In the summer of 1999, the Russian National Orchestra was touring the United States. A highlight of the tour was two Hollywood Bowl performances. But founder and director Mikhail Pletnev suffered a foot injury while hiking on the eve of the first Hollywood Bowl concert. Associate director Dmitri Liss was tapped to fill Pletnev’s spot at the podium that first night—a daunting assignment no matter what your preparation.
The Orange County Register wrote about Liss’ performance the next day: “He threw himself into conducting the as-scheduled agenda as if it had been his own choicest repertory to begin with, extroverted and sweeping in his motions in the big music, lyrical and elegant in the quiet, firmly on top of cues everywhere. The performances came off strongly defined, sharply inflected and lucidly textured ... You didn’t want them to end.”
Widely recognized as one of Russia’s most exciting young conductors, Dmitri Liss is the Principal Conductor of the Ural Philharmonic Orchestra, the largest symphony orchestra between Novosibirsk and Nizhny Novgorod. In this position, Liss has worked to make his Orchestra truly unique – it is the only Russian orchestra that does “Pops” type concerts — and has won praise and rave reviews for his interpretations of the Russian masterworks as well as for contemporary music.
Liss was born in 1960 and graduated with honors from the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied under Dmitri Kitayenko. After graduating from the Conservatory in 1984, he joined the Kuzbass Symphony and, in 1989, accepted a position with the Omsk Symphony, working with both orchestras simultaneously. By 1991 he had risen to Principal Conductor in Kuzbass, the youngest chief conductor in Russia at that time. He was subsequently named Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Ural Philharmonic Orchestra.
Liss won the First International Competition of Young Conductors (Zagreb, Yugoslavia) in 1995. His debut with the Russian National Orchestra came in 1997, in a dazzling Moscow performance featuring RNO music director and world renowned pianist Mikhail Pletnev as soloist. Liss was invited to lead the RNO on its annual tour of the Volga region and he conducted the final concert of the Rachmaninov Festival held in Novgorod in April 1998 in celebration of the composer’s 125th anniversary. He began to tour internationally with the RNO in November 1998 and was appointed Associate Conductor soon thereafter.
“Every time a conductor takes his place on the conductor’s podium at a concert,” Liss said, “he greets the orchestra, the audience and waits till the last rustle dies down. I would say it is this moment before the beginning of the concert—when you hear the silence rather than the music—that is the moment of truth in our profession. The studies of the music score are behind you, and so are the rehearsals. But it is precisely during those seconds that you feel so sharply the attention of the orchestra and the public all focused on you. And it is just the moment when it is all decided—whether you can address this challenge and deliver a concer as a collective creation of the composer, the musicians and the public; whether you can unite the artists sitting on the stage, who may even speak a language you don’t understand. For me, it is a miracle every time, one which can’t be fully explained rationally.
“Of course, like any musician-performer, a conductor is a ‘conductor’—i.e. a mediator—between the composer and the public. It is quite an interesting challenge to be a good conductor.”
Liss has toured Asia and the United States and throughout western and central Europe. As guest conductor, he has led the Moscow Philharmonic, St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Estonian National Orchestra, Budapest Philharmonic, American-Russian Youth Orchestra and the World Youth Orchestra. In addition to Pletnev, prominent soloists who have performed under his baton include Gidon Kremer, Yuri Bashmet, Peter Donohoe, Mstislav Rostropovich and Wynton Marsalis.
Critics have praised Liss’ elegant style and artistic execution. Often compared to Leonard Bernstein, he is considered among the world’s finest interpreters of Tchaikovsky and of contemporary music, and has a special gift for working with young people. One critic wrote of his debut with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic in 1998, conducting Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony Pathetique: “Dmitri Liss was possessed of absolute power both over the orchestra and the audience. It was a dialogue with eternity.”
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