Friday, April 30, 2021

Kirill Kondrashin (1914-1981)

No. 356 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

This week’s new podcast features the Moscow Philharmonic and its Chief Conductor from 1960 to 1975, Kiril Kondrashiin.

Kondrashin was formed as a conductor at an early age, making his conducting debut at the Moscow Children’s Theatre in 1931, later working as assistant conductor at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Academic Music Theatre in 1934. For almost 25 years, including a stint at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow as a member of the conducting staff in wartime until 1956, Kondrashin was mainly an opera and ballet conductor, though he did dabble in orchestral repertoire. Notably, his performance of Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 1 attracted the composer's attention and led to the formation of a firm friendship.

After leaving the Bolshoi, Kirill Kondrashin concentrated on orchestral conducting, becoming highly thought of as a concerto accompanist and working with the country’s leading instrumentalists, such as Emil Gilels, Leonid Kogan, David Oistrakh, Sviatoslav Richter and Rostropovich. In the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958, Kondrashin was the conductor for Van Cliburn, who won the first prize. After the competition he toured the USA with Cliburn, being the first Russian conductor to visit America since the Cold War began. The performances and recordings with Van Cliburn helped to establish an international reputation for Kondrashin. He held numerous subsequent engagements in the America, the last being a concert at the Hollywood Bowl in February 1981.

The two works on the program today are Tchaikovsky’s Third orchestral suite – a work that requires little introduction, as it has been featured in past shares- and Shostakovich’s Sixth symphony.

Shostakovich had announced once in September 1938 that he was anxious to work on his Sixth Symphony, which would be a monumental composition for soloists, chorus and orchestra employing the poem Vladimir Ilyich Lenin by Vladimir Mayakovsky, but the declamatory nature of the poem made it difficult to set. He later tried to incorporate other literature about Lenin in his new symphony, but without success. Finally, he settled on a purely instrumental symphony, completing it in September 1939.

On 21 November 1939, exactly two years after the premiere of the Symphony No. 5, the premiere of the Symphony No. 6 took place in the Large Hall of the Leningrad Philharmonic in Leningrad by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra under Yevgeny Mravinsky. The symphony had a successful premiere, however the work was later criticised for its ungainly structure and the jarring juxtaposition of moods. The fact that the symphony was performed during a 10-day festival of Soviet music which included patriotic works (by Prokofiev and Shaporin ) probably did not help. The third movement galop is the movement Shostakovich himself thought was most successful (at the premiere, the finale was encored).

I think you will love this music too.

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