Repertoire Report- Semyon Bychkov 2011

Conductor Semyon Bychkov has been a stalwart of our annual Repertoire Reports for many years. This year’s Report was culled from his very-user-friendly website by Monty in Phoenix.

This year’s Bychkov Report is remarkably consistent with past years- as always, he conducts quite a small number of works over the course of year: 41 this year, 30 in 2008, 50 in 2010. But what a schedule, and what works.

Frankly, when you look at the listing of programs on his website in detail, you can see what an extraordinarily intense year Maestro Bychkov has had.  One might very well question how any man who conducts Mahler 6  18 times in a year can maintain his physical health and emotional well-being. Perhaps, you might think, he balances the apocalyptic intensity of the Mahler with lighter, less draining repertoire?

Less draining repertoire like the 10 performances of Strauss’s insanely intense psychodrama, Elektra?

Or the five performances of Britten’s War Requiem?

Six performances of Shostakovich’s titanic 11th Symphony?

Eight performances of Schumann 2, Bobby’s most intense work?

And one-off’s like the Verdi Requiem.

I really envy Maestro Bychkov’s opportunities to live with and repeat great works with great orchestras- he does so much touring (this year with La Scala, Vienna Philharmonic and the Concertgebouw), which is where the greatest music-making often happens. In difficult economic times, it’s important to remind patrons and funding bodies that touring is not just an essential part of cultural exchange, but an essential tool in raising orchestral playing and interpretation to the hightest possible level.

In the course of 2011, I had three friends in various orchestras (NYO and BBC SO) refer to Bychkov as the “greatest living conductor.” The only other conductors I heard described that way all year by anyone who knows anything about anything were Haitink and Weller. I’m not sure it’s possible to say who is the greatest living conductor, but I think this repertoire list and the way in which he schedules repertoire through the year offer some instructive clues as to why great orchestral musicians might conclude Bychkov is working at the highest possible level. Younger conductors can learn a lot from how he manages his study time and his performance schedule.

Carlos Kleiber is often referred to as something like “the greatest conductor of all time, in spite of his limited repertoire.” I’m surprised how few people make the right connection between the size of his repertoire and the quality of his work. Perhaps Kleiber’s work is so electric and essential and profound because he lived with a select number great works throughout his career, and focused on developing his ability to bring those few works to life as vibrantly as possible.


By comparison to Kleiber, Bychkov’s repertoire is positively vast, but you can bet that when a maestro is only dong 41 pieces in a year, most of them ones he will have done many times before, he’ll have plenty of time to prepare each work, whether for a single performance like the Verdi or the 18 performances of the Mahler. It’s a great demonstration of the value of quality over quantity.




  1. BARTOK: The Miraculous Mandarin Suite, Op 19
  2. BEETHOVEN: Violin Concerto
  3. BEETHOVEN: Symphony No 7
  4. BERIO: Rendering (after Schubert’s fragment D936A)
  5. BERIO: Sequenza No. 7 (Albrecht Mayer, oboe)
  6. BRAHMS/GLANERT: Vier Ernste Gesange
  7. BRAHMS: Variations on a Theme of Haydn, op.56a
  8. BRAHMS: Concerto in A minor for violin, cello and orchestra, op.102
  9. BRAHMS: Symphony No 1, Op 68, C minor

10. BRAHMS: Symphony No. 2 in D major, op.73

11. BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F major, op.90

12. BRITTEN: War Requiem

13. BRUCH: Violin Concerto No 1

14. CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No 1 Op 11 in E minor

15. CHOPIN: Piano Concerto No 2 in F minor

16. DUBUGNON: Concerto for Two Pianos and Double Orchestra (world premiere)

17. MAHLER: Symphony No. 3

18. MAHLER: Symphony No. 6 in A minor

19. MENDELSSOHN: Violin Concerto No 2 in E minor Op 64

20. POULENC: Concerto for Two Pianos

21. RACHMANINOV: The Bells Op 35

22. RACHMANINOV: Symphonic Dances

23. RAVEL: Rhapsodie Espagnole (for two solo pianos)

24. SCHUBERT: Symphony No 2

25. SCHUBERT: Symphony No 9 in C ‘Great’

26. SCHUMANN: Ouverture, Scherzo and Finale Op 52

27. SCHUMANN: Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op 129

28. SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A minor, op54

29. SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 2

30. SHOSTAKOVICH: Piano Concerto No 2

31. SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No 11, Op 103, G minor (The Year 1905)

32. STRAUSS: Don Juan

33. STRAUSS: Burleske for piano and orchestra

34. STRAUSS: Ein Heldenleben

35. STRAUSS: Elektra

36. TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No 4

37. VERDI: Requiem

38. WAGNER: Prelude, Lohengrin Act 1

39. WAGNER: Prelude & Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde

40. WAGNER: Tannhäuser

41. WALTON: Symphony No. 1


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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at

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