As a child Vladimir Fedoseyev experienced the hardships of the siege of Leningrad, during which he entertained wounded soldiers in hospital with improvised concerts, playing the hand organ as well as reciting poems and singing songs. He studied at the Mussorgsky Music School in Leningrad before moving on to the Gnessin Institute in Moscow and subsequently to the Moscow Conservatory. At the age of twenty-seven, in 1959, he was appointed as the conductor of the Orchestra of Russian Folk Instruments, which was a division of the USSR broadcasting organisation. Here he extended the orchestra’s range, moving beyond folk music to arrangements of major repertoire works for the instruments of the orchestra, consisting predominantly of the members of the balalaika family. Fedoseyev’s excellent work with the orchestra and its regular broadcasts built up a large following for it throughout Russia, a success which was further reinforced by the appearance with the orchestra of many household names of the period, such as the tenor Sergei Lemeshev. At the same time Fedoseyev conducted symphony orchestras in both Moscow and Leningrad.
His major breakthrough came when Evgeny Mravinsky invited him to conduct the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra in 1971, and he names Mravinsky as a major musical influence. Three years later, in 1974, he was invited to become chief conductor of the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra, in succession to Gennadi Rozhdestvensky. This was one of the top appointments in Soviet Russia. The orchestra’s previous conductors had consisted of the royalty of Russian music: Alexander Orlov, Nikolai Golovanov, and Alexander Gauk prior to Rozhdestvensky, who had taken over the direction of the orchestra in 1961. During Fedoseyev’s early years with the orchestra there were many personnel changes, and it was to be some time before it was able to fully deliver his musical vision.
As previously with the Orchestra of Russian Folk Instruments, Fedoseyev gradually built up enthusiastic audiences for both the orchestra’s numerous radio and television broadcasts and for its public concerts. Its television appearances were enhanced by the presence of his wife, the popular music commentator Olga Dobrokhotova, which further added to the orchestra’s growing popularity. Fedoseyev worked closely with many leading composers, such as Gyorgy Sviridov, as part of a policy of extending and deepening the orchestra’s repertoire, which now included operas as well as purely symphonic works. The advent of perestroika and the dismantling of the Soviet state proved to be a difficult time for the orchestra, which nonetheless maintained its integrity under Fedoseyev’s leadership and under a new name, the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio. The collapse in financial support from the state was partially made up by extensive touring and recording, the orchestra becoming especially popular in Japan, where it was viewed as one of the finest exponents of the Russian repertoire under Fedoseyev’s direction.
Many new opportunities for Fedoseyev himself were opened up by perestroika, and during the 1990s he appeared with many of the major orchestras of Europe, such as the Berlin Philharmonic and Leipzig Gewandhaus as well as the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestre National de Radio France. He also appeared frequently in the opera house pit, at La Scala Milan, the Maggio Musicale in Florence, the Vienna State Opera and the Bregenz Festival. In 1997 he was made chief conductor of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, and built up an enthusiastic following in the Viennese capital, best described by a local critic: ‘You cannot imagine the music life of Vienna without this Russian conductor...’ The twenty-fifth anniversary in 1999 of his appointment as chief conductor of the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra was marked by extensive celebrations in Moscow, which were also enjoyed by many millions watching on Russian television.
As a conductor Fedoseyev combines deep musical feeling with a balanced artistic judgement, his interpretations generating great intensity without ever tumbling into expressive exaggeration. His concert performances and recordings of music by the great Russian composers, such as Tchaikovsky, Scriabin, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky, and Shostakovich are highly typical. Also of note are his recordings of the music of two contemporary Russian composers, Sviridov and Vainberg. The disappearance of the Russian state recording company Melodya has resulted in many of Fedoseyev’s earlier recordings vanishing from the catalogues, and more recent recordings have appeared on a variety of labels such as the Japanese marques JVC and Pony Canyon, and the European branch of Sony, a dissemination which has tended to obscure the considerable size of his discography. An especially representative survey of his work as a conductor has been published on the Swiss label, Relief.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).