Bust-up: Ashkenazy quits music directorship

Bust-up: Ashkenazy quits music directorship


norman lebrecht

June 15, 2015

The veteran conductor and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy today quit the European Union Youth Orchestra ‘with immediate effect’. He has been its music director for 15 years, succeeding Bernard Haitink (who, in turn, succeeded Claudio Abbado and Colin Davis.

We hear that Vova had a principled difference of opinion with the orch’s managing director, Marshall Marcus, who wanted to steer it closer to the orbit of his alma mater, the Venezuela-based El Sistema movement. A genial man who generally avoids confrontation, Vova’s patience apparently snapped when he was offered a reduced role.

The official statement reads:

Vladimir Ashkenazy has announced today that after 15 years as Music Director of the European Union Youth Orchestra he has resigned with immediate effect. He was appointed to this position in 2000 in succession to Bernard Haitink who had been preceded by Claudio Abbado and Colin Davis.

He sends his best wishes to the orchestra’s wonderful musicians, present and past, for whom he feels the warmest commitment and affection. It is a matter of great satisfaction to him that during his 15 years as Music Director so many alumni of the EUYO have taken up leading positions in top orchestras throughout the Union. He also extends  his love and admiration to Joy Bryer the founder and  irreplaceable mentor of this great and noble institution which has so profoundly changed the ethos  of orchestras throughout Europe by inspiring  two generations of musicians to bring to their lives in music new levels of professionalism and engagement. 


photo (c) Keith Saunders


  • Julian Reynolds says:

    ==generally avoids confrontation

    Don’t forget that Ashkenazy left RPO in a huff


    Also he famously cancelled a Rach concerto performance with Haitink in London over fees.

    • Vovka Ashkenazy says:

      What on earth are you referring to regarding fees? Where is your evidence to support such an allegation?

  • Julian Reynolds says:

    Also, compared to Abbado, Haitink and Sir Colin – Ashkenazy has never been the most insprired of conductors. Massive repertoire – yes. Efficient rehearsals – yes. But not that final spark of genius.

    • yves Sitbon says:

      Quite a strange comment from Mr. Reynolds. Trying to emphasize a single possible conflict in a career spanning over 70 years as a proof of bad temper from an artist know in the musical world for his kindness, his humility, and his low profile, seems to tell more about Mr Reynolds himself. Any personal grief he might want to settle here? Did I just think envy?
      And then, it gets funny. Mr Reynolds, with his “immense career” (I needed to google him because I never heard of him before), has no better idea than question the musical talent of Vladimir Ashkenazy… Well, I’m speechless and will stop wasting my time with him. Most musicians will know who they should look up to. Maestro Ashkenazy or… what’s his name again?

  • Alexander says:

    I’m not sure about El Sistema being Marshall Marcus’s alma mater. By the time El Sistema was founded Marcus had already gained his ARCM diploma and was an undergraduate at The Queen’s College, Oxford, whence he progressed to Trinity College, Cambridge for a Cert.Ed., and after Cambridge he joined the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

  • Kaznowski says:

    Do we have any specifics of the Sistema-like things Marcus was trying to introduce?

  • Vovka Ashkenazy says:

    Very revealing comments.

    • James Lisney says:

      I quite agree.

      It is hard to understand why some people here are criticising one of the most distinguished, generous and honourable of present day musicians.

      Vladimir Ashkenazy’s exceptional record speaks for itself and it has been played out at the highest level for half a century without resort to fake publicity tricks or histrionics.

      It is sad that these young people will not benefit from the role model of an artist who has combined his unique gifts with an inspiring work ethic and purity of vision.

    • Mary Angela Douglas says:

      The irrefutable proof that Vladimir Ashkenazy has throughout his life remained faithful to his own musical values is in every piece of work he had anything to do with. In this, as in all other matters I am sure that Mr. Ashkenazy did what is right, just, and true in accordance with his own particular standards of beauty, excellence, and inner musical vision. Some things just can’t be compromised.

  • EUYO says:

    Marcus is steering the EUYO in a direction that no-one else seems to want to head towards. He’s very keen for the players to become ‘ambassadors’ for the European Union, when in all honesty the orchestra should just stay out of politics and do what it does best (alongside the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester), which is educating the best young musicians on the continent to be the next generation of orchestral stars. These players don’t want to go out there and be some sort of guinea pigs for ‘groundbreaking’ new ideas, they want to go and learn from the best musicians around and make new contacts and friends for life. Once people get wind of this, it will be the GMJO that they audition for.

    Very sad that Vova is gone…whatever you think of his conducting he is almost universally loved and respected by the musicians he directs.

  • Theodore McGuiver says:

    Vladimir Ashkenazy is one of the most important musicians alive. As a pianist he is practically peerless. I remember meeting him often in the 70’s after his South Bank appearances, his generosity, humanity and consideration matched only by those of similar stature. If he’s encountered difficulties at the EUYO then I suggest people look further than the odd convenient comment posted above.

  • Arto says:

    I don’t agree your opinion. His Sibelius symphonies are still outstanding and so are his Rachmaninov concertos with Haitink and the concertgebouw orchestra

  • M2N2K says:

    Unfortunately, I haven’t heard VA play for over a decade now, but before that he was most definitely a phenomenal pianist. As a conductor, he has been consistently delightful and quite inspiring. Overall, a tremendous musician and a very charming person.

  • Alan Davies says:

    As a student pianist during the 1960 era, he was one of the top ranking pianists I emulated for his interpretations, especially the Chopin recordings on the Decca label. The studies I still listen to on those same records. Such a shame that his choice to move on has brought the termites out of the woodwork, Ashkenazy is and always has been an honest artist no matter what situation arises.