Nikolai Malko studied philology at St Petersburg University; and composition with Rimsky-Korsakov, Lyadov and Glazunov, as well as conducting with Tcherepnin, at the St Petersburg Conservatory; followed by further study with Lysenko in Kiev and Mottl in Munich. On returning to St Petersburg he was engaged as a conductor at the city’s opera house, initially of ballet and later of opera. Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, he took an active part in the musical life of the early Soviet regime: he held a professorship at the Moscow Conservatory from 1918 to 1925, and between 1921 and 1924 he shuttled between Vitebsk, Moscow, Kiev and Kharkov, conducting in each city. He became a professor at the Leningrad Conservatory from 1925, and was soon appointed as chief conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra in 1926; a private conducting pupil at this time was a future conductor of this orchestra, Evgeny Mravinsky. A supporter of contemporary Russian music of the period, Malko conducted the first performances of Myaskovsky’s Symphony No. 5 (Moscow, 1920) and of Shostakovich’s Symphonies Nos 1 and 2 (Leningrad, 1926, 1927).
Following a successful tour of Western Europe during 1928, and the gradual reduction in artistic freedom in Russia, Malko decided to leave this country in 1929. He settled in Copenhagen where he taught conducting, one of his pupils being the King of Denmark, and was permanent guest conductor of the Danish State Radio Orchestra between 1928 and 1932; he also pursued the career of an international guest conductor, appearing in Vienna, Prague and Buenos Aires. Malko then moved to England and enjoyed success conducting for the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1933. He conducted Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1 with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1935, and made his debut in America at Chicago in 1938. Returning to Copenhagen in 1938, he taught at the Salzburg Mozarteum in 1940 before moving to America in the same year, settling in Chicago.
In addition to conducting many different American orchestras, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra during its 1941–1942 season, and working in Mexico during 1943, Malko taught at Mills College in Oakland, California, and at DePaul University in Chicago. In 1945 he was appointed as the first chief conductor of the Chicago-based Grant Park Orchestra, which presented a considerable number of concerts each year, and remained with this orchestra until 1954, becoming an American citizen in 1946. Malko returned to England to take up the post of chief conductor of the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra, which he held for only one season, 1954–1955, before the orchestra, essentially supported by the rate-payers of Leeds, was disbanded. His last permanent appointment was that of chief conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, which he held from 1957 to 1961, considerably extending its repertoire. During his time with this orchestra he returned to Russia to conduct in 1959, and died in Australia in 1961.
Malko enjoyed a reputation as a conductor able to achieve notable clarity and balance in his performances, as well as possessing a secure sense of style, especially in the Slavonic repertoire. Following World War II he recorded extensively for EMI with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London and with the Danish State Radio Orchestra and the Royal Danish Orchestra in Copenhagen. Several of these recordings were of shorter pieces, intended for the post-war market for 78rpm discs. He also recorded for Decca with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Malko wrote two books of note: The Conductor and His Baton (1950) and his memoirs, entitled A Certain Age (1966).
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).