Meet the Symphony Orchestra of India’s new Resident Conductor

One of today's most interesting conductors, Evgeny Bushkov received early acclaim as a violinist. He is a winner of four major international violin competitions – Wieniawski (1986), Queen Elizabeth (1989), Tchaikovsky (1990), and the first Henryk Szeryng Foundation ward (1992). An Honoured Artist of Russia, Bushkov brings his exceptional performing experience and impeccable artistry to his conducting, as he picks up the baton as resident conductor for the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI).

Q: How were you initiated into music?

A: Since I was born into a family of violinists, there wasn’t much choice – not only about music, but more precisely, about an instrument. Both my parents played the violin and even my sister Julia was already studying the violin (she was eight years old then).

Q: Who were the teachers and mentors who shaped your music-making? How?

A: I was extremely lucky with teachers: my first violin teacher was Zinaida Gilels (Emil Gilels’s niece), who was also a classmate of the great Leonid Kogan. When I was only 14, I was accepted by the latter as an exception in his class. Kogan was probably the greatest influence on me even though I had very few lessons with him. He died in 1982 when he was 58, the same age at which Paganini died. Among mentors I feel really grateful to my mother Zoria Shikhmurzaeva and my chamber music teacher at the Central Music School in Moscow, Sergey Dizhur, a disciple of Heinrich Neuhaus. She taught me almost everything one needs to know about violin-playing, while he taught me to play Beethoven.

Q: As someone who’s won several violin competitions at the beginning of your career, what did the experiences teach you?

A: It taught me to treat competitions only as a means of perfecting a large scale of repertoire at once. It’s not the prizes or medals that count, but only inner growth does.

Q: Can you please tell us how and why did you transition from being a violinist to being a conductor?

A: My father Robert worked as a second violin concertmeister in the famous Soviet State Symphony Orchestra for over 20 years. With this orchestra he used to travel abroad often, bringing back many LP recordings. I remember listening to great examples of symphonic music performed by the world’s best orchestras. I loved following the music with the score, so I had a great deal of pocket scores for which I’d hunt all over Moscow. So when a certain moment came and I realised that I could no longer continue my violin-playing, I understood that my path was tied with performing and instant music-making, only with others’ hands. That time I was lucky to meet a wonderful person who became my conducting mentor –
Dmitry Kitajenko. In order to follow his rehearsals and enjoy his advice, I travelled to Switzerland. He enormously inspired me on my new path.

Q: What have been some of your most memorable experiences while conducting orchestras across the world?

A: There were many remarkable experiences, but one stays in my memory as an anecdotal example: it was my first concert in Germany with a good orchestra. We rehearsed very seriously. And, then, as it was an open-air concert, it was so windy that the orchestra members cared only about catching the flying pages.

Q: Which have been some of your favourite pieces and composers while performing — as a violinist and as a conductor?

A: I have always loved the Romantics. As an adolescent, I fell in love with Robert Schumann and one of my favourite pieces was his Violin Sonata No. 2 in D minor, Op. 120. Schumann was clearly the seed from which the rest of Romantic music evolved, and not only Brahms who masterfully borrowed many of Schumann's ideas, but also Tchaikovsky and other Russian composers. As a violinist I cherished Prokofiev with his fairytale-styled First Violin Concerto and marvellous sonatas. Today, as a conductor, I admire Shostakovich more and more.

Q: What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learnt while working with young musicians?

A: That there is sometimes less to teach them, and more to learn from them. More seriously, I think the most important thing is not to let them lose interest in what you are doing.

Q: How was your experience of conducting the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI) in 2011?

A: The SOI is a constantly growing orchestra, very well-disciplined and with high standards. So every meeting with it is a memorable experience. And it is very much thanks to the demanding efforts of its music director, Maestro Marat Bisengaliev, whose presence is felt in
every aspect of orchestra work.

Q: What are you looking forward to while working with the SOI? What are the areas you want to improve upon?

A: I am looking forward to creating a new field of chamber music repertoire mainly for strings, i.e., orchestra versions of chamber works by Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Borodin, Shostakovich and others.

Q: Western classical music is still nascent in India. What are the measures we can take to increase our audience as well as our artistes?

A: I believe we need to create a whole generation embraced by Western classical music, a generation that will also have access to practising it and learning to love it. That will be one of my tasks, too.

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