Conductor Mikhail Pletnev (1958) is considered one of the most unusual musicians of the current era, because he has been equally successful as a pianist, conductor and composer.
He was born in Arkhangelsk to a musical family, and began his studies at the Kazan State Conservatory music school before transferring to the Central Music School of the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory. At the Moscow Conservatory he studied under Yakov Flier and Lev Vlassenko. In 1978, he won 1st place and a Gold medal at the 6th International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition. Immediately after that, he began an intensive international concert schedule – both solo concerts and performances with world-class orchestras. Pletnev has played with the Berlin, London, Munich, Israel and Czech Philharmonic Orchestras, the San FranCisco, Pittsburgh and Berlin Symphony Orchestras, the Orchestre National de France and many others. He has performed with such conducting legends as Claudio Abbado, Carlo Maria Giulini, Bernard Haitink, Neeme Järvi, Riccardo Chailly, Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta, Leonard Slatkin and many others.
Both the audience and his colleagues are always excited by his perfect technique, fine sense of style and the freshness of his interpretation. “Pletnev performs each composition as his own. His interpretations are staggering. It is unlikely that any other pianist can do the same” (BBC Music Magazine).
His 1988 invitation to perform at the superpower conference in Washington D.C. led to him befriending Mikhail Gorbachev. In 1990 Pletnev founded Russia’s first-ever independent orchestra. Despite Gorbachev’s support, this was a risky step. It was Pletnev’s reputation and passion which allowed this long-held dream to succeed. Supporting his vision of the future performing arts model, he founded the Russian National Orchestra which united many of Russia’s best musicians. Under Pletnev’s leadership, the orchestra has gained worldwide fame and a leading reputation. Pletnev calls the Russian National Orchestra his greatest source of joy, and he is still its Artistic Director and Principal Conductor.
The orchestra with Pletnev has performed a range of monographic programmes dedicated to Bach, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Liszt, Wagner, Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Scriabin, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Stravinsky. Pletnev is also interested in opera – he has conducted Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades at the Bolshoi Theatre, and in concerts he has performed Rachmaninoff’s Aleko and Francesca da Rimini, Rimsky-Korsakov’s May Night, and Bizet’s Carmen.
He has worked as a Guest Conductor with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, London’s Symphony and Philharmonia Orchestras, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, and Tokyo and Los Angeles’ Philharmonic Orchestras.
Pletnev’s performances and recordings demonstrate his capabilities as a performer of a wide and varied repertoire both as a pianist and conductor: “from Pletnev’s fingers and brain come ideas that vitalise the music and make it teem with freshness and wit.” (London Telegraph).
In 2006, Pletnev’s arrangement of Prokofiev’s Cinderella for two pianos, recorded with Martha Argerich, won a Grammy award. He was also nominated for a Grammy for a recording of Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev piano concertos, in which the Russian National Orchestra was conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich. He won a Gramophone Classical Music Award in 1996 for his album of Domenico Scarlatti sonatas, and in 2007, The New Yorker made his album of all Beethoven’s symphonies and piano concertos (Deutsche Grammophon) Album of the Year.
Pletnev’s works as a composer include works for orchestra as well as piano, strings and voice. His transcriptions of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty for piano (as well as recordings of Piano Concerto No. 2 and The Seasons) were included by Philips Classics in its anthology of the best 20th century pianists.
Pletnev has received an Order of Merit for the Fatherland (2007) and a Platonov Award (2014) for depth and harmony of interpretations of the world musical heritage. In 2006 he founded the Mikhail Pletnev Fund to support national culture.
Today, he is one of Russia’s most influential artists. But he still calls himself merely a musician.
In 2013, Pletnev performed in Riga with Kremerata Baltica. That same summer, Pletnev also brought the Russian National Orchestra to Latvia.