Depending on who you ask, Alexander Vedernikov has either the most or the least enviable job in Russian arts.
In June, when turmoil once again broke around the leadership of the Bolshoi Theater (see Note Book, page ??), Vedernikov, a symphonic conductor, was in Holland, recording a program of contemporary Dutch music with Netherlands Radio. At the other end of the line was Mikhail Shvydkoy, Russia’s Minister of Culture. Shvydkoy had called to ask the 37-year-old Vedernikov to be chief conductor of the Bolshoi Theater, replacing septuagenarian Gennady Rozhdestvensky, who resigned as artistic director after less than a year, calling the theater’s lax discipline, financial and organizational woes insurmountable.
“Frankly, I had a strong desire to refuse,” Vedernikov confessed. “Yet I understood that one should renounce such things only if he is sure he has no chance of making a difference. And I do have a chance ...”
Vedernikov has a chance because he is young, because he is gifted, and because he knows the lay of the land: his namesake father was a legendary bass singer at the Bolshoi for 40 years.
A graduate of the Moscow Conservatory, Vedernikov first worked at the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theater, working his way up to second conductor. Since 1995 he had been artistic director and music director of the Russian Philharmonia, while frequently traveling abroad to guest conduct foreign orchestras, several times in widely-acclaimed recordings. He has conducted performances at La Scala (Milan), Reggio (Turin), La Fenice (Venice), in Drezden, in London’s Covent Garden, and in Buenos-Aires, to name but a few.
With the Bolshoi appointment, said Kultura weekly observer Natalia Shadrina, “Alexander Vedernikov definitely made a serious breakthrough in his career. So far he has mainly conducted performances of current repertoire in the Western opera houses -- La Scala or Covent Garden. As regards his symphonic career, even though he has cooperated with major orchestras, he has not yet been the master-owner (khozyain) of such an orchestra. The Bolshoi is, of course, a dangerous place, but it will always add to one’s world fame.”
It would be a trial by fire for any young artist, but Bolshoi General Director Anatoly Iksanov, who handles the theater’s administrative side, said Vedernikov has the Bolshoi in his blood and is up to the task. “He worked abroad with the best known organizations, and … he is said to be a very good person, in terms of human relations.”
With the latter, Iksanov was likely contrasting Vedernikov with Rozhdestvensky. But the young conductor was diplomatic, expressing deep respect for Rozhdestvensky as a musician, saying “the situation is, probably, difficult indeed, but it all depends on the conclusions you make based on it.” Vedernikov also said he does not see himself managing the theater’s ballet, as Boris Akimov is already in charge of that. “My post will be limited to musical management,” Vedernikov said. Reportedly, the position of artistic director will be done away with.
This would indeed mark a break from the past, when the artistic director of the Bolshoi was de facto tsar of the famous theater. This changed with the controversial ouster of Vladimir Vasiliev last year, when leadership of the theater was split between administrative and artistic tasks.
While many are quick to paint a dark picture of the Bolshoi’s current situation, Vedernikov asserts that “the situation is not as lamentable as it may seem. It is all about methodology now, the type of creative -- and not administrative management.” Nonetheless, Vedernikov said he does hope to bring the Bolshoi’s structure and system of management “closer to world standards,” which could namely imply a wider use of the contract system.
For now, Vedernikov has not disclosed what his premiere performance will be—something many would interpret as his creative manifesto. All he has said is that the Boshoi will stage the opera “Khovanschina” (music by Boris Mussorgsky), sometime in the second half of this season, its 225th.
With any measure of luck, Vedernikov’s appointment will bring an end to the tumult that has swept the country’s leading theater, Russia’s national pride and most precious “currency,” allowing it to focus on art. For, as Vedernikov said in a recent TV interview, the Bolshoi “must attract interest for artistic reasons, not because someone was appointed or fired.”
Russian Life is a 29-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.
PO Box 567
Montpelier VT 05601-0567