Despite extravagant podium demeanor and a dry, quirky sense of humor, Russian conductor Yuri Temirkanov has established himself as one of the 21st century's most accomplished and challenging conductors. With two important orchestras under his care, he is a world figure and persuasive in the music of his own country, but artistically curious and increasingly interested in other areas of the repertory. After having sharpened the ensemble within his venerable St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, he wrought a similar advance within the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Accomplished without a single firing, his uplift in the accuracy of performance took place in an orchestra many regarded as already near world class. His brilliant notions of orchestral color have likewise been in evidence, stretching the B.S.O. in new directions.
Born in the Caucasus, Temirkanov began his musical training at age nine before studying the violin and viola at the Leningrad Conservatory's School for Talented Children when he was 13. Later, he completed his studies in viola and began training as a conductor at the conservatory itself. After graduation in 1965, he made his professional conducting debut at the Malïy Opera Theatre in Leningrad, directing a performance of La Traviata. Upon winning the celebrated All-Soviet National Conducting Competition in 1966, Temirkanov was invited by Kiril Kondrashin to undertake a tour of Europe and America with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra and violinist David Oistrakh. In early 1967, the conductor made his debut with the Leningrad Philharmonic and was thereupon invited to become the orchestra's assistant conductor under Yevgeny Mravinsky. In 1968, Temirkanov was appointed principal conductor of the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra, continuing there until his engagement as music director of the Kirov Opera and Ballet in 1976. In 1987, he made his debut at Covent Garden leading his opera company in Kirov productions of Yevgeny Onegin, Pique Dame, and Boris Godunov. In 1980, he was appointed principal guest conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and in 1988, he succeeded Mravinsky as principal conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic. That year, he became the first Soviet artist granted permission to perform in the United States after cultural relations were resumed in the aftermath of the war in Afghanistan. After serving as principal conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from 1992 to 1998, Temirkanov assumed the title of conductor laureate. He also served as principal guest conductor of the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (1998-2008). In Baltimore, Temirkanov's assumption of authority manifested itself with his dismissal of the orchestra's chorus, a move that rankled many, but that failed to cripple his involvement with the orchestra. Temirkanov, who had been direct in deeming the B.S.O. not of the first rank even before his tenure began in January 2000, nonetheless insisted the orchestra was a very good one and could be improved. Distinct improvements were apparent to critics and public alike before he left in 2006. Between 2010 and 2012, he was music director of the Teatro Regio di Parma. Among Temirkanov's many recordings are exemplary ones of the Russian repertory, especially of works by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, and Khachaturian.