Gennady would have been 90

Gennady would have been 90


norman lebrecht

May 05, 2021

No-one figured out the enigma that was Gennady Rozhdestvensky.

On the one hand he stepped up to head a Soviet Ministry of Culture Orchestra when the others were deemed to be infected with dissidents. On the other, he conducted every new symphony of Alfred Schnittke and when they banned him in Moscow, Gennady put his orchestra on a train and gave the premiere in the boondocks.

A charming, witty companion, he was chief conductor of the BBC Symphony, the Vienna Symphony and Stockholm Phil, skimping famously on rehearsals so he could take his wife shopping. But the concerts lacked nothing in passion and precision.

He was a magician and a very private man.

Gennady who died in June 2018, would have turned 90 this week.

We miss him


  • microview says:

    Remember a Prom encore with the Leningrad PO where after a minute or so he just stepped off the podium and left them to it!

  • Ben G. says:

    He always reminded me of Prokofiev. It’s strange how they look similiar!

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Lovely man. he told me that he never rehearsed for more than 45 minutes!

  • E says:

    He looks happy! What a conversation between
    him and the orchestra! Sans paroles.

  • Gustavo says:

    Thank you!

    He is still greatly missed!

    I had the privilege of hearing him thrice:

    As a fetus – Tchaikovsky 4 with Leningrad Phil.

    As a youth – Scriabin 2 with Moscow Phil

    In 2016 – Prokofiev 5 with Dresden Phil

  • Murray Citron says:

    I have a very nice Rozhdestvensky/Postnikova recording of Brahms’ four-hand piano music on Eurodisc LP 89 152 KK – well worth having if you can find it.

  • E says:

    A witty and wonderful performance

  • MacroV says:

    Also two stints at the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic.

    I had the chance to see him conduct several different programs in Moscow about 15 years ago. Just wonderful music making, in a range of repertoire most orchestras probably never saw him do as a guest conductor.

  • Joel A Stein says:

    He left a BSO engagement when he saw the posters and decided Lynn Harrell’s name was in larger letters than his. He also conducted the BSO in Schnittke’s First Symphony-the number of pseudo doyens rushing to the exits was memorable. RIP.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Question to orchestral musicians: how could Rozhdestvensky and Knappertsbusch lead first class performances, often deeply felt, with so little rehearsing?

    • BRUCEB says:

      A good orchestra, where the musicians pay attention, listen to each other, and know their parts very well (including how their parts fit into the whole at any given moment), barely needs a conductor, let alone rehearsals. (Perhaps for rhythmically complicated pieces, or pieces that require huge forces or more than one conductor — or all of the above, like the War Requiem.)

      Much of rehearsal is to fix problems with ensemble or balance: either someone can’t tell if they are playing too loud or soft, or they forgot to pay attention and are blaring their whole notes to cover up the quiet melody in the cellos — coughTROMBONEScough — or some such; or, their ears are deceiving them and they can’t tell that they aren’t synchronized with a section that’s all the way across the stage. (For example: I’m a flute player. My part very commonly doubles that of the first violins. On our stage, if I use my ears to synchronize with them, I will be late. I have to use my eyes to synchronize with their bows and fingers. If I forget this, then the conductor has to say something to me about it.)

      We recently had a guest conductor who had once conducted the Chicago Symphony. They were doing Ravel’s “Mother Goose” for a children’s concert. She said — I’m paraphrasing; it’s been a couple years — “that orchestra is so on top of things, so present, that they could totally have done it without me… and they knew it. But they would look up at me at all the rubato spots like ‘OK, what do you want to do here?'” She said it was almost like a challenge, as if they were saying “I’m very difficult to impress. Impress me.”

      If an orchestra knows a piece well enough, they can do pretty much anything by themselves. (For instance, could the Vienna Philharmonic play Don Juan without a conductor? …I found myself laughing as I tried to imagine them having trouble with this.)

  • Naf says:

    Good question. What would Carlos Kleiber muse on this?

  • Edgar Self says:

    He conducted the Chicago Symphony in the Shostakovich First not long before he died. I value his box of all Shostakovich symphonies with many extra tracks of rarer orchestral works by DDS.

    The repeated, dramatic kettle-drum solo in the adagio of the First again seemed an early variant of the composer’s monogram, DDS on the notes C (Do)-D-Es (E-flat). It later became DSCH.

  • Karl says:

    They missed him in Boston back in 2008. Rozhdestvensky complained that the soloist, cellist Lynn Harrell, got top billing on a poster and the BSO’s season brochure didn’t list him in the “Distinguished Conductors” section. So he left and Julian Kuerti conducted the concerts. Luckily he liked Montreal better and I got to see him conduct Tchaikovsky’s Manfred there a few years later.

  • Gustavo says:

    He did a superb Nielsen cycle in Stockholm for Chandos.

    His Melodiya recordings of the complete Vaughan Williams and Sibelius symphonies are legendary. So is his Bruckner and Glasunov.