Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Moscow Philharmonic Academic Symphony Orchestra
Yuri Simonov was born in 1941 in Saratov into a family of opera singers. He was barely twelve the first time he stood on the conductor’s rostrum to conducting Mozart’s G minor symphony with the orchestra of the Saratov Music School, where he studied the violin. In 1956, he was accepted by the junior department of the Leningrad Conservatory, where he later completed his undergraduate studies in 1965 as a viola student of Y. Kramarov and as a conductor in the class of N. Rabinovich (1969). He was still a student when he won a prize at the 2nd Soviet Union Conductors’ Competition (1966) and as a result was invited to the Kislovodsk Philharmonia as Chief Conductor.
In 1968 Simonov became the first Soviet conductor to win an international competition, the 5th organised by the St Cecilia Academy in Rome. This was reported by Il Messaggero: “the absolute winner of the competition was a twenty-seven year old Russian conductor, Yuri Simonov. This is a great talent, full of inspiration and charm. The exceptional qualities which marked him out for both the public and the jury were his extraordinary capacity to engage the audience, his inherent musicality and the strength and clarity of his gestures. Lets celebrate this youngster who will no doubt become a custodian of great music. After this event he was immediately invited by Yevgeny Mravinsky to become his assistant at the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra and he joined him on a tour of Siberia. Yuri Simonov has retained his contact with this orchestra until the present time. Apart from concerts in the Great Hall of St Petersburg Philharmonia he has joined them for tours of the UK, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France, Holland, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic.
In January 1969 Simonov made his début at the Bolshoi Theatre in Verdi’s Aida and the following February, after his triumphant performances on tour in Paris, he was appointed Chief Conductor of the Bolshoi Theatre, a position he held for more than fifteen years, a record in the history of this theatre. His time there included many historical moments in the life of this theatre, the premieres of jewels of the operatic repertoire such as Glinka’s Ruslan & Ludmilla, Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Maid of Pskov, Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, Bizet’s Carmen, Shostakovich’s The Golden Age, Schedrin’s Anna Karenina and Bluebeard’s Castle and The Wooden Prince by Bartok. In 1979, Wagner’s Rhinegold marked the composer’s return to the theatre after a 40-year break.
His greatest achievement at the Bolshoi, however, was throughout his tenure there to sustain the highest standards in repertoire performances whilst supporting the vital process of continuous renewal of the artistic forces. The result of this work was that works such as Boris Godunov (Mussorgsky), Khovanshchina (Mussorgsky), Prince Igor (Borodin), The Queen of Spades (Tchaikovsky), Sadko (Rimsky-Korsakov), The Tsar’s Bride (Rimsky-Korsakov), Cosi fan tutte (Mozart), Don Carlos (Verdi), Petrouchka and the Firebird (Stravinsky) became trademark performances of the theatre. Every day he dedicated many hours to working with rising talents, providing them with a solid basis for their own professional development and leaving an artistic legacy after departing from the theatre in 1985. The scale of achievement of Yuri Simonov during this period is impressive enough but the simple statistics speak for themselves: in any one season, he conducted more than eighty performances of at least ten different works produced under his direction. At the end of the 1970s Yuri Simonov organised a chamber orchestra of young enthusiasts from the theatre orchestra, a group which toured successfully in its own right in the soviet Union and abroad, engaging such soloists as I. Arkhipova, E. Obraszova, T. Milashkina, Y. Mazurok, V. Malychenko, M. Petukhov, T. Dokshitzer and other significant artists of the time.
Between 1980 and 1990, Simonov undertook performances in major theatres around the world, starting with his début at Covent Garen in Eugene Onegin, followed four years later by La Traviata. Other Verdi operas include Aida in Birmingham, Don Carlos in Los Angeles and Hamburg, La forza del destino in Marseilles, Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte in Genoa, R.Strauss’ Salome in Florence, Mussorgsky’s Khovantchina in San Francisco, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin in Dallas, and Queen of Spades in Prague, Paris and Budapest.
In 1982, he received an invitation to conduct a series of concerts with the London Symphony Orchestra, which marked the start of a fruitful relationship. At the same time many symphonic orchestras around the world invited him as a guest conductor and this led to appearances at leading international festivals including Edinburgh, Tanglewood, Paris, Prague Spring and Autumn festivals and Budapest Spring festival.
From 1985-89 he founded and directed a new State symphony orchestra with which he toured the former Soviet Union as well as Italy, Hungary, Poland and Germany. At the beginning of the 1990s, he was the Chief Guest Conductor of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic Orchestra and from 1994-2002 Music Director of the Belgian National Orchestra. In 2001, he founded the Liszt-Wagner Orchestra in Budapest where he has been a guest conductor of the Hungarian State Opera for more than 30 years. The highlights of this relationship were ten operas by Wagner, including all the Ring operas. Apart from opera performances and many concerts with practically every Budapest ensemble, he also led international masterclasses for conductors in Hungary from 1994-2008, which brought him more than 100 students from 30 countries. Hungarian television made three films about him.
Maestro has always combined his heavy artistic commitments with teaching. From 1978-91 he was Professor of opera and symphonic conducting at the Moscow Conservatoire and since 2006 he has been teaching conducting at the St Petersburg Conservatoire and holding masterclasses both in Russia and abroad - in London, Tel Aviv, Almaty and Riga. To mention some of his students: T.Boganyi, D.Botinis (Sr &Jr), Y.Botnari, J.Brett, L.Harrell, G.Horvath, T.Khitrova, I.Manasherov, V.Moiseev, G.Rincavichus, A.Rubin, Y.Samoylov, D.Sitkovetsky, P.Sorokin, M.Turgumbaev, M.Vengerov, S.Vlasov, M.Zoltowski.
Maestro Simonov was also a member of the jury of conducting competitions in Florence, Tokyo and Budapest. In 2011 and 2015, he chaired the jury of both First and Second All-Russia conductors’ competition in Moscow. At present, he is writing a book on conducting.
Since 1998, Yuri Simonov has been the Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra. Under his leadership, this orchestra has regained its former prominence. Working with this orchestra gave him an opportunity display his characteristics of strong expression and technical dexterity, combined with an ability to establish a deep trust between the audience and the performers and striking theatrical imagery. During this period, he has prepared more than 200 different programmes, which were played on tours throughout the world as well as in Moscow. The press response has rarely been less than ecstatic, with remarks such as “Simonov gets out such a breadth of emotion that its close to genius,” (Financial Times), “a towering inspiration to his players,” (The Times).
The 2008-9 season was celebrated with a special concert series entitled “Ten Years together”. 2010-11 was full with concerts in Moscow and tours in Russia and China but the main highlight were Maestro’s 70th birthday concerts in March 2011 in Moscow, Orenburg and on tour in Spain, Germany and Romania.
As well as performing concerts with the orchestra, Maestro Simonov takes a personal interest in developing the audiences of the future. He has developed special programmes combining jewels from the literary and musical heritage to appeal to young audiences, using a wealth of material but within themes from the tales of The Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin and Cinderella. Supporting the work of young musicians is no less important to him - in September 2008, he prepared the Commonwealth Youth Symphony Orchestra and toured with them to Moscow, Baku, Dushanbe, Bishkek and Almaty.
Always ready to take on new artistic liaisons, in 2010 - 2015 he appeared with the Strasbourg, Bucharest (George Enesco Philharmonic), Sofia and Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestras, with the Brabant Orchestra and Symphony Orchestra of India in Mumbai.
His repertoire comprises all styles and periods from the Baroque to the present day. Some highlights of recent premieres are S.Slonimsky’s 27th and 29 th Symphonys, B.Tischenko’s Requiem and Laces of Vologda by K.Bodrov. His own compilations from stage works by Tchaikovsky, Glazunov, Prokofiev and Khatchaturian have been very popular with audience.
Yuri Simonov, National Artist of USSR (1981), Chevalier of the Russian Order of Merit (2001), Laureate of Music and Arts, Moscow (2008), Conductor of the Year (Music Observer 2005-6), Hungarian Order of Merit (2001), Commander of the Romanian Order of Star (2003), Polish Award for Culture, Russian Order for services to the Fatherland IV Grade (2011).
His discography includes a wide repertoire produced by EMI, Melodia, Collins Classics, Cypres, Hungaroton, Le Chant du Monde, Pannon Classic, Sonora, and Tring International, and Kultur distributes DVDs of his performances at the Bolshoi Theatre.