his well-known vigor and optimism Bychkov set off at once to add spark and zest to the local music scene. He directed a commemorative 50th anniversary concert and recording featuring soprano Roberta Peters and flutist James Gallway as well as featured BPO broadcasts on local radio and television. Bychkov also rekindled the Orchestra's tour schedule, highlighted by an acclaimed performance of the Mahler Symphony No.6 in Carnegie Hall and culminated by the BPO's first-ever European tour, with concerts in Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Austria, including two sold-out performances at Vienna's famed Musikverein.
With that Buffalo Philharmonic, Bychkov's interpretive style was marked by a lush sense of lyrical line and an exuberant rhythmic pulse with wide ranges of contrast in dynamics and tonal color.
In 1989 Bychkov left Buffalo to take up a new post as Music Director of the Orchestre de Paris. In 1992 he became the principal guest conductor of the Teatro Comunale in Florence, and in 1993 he was appointed as the principal guest conductor of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1995 in Florence he received the Musa Poimnia Prize of the international academy Le Muse. In recent years Bychkov has appeared with many major American and European orchestras and opera companies, including recent opera productions at the Lyric Opera in Chicago and La Scala in Milan. His considerable discography on the Phillips label includes works by Bizet, Shostakovich, Berio, Ravel, Saint-SaČns, Dutilleux, Berlioz, Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff. He has also recorded the complete Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky and Cavalleria Rusticana by Mascagni, also available on Phillips.