Virtuoso pianist. Conductor. Arranger. Vladimir Davidovich Ashkenazy burst onto the world stage when he won second prize in the International Frederick Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1955 at age 18, followed by first prize in the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition in Brussels in 1956. Since then, he has not only made a name for himself as one of the most renowned pianists of this age, with a staggering discography ranging from the works of Bach to Ravel to Scriabin (and even multiple recordings of Rach III, Rachmaninov's notoriously fiendish 3rd piano concerto), but has also branched out into the realm of conducting, where he gathered praise for his recordings of various Russian masters including Stravinsky and Shostakovitch, and even orchestrated his own version of Mussorgsky's Pictures of an Exhibition
. He was also recently involved in several TV projects, including Ashkenazy in Moscow
, which documented his return to Russia after over 20 years. A citizen of Iceland since 1972, he is currently the Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
I love this man. (Let's not misinterpret that statement). [And not just because he's the only living hero whom I've ever had the privilege of meeting.] As a piano student, I used to play along with his recording of Robert Schumann's Fantasiestücke Op. 12
on my discman, working on my diploma. As a collegiate, I collected his recordings and swore at the unavailability of his concert tickets (which were sold out months before the performance) until, finally, I planned a year ahead and managed to procure seats for his performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 12 in A (K414) and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major (Op. 15). And I tell you: Here is a man, full of life, who turns his nose up at classical tradition and bounds
up onto the stage with a huge grin on his face. Here is a renowned musician who defies the formal dress code with his turtlenecks and dark suits. And here is a virtuoso who not only plays like a dream, but also directs the orchestra from behind the piano, in the fashion of classical masters. If the wild cartoon conductors you see on TV were ever modelled upon a real person, it was probably Ashkenazy.
It was quite unnerving to walk up to him to shake his hand and discover that he was a tiny fellow (whom I fairly loomed over) with fat, stubby fingers that defy one's preconceptions of piano virtuosi and their quick, slender digits. But I suppose one doesn't have to be large to be a giant.
I was initially undecided about whether to do a realistic montage of Ashkenazy as pianist/conductor/arranger (which I was confident doing), or if I should attempt a looser style, without strictly basing it on any one existing photo (which I wasn't). (Which all look like bloody posterity shots anyway, except for this one which I liked but was from the wrong angle. I wound up posing for this instead).
, upon hearing my description of him, said firmly, "Keep it loose. Make it abstract." My thanks to her; this was the first painting I'd done in ages that I actually had fun doing.
Title stolen from Vladimir Ashkenazy's autobiography, published in 1985.