Boris Khaikin studied at the Moscow Conservatory, where his teachers included Alexandre Gedike for piano, and Nikolai Malko and Konstantin Saradjev for conducting. After graduating in 1928 he was engaged as conductor at the Stanislavsky and and Nemirovich-Danchenko Musical Theatre. During Stanislavsky’s last years (he died in 1938) one of his principal interests was the perfection of his acting method and its use in opera: he thus exerted a considerable influence upon Khaikin, who during this period prepared productions of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia and Bizet’s Carmen at the theatre. Following the appointment of Samuel Samosud as chief conductor of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, Khaikin took over from him as chief conductor at the Maly Theatre in Leningrad in 1936, remaining in this post until 1943. At the Maly Khaikin was an active proponent of Soviet art, conducting the first performance of Dmitri Kabalevsky’s opera Colas Breugnon and the first Leningrad performance of Dzerzhinsky’s Virgin Soil Upturned, which was inspired by the contemporary novel by Mikhail Sholokhov. He also conducted notable productions of Russian works composed before the Revolution by Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky.
Between 1943 and 1954 Khaikin held the post of chief conductor at the Kirov Theatre in Leningrad. Here he continued the successful artistic policy that he had followed at the Maly: he conducted the first performance of Prokofiev’s opera The Story of a Real Man, as well as productions of Kabalevsky’s The Taras Family, and Dzerzhinsky’s Prince-Lake. His final appointment was as conductor at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, which he held from 1954 until his death in 1978. Throughout his career Khaikin was also active as a teacher of conducting, at both the Leningrad (1939–1940, 1946–1954) and Moscow Conservatories (1925–1928, 1930–1936, 1954–1978); his pupils included Mark Ermler and Kyrill Kondrashin. As the Cold War gradually thawed, Khaikin appeared occasionally abroad, conducting Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina in Florence in 1963 and Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades in Leipzig in 1964; he also participated in the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra’s tour of Italy in 1966.
Khaikin was a conductor with a strong grasp of operatic style, whose interpretations, as evidenced by his numerous recordings for the Soviet state’s record company, Melodya, maintained an excellent balance between the dramatic situation and individual characterisation, achieving a full realisation in each area, perhaps as a result of his experience of working with Stanislavsky. His most notable operatic recordings included, with the Bolshoi Theatre company, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin (with a radiant Galina Vishnevskaya in the role of Tatiana) and The Queen of Spades, as well as Auber’s Fra Diavolo, Glinka’s A Life for the Tsar, Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina, and Molchanov’s The Unknown Soldier; and with the Kirov Theatre company Tchaikovsky’s The Maid of Orleans and Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina again. He also recorded several lesser-known Russian operas with the forces of Moscow Radio, notably Dargomyzhsky’s The Stone Guest, Rubinstein’s The Demon, Zhiganov’s Dzhalil, and Vlasov and Fere’s The Witch. His recordings of concert repertoire are limited but include a most dramatic realisation of Liszt’s Dante Symphony with the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra and Chorus that has justly been reissued many times. Other concert recordings include Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 ‘Little Russian’, Glazunov’s Symphony No. 2, Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with Mstislav Rostropovich, Lyapunov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with Alexander Bakhchiev, and Glière’s Harp Concerto with Olga Erdeli.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).