Maxim Emelyanychev interviewed by Gregor Tassie

Maxim Emelyanychev (c) SCO

When the 29-year-old Russian musician Maxim Emelyanychev was appointed Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s Principal Conductor designate last spring, many were not so surprized for the young conductor had astounded many concertgoers when he stepped in at the last moment for a SCO concert of Schubert’s ‘Great’ C major symphony. It was his lively and entertaining conducting, in addition to his relationship with his musicians, that ensured his appointment. Certainly, the Russian seems to be following in the tradition of the young Robin Ticciati who had impressed the SCO during a summer tour when they gave him the job and that led to a nine-year rise of artistic success. Ticciati also expanded the SCO repertoire by introducing operas in concert, and symphonies by Mahler and Bruckner to their concert programmes. Emelyanychev has already achieved significant success in the short period in which he has been performing; his keyboard playing of Mozart sonatas on Aparté won an ICMA award and was nominated for a Grammy, and also honours for his ground-breaking recordings with Il Pomo d’Oro with Joyce DiDonato ‘In War and Peace – Harmony through Music’.

Of course, Russia has a grand tradition in producing world-class musicians, the names of Mravinsky, Kondrashin, Svetlanov and Rozhdestvensky are celebrated among aficionados worldwide. In recent years, the latest generation of outstanding conductors Yurovsky, Petrenko, and Sladkovsky have developed major international careers in Europe and beyond. However, the new chief at the SCO was drawn at an early age to period instruments – Emelyanychev studied fortepiano and harpsichord with Maria Uspenskaya at the Moscow Conservatoire, and conducting with Gennady Rozhdestvensky. His playing on fortepiano with Teodor Currentzis and Perm Opera of Mozart’s Il nozze di Figaro on Sony Classics won Russia’s major award of the Golden Mask. In 2010 he won third prize at the Volkonsky harpsichord competition in Moscow, and the second prize at the Musica Antica harpsichord competition in Bruges. In 2012 he won first prize at the Hans von Bülow Piano Competition in Meiningen.

In its forty-four year history, Emelyanychev is only the fifth principle conductor following Sir Peter Maxwell Davis, Sir Charles Mackerras, Joseph Swensen and Robin Ticciati, and he is only the second Russian to ever be appointed to one of the top conducting jobs in Scotland. When he visited Edinburgh for the launch of the 2019-20 SCO concert programme, I managed to speak to him.

GT: I understand that your parents are also musicians, did they give you the inspiration to become a musician?

ME: Yes, I was attending orchestral rehearsals already when I was three years old, so you know it was no question for me [what my career was to be]. My father is a trumpet player and my mother is a choral singer. I knew what a clarinet in b flat was long before I went to the music school. Actually, I am happy because I get pleasure from this profession.

GT: What was it that made you become a conductor?

ME: I wanted to be a conductor in my childhood, and started studying conducting when I was twelve [with Professor Skulsky]. I sang in a boys’ choir, but to become a conductor you have to play an instrument and decided to also study as a pianist at [the Balakirev] music college and think that as a musician this was very good for me, and then I went to the Moscow Conservatoire to study conducting. It was then that my interest in ancient music started, it was at faculty level, where I learned how to play the Renaissance/Baroque cornetto; to study ancient music you have to be multi-talented and you need to play the harpsichord in baroque music. It Is good to conduct concertos by Mozart and Beethoven from the keyboard. I think its good to develop bonding with the musicians because they feel together and part of a collective.

GT: What about bringing Russian early music to Scotland? I remember hearing the Glinka State Choir from St Petersburg singing wonderful Russian choral works when they came twenty-five years ago. Bortnyansky was called the ‘Russian Mozart’, there are the concertos by Berezovsky and Titov also. Would you like to introduce this music to Scottish audiences?

ME: It would be great – I studied this in the boys’ choir, and where I performed all the concertos of Bortnyansky and Berezovsky. I love this music. I also did much of this in Nizhny-Novgorod because there is a capella choir there and we performed all this repertoire and also modern composers like Gavrilin, Kalinnikov, and Pavel Chesnokov.

GT: What composers are you programming in your debut season?

ME: We start in my first concert with one piece by a less well-known composer Phillipe Hersant from France and which will be the UK premiere. Then we will play the Prokofiev Second Violin Concerto with a really great soloist Carolin Widmann and finish with the Mozart Jupiter Symphony. In the next season, we plan to play Rimsky Korsakov and Tchaikovsky, but Bortniansky and Berezovsky is mostly for choir, maybe you suggest this to Gavin [Reid, SCO’s chief executive]? Maybe we could do Taneyev’s John of Damascus, for a chamber orchestra and choir, but the Scottish Chamber Orchestra have many possibilities and I would like to do very different programmes from the early Baroque to the modern era.

GT: Gennady Rozhdestvensky was your teacher in Moscow, I remember his conducting here and he was celebrated for his huge repertoire. Was he important for you?

ME: He was my teacher at the Conservatoire, and it was a great pleasure to study with him because one lesson with him can give more than you get in six-months study, especially with his lessons with the orchestra. I had some special moments with him, and he gave me a great interest in the modern and contemporary music that he performed.

GT: Do you listen to other conductors in concert, or in recordings? Certainly Teodor Currentzis has emerged in a short time as an outstanding conductor of diverse repertoire.

ME: Teodor Currentzis is very special, he gave me many, many ideas of how to work with the orchestra, how to make music. You know everyone you meet [is important], when I listen to a conductor who leads period groups, I like Trevor Pinnock, John Eliot Gardiner and Nicholas Harnoncourt. I was impressed not only in early music, but how to do it in the historic way and using original instruments from each era, using different rhetoric, different rules for each type of music.

GT: The Scottish Chamber Orchestra is famous for its performances of early and of modern works, but apart from the natural brass they play on modern instruments, what do you think about this?

ME: I like how the Scottish Chamber Orchestra produce the sound, natural brass is very good with modern winds and string players today are so well educated in this music. It is more important how we perform music and what we want to say. I am completely for historic instruments, and maybe we will have experiments with gut strings, why not? It is important not to have a museum on stage and in art; in the time in which we are living now we must perform for the modern, contemporary audience and for the public, and we need to find the reason why we play this music now. The art must be good in linking to our time.

GT: Do you have any favourite soloists that you like to work with?

ME: I am very happy here because the orchestra play in many different styles with many great pianists and violinists. In particular, I am very happy to work with François Leleux, as solo oboist and conductor. He is opening the season for us, and I like him, there is something special with him; as if he is creating music on stage. I like to watch him.

GT: You are already involved with two other orchestras in Europe [he is also chief conductor of the Nizhny Novgorod Youth Orchestra] and many fine ensembles are developing contacts with you. How do you manage this on the busy international concert circuit?

ME: I am excited to work with different orchestras, I try to continue in chamber music but in general, you have to know how to prepare rehearsals and how to build them, and with this particular orchestra, as with any other orchestra, you can improvise in performance.

GT: What about your family, do you have time to see them when you are so busy working all over the world?

ME: I live in Moscow, my parents live in Nizhny-Novgorod and I do concerts there, the connections are very good; from Moscow you can reach anywhere by direct flight so this quite comfortable and sometimes my family come with me to the concert.

GT: Thank you. It will be an exciting season and I look forward to your first concert.

Gregor Tassie

In 2019 Emelyanychev will make his debut at Glyndebourne conducting the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Handel’s Rinaldo and later in October he will make his Covent Garden debut reprising his association with Joyce DiDonato in Handel’s Agrippina.

For details of the SCO 2019-20 season click here.

YouTube introduction click here.


  1. “he is the first Russian to ever be appointed to one of the top conducting jobs in Scotland.”

    Alexander Lazarev headed the RSNO about 20 years ago.


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