Just in: Ashkenazy retires

Just in: Ashkenazy retires


norman lebrecht

January 18, 2020

The pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy has announced his retirement, effective from today.

He is 82 years old.

Ashkenazy was one of the foremost pianists of the past half-century and one of the nicest men on the classical stage.

He will be fondly missed.

The statement was issued by his agency.

UPDATE: Brendel with a bang, Ashkenazy with a whisper


  • Esther Cavett says:

    My god, that’s massive news ! I’ve been listening and watching him for pushing 50 years. It’s all very sudden. Maybe he didn’t want a grand “farewell” and kept the news secret for a while ?

  • A great artist! I will always regret to never have seen him in concert. We will always have his records with Decca. The recent reissue of the box Rachmaninov in LP 180g with Previn is a masterpice.

    • Olassus says:

      That Rachmaninoff cycle with Previn, c. 1971, is still the only one that truly succeeds in all five works (counting the Variations).

      And the Beethoven sonata cycle with Itzhak Perlman is likewise consistently fresh and insightful and in fact unsurpassed, made a few years later.

      But of course they all worked at it. Decca would have them go back again and again — allow them to go back, I should say — into the studio to perfect every phrase and balance, so that the results with such talented musicians were extraordinary.

      The Scriabin cycle took longer and was drawn out, yet the best ones, Nos. 6 and 8 for instance, came late, whereas the first disc (Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 9) had flaws. He actually got Decca to redo one of the finished recordings, No. 10 maybe, which wouldn’t happen these days.

      Sadly I think some of that legacy weighed on Ashkenazy and made performance as a pianist less rewarding for him, which was our loss.

    • David McKellar says:

      I was very lucky to see him play all the Chopin Preludes 40 years ago. Memorable!!

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    There are loads of 2020 dates online, eg Philharmonia in Riga, August.

    I wonder if he (or his wife) is ill ? Or maybe there were some recent concerts which he thought not up to his usual standard.

    I’ll certainly miss him !

  • Andy says:

    What a wonderful musician, wonderful. It was his recording of the Emperor Concerto with Solti and the CSO that got me hooked on classical music. For me (and I know tastes differ), his playing was the most exquisite and sensitive possible, without ever being too sentimental. He had a wonderful way of finishing a phrase (when playing the piano) by slightly varying the length and dynamics of the last two notes, and it always sounded incredible. Fantastic playing. So many of his recordings are my favourites of various pieces.

    I’ve seen so many interviews and documentaries with him and he just comes across as the most charming and humble of people, just there to serve the music, and there because be loved the music. Bravo.

    • ML says:

      I was hooked on classical music due to his Emperor with Mehta. Whereas not all his recordings are the greatest (some a bit boring), I love his Chopin ballades enormously, and that 1960s concert is so competitive that it is on par with Cortot’s best recordings. There are many good orchestra recordings as well. I do regret that I did not get his Mahler set in time: #2 is sold out.

  • Paul says:

    Enjoy your rest, Maestro. You’ve earned it many times over!

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    A great musician!

  • Bill says:

    Who is “Askenazy”?

    • Terry says:

      Google Vladimir Ashkenazy. If you have any sense of music and quality and important times, you’ll be in for a wonderful, exiting education (in the best sense of the word). I was captured by his playing of Beethoven and Rachmaninov 35 years ago. Crisp. Clean. Flawless technique. But most of all, gifted with revealing the heart of anything he was playing—the core of what makes music…well…musical. Have fun discovering a new musical hero!

    • Peter says:

      I don’t know Askenazy-only Ashkenazy. I assume that’s what you mean?

  • John Rook says:

    Thank you for your brilliance, your humility and your genius. We’ve all benefitted from your generosity; enjoy your well-earned rest.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    A gift to classical music and a gentle human being. Happy retirement, maestro Ashkenazy.

  • Tara Wilson says:

    ‘With immediate effect’ (and cancelling his scheduled 2020 concerts) sounds as if there are forces beyond his control. Illness of some description would seem the most obvious. But what a legacy – so many lives, hearts and souls have been touched by this remarkably talent and generous of musicians. Thank you, Maestro Ashkenazy!

  • Cubs Fan says:

    I hope his health is ok. He has so much to offer us still: his extraordinary life story should be put into a biography and he has so much to offer young pianists and conductors. Maybe as tribute we should shelve the Ravel transcription of Pictures at an Exhibition and play Ashkenazy’s for a change – it’s great!

  • Stephen Gould says:

    I saw him two or three times at the RFH – he was wonderful. He was the anti-Barenboim as a concert pianist. Barenboim was all about holding the audience in the palm of his hand; Ashkenazy played as though just for himself and unaware that an audience might be eavesdropping. I like both approaches.

    He was also a surprisingly extrovert conductor – saw him at a Prom many years ago conducting the kids (might have been the EYO), who obviously loved playing for him.

  • perturbo says:

    I saw him conduct many times in Cleveland, and he made a number of fine recordings here. But I wish I’d heard him as a pianist, too!

    • Karl says:

      I never heard him play and I only saw him conduct once.

    • Alex Leach says:

      Yes, I heard him conduct superbly quite a few times in Sydney (including the Dvorak Concerto with Jian Wang where an elderly man fell ill and was quietly stretchered out by ambulancemen mid-performance). I was never as keen on his piano recordings, but a great talent who can look back on a wonderful career.

  • Rob says:

    Very sad and one of the GREATS! Enjoying his life, taking it all in. I remember as a kid seeing ‘Ashkenazy In Moscow’ on BBC 2 in England in 1989, on his return to that city where he conducted Tchaikovsky 4. It was the first time I had heard that Symphony and was struck and overwhelmed by the sound of the pizzicato ostinato.

  • Thank you Maestro! says:

    Well-earned, congratulations, and thank you, thank you, thank you, for your artistry, generosity, and for serving as the highest level role model for all of us.

  • fflambeau says:

    He’s had a terrific career and lifetime. A wonderful musician. I still recall a documentary he made of Sibelius which I thought was magnificent; every recording he made was distinctive. Thank you, Maestro!

  • Alexander Tarak says:

    I once wrote to him for advice and got an answer from him(handwritten) two days later.
    Tells you all you need to know.
    (I still have the letter even though this was over thirty years ago).
    May he have a long and enjoyable retirement.
    He’s earned it.
    A marvellous artist.

  • Martin Hildrew says:

    NHK news says he cancelled some concerts following problems with right arm.

  • Jimbo says:

    A hugely gifted pianist and lovely gentleman in the true sense of that worth. A privilege to have heard him live and collect a good number of his Decca recordings. Jasper Parrott’s statement is all embracing and clearly heartfelt.
    Goodbye from recording / playing in public Maestro … wishing you a peaceful and happy retirement.

  • Dave T says:

    Listening to his Brahms 2 in my teens was a factor in pulling me into classical music.

  • Stereo says:

    Great man. Never forget a Rach 3 we did with him. Very sensible to retire while still being a world class artist.

  • David Ryle says:

    Truly, one of the all time greats, enjoy your retirement, you’ve earned it.

  • Novagerio says:

    Hats off! Enjoy life Vova!! (y)

  • clevelandpiano says:

    One of the great musicians of the past 100 years! I remember hearing him conduct Shostakovich 10 many years ago. After the terrific performance a group of us went to meet him and I remember him saying “what a symphony!”…..he truly was in thrall to the music and uninterested in personal accolades.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    Was he still conducting in recent years?

  • Bruce says:

    He’s one of those rare musicians where he never seemed to put a foot wrong no matter what the repertoire. I think it must be humility: an ability to get out of the way and let the music speak for itself. Much different from performers who can’t/ won’t let you forget for a moment who is playing. Also he seems to have had a gift for avoiding repertoire to which he wasn’t suited: in this he also provided a welcome contrast from musicians who can’t resist repertoire they have no business playing.

    Only heard him live once, playing Brahms #2 in Rochester when I was a student there in the early 80s. From my cheap seat in the balcony I spied an empty seat front row center during the first half; I grabbed it at intermission and heard the concerto while sitting practically under the piano. A masterful performance that has stayed with me for ~35 years.

    Never saw him as a conductor, unfortunately, but from his many recordings he seems to have been just as conscientious and humble. His Sibelius set with the Philharmonia remains, IMHO, one of the best. (His recording of #2 with Boston (early 90s) is wonderful too.) Always “here is Sibelius” (or whichever composer), never “It is I, Ashkenazy, who bring you this Sibelius.”

  • M. L. Liu says:

    Pianist Ashkenazy was before my time, but as a fan of pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii, I know him as a conductor and have seen him perform live many times, on different continents.

    My sense is that Mo. Ashkenazy is an exacting, demanding musician with high standards — and a soft heart that belies his stern demeanor. On a blistering afternoon in Bristol, England, in 2012, I saw the maestro — in his trademark white turtleneck — show up in the lobby of the concert hall to pick up a ticket for his wife to be at the evening concert. In the Sydney Opera House in 2016, he stopped after the first movement of Beethoven’s piano concerto and patiently waited for latecomers to find their seats in the concert hall.

    At age 80, Mo. Ashkenazy toured Japan in 2018 with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, fulfilling a 10-year commitment: 12 performances, 12 venues,11 cities in 2 weeks. I sensed then that the maestro may be readying himself for retirement. It still comes too soon.

    May the force be with him.

  • Henry Laszczewski says:

    Another little story. Several years ago Colin Stone played the Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues op.87 at Cadogan Hall in London. The hall was half empty. Before the recital started Maestro Ashkenazy appeared and gave us a talk about the music. I’m not even sure if it was planned. As a servant to the music he gave us his usual wonderful insights and some personal history and it just made the event so special. I was then lucky enough to hear him conduct many times afterwards. Happy retirement maestro.

  • Dr MHS says:

    I have thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of his musical career as pianist and conductor. Best wishes in your retirement

  • Michael says:

    I saw him in Manchester with my late wife. He was obviously in a really bad mood when he came on stage. His face was on fire, and although he played professionally, the mood came through in his playing. It was a total was of money for us. I always thought of him as a generalist at the best of times anyway.

  • J Spooner says:

    Oh, I just love him! Pray God he has a wonderful retirement.

  • Rob says:

    He buys his polo necks and shirts from John Smedley, hand crafted knitwear designed in Matlock, Derbyshire, if you didn’t know!

  • Phil says:

    Yes, it does seem to be very sudden,as only about some six weeks ago I saw him conduct a program in Cardiff consisting of the Brahms Violin Concerto and Sibelius 2 and he seemed to be in fine form with the Philharmonia orchestra then..How very sad this news is, but whatever the reasons I hope that he has a very long and happy retirement as he will be remembered with very great admiration and affection by audiences everywhere who have had the good luck to hear him perform in whatever capacity

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    I am very fond of his cycle of the Mozart concerti. It is my default “go to” set. Happy retirement, sir.

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    Great musician- prodigious pianist- surely one of the greatest of the last 60 years. As a conductor he became better as he got older. Some inspiring performances witnessed with the Philharmonia & RPO who can be workaday with other baton wavers. He’s deserved his retirement & can rest on his golden Laurels & catalogue of superlative performances as both pianist & conductor

  • Helena VonDrakenstein says:

    To everything a season

  • Jim Clarke says:

    Heartfelt thanks to Mr Ashkenazy for such wonderful music making.

    My earliest recollection is of my neighbours in Birmingham going to a recital somewhere in the southwest, probably one of Ashkenazy’s first in the country. The audience were assembled and this small , pale man in an ill fitting dinner jacket came in and sat down at the piano. My neighbour though he was the piano tuner! The piano then exploded into amazing sound!

    As a student in London in the late sixties I used to sit in the choir at the Festival Hall (for half-a-crown!) and watch this wonderful pianist in his pomp.

    I recall his surprise when I shook his hand in Foyles Bookshop. He was coming out of the Russian Language section, then on the second floor and round the corner from the medical books section. I recognised him from the cover photo of the Rach 3 LP.

    My favourite LP’s for years were those of his Chopin Ballades and Scherzos.

    He has been a companion to my musical listening for so many years.

  • Simon D says:

    I saw him many times as a pianist and as a conductor since the 1970s, mainly in Sydney. Saw his complete Mahler Cycle at the Sydney Opera House a few years ago.

    One of my favourite musicians.

    I won’t forget the kind expression in his eyes when he signed one of his CDs for me in the foyer of the SOH.

    Hard to believe I won’t see him again.

    I hope his retirement is wonderful.

  • David Goulden says:

    Thought he was too prolific in the recording studio when I was younger, and I definitely prefer his piano recordings from the ’60s and ’70s to his digital remakes. Changed my mind about him at some point. He is always ultra-reliable (and I don’t mean it as a backhanded comment) and I consider him a true servant of the music, rather like Eugene Ormandy. His Mozart piano concertos are underrated. Listening to him playing the 17th as I type this. Prefer him to the bloodless Perrahia in this repertoire any day. He was very friendly when I approached him after a rehearsal with the Philharmonia in the early 1990s, as well. Unlike, say, Lorin Maazel or C von Dohnanyi or Ivo Pogorelich, who were chilly all three…
    Enjoy your retirement, Maestro!

  • David Goulden says:

    …meant to say backhanded compliment.