Though he has an extraordinarily wide repertoire, conductor Semyon Bychkov finds himself continually circling back to his Russian roots. At age 22, the native of St. Petersburg left his homeland for the United States. But he contends that his formative years remain essential to his artistic sensibilities.
Of his upbringing in the Soviet Union, he said, ‘Those years were vital. They were what allowed me, later on, to be enriched by other cultures. I believe that everything we live through can be, and should be, considered beneficial. Whether it is joyful or painful is beside the point.”
Currently, he’s reaffirming his Slavic identity with the Tchaikovsky Project, a series of concerts and recordings devoted to the works of his fellow countryman, whom many scholars regard as “the first full-time professional Russian composer.” Launched in 2016, “The Tchaikovsky Project” has generated a cycle of recordings with the Czech Philharmonic (where Bychkov becomes music director in the 2018-19 season) and a series of residences dubbed “Beloved Friend.”
“What is this music that we love so deeply if not our beloved friend? I’ve loved Tchaikovsky’s music ever since I can remember. Like all first loves, this one never died.” — Semyon Bychkov
The latest release in the cycle is a recording of the Manfred Symphony, a work that Bychkov will perform with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in concerts May 3-5, along with Bruch’s Concerto for Two Pianos (featuring Katia and Mirelle Labèque). Of Bychkov’s disc, the Guardian of London wrote: “The epic expansiveness of the Manfred Symphony suits Bychkov’s operatic tendencies perfectly. He clearly relishes the music’s moments of grandeur, over-the-top rhetoric and dramatic coups, and the Czech [Philharmonic] responds with playing of tremendous character. … Even in the most massive climaxes the sound is never coarse or overbearing.”