Obituary: Russian Conductor Yuri Temirkanov Dies at 84

By David Salazar

Famed conductor Yuri Temirkanov died on Nov. 2, 2023. He was 84.

Born in Nalchik, Russia, Temirkanov studied at the St. Petersburg Conservatory and in 1966 won the All-Union Conductors Competition. He was then invited by Kirill Kondrashin to tour Europe and the U.S. with the Moscow Philharmonic and famed violinist David Oistrakh.

He made his Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra debut in 1967 and then became the assistant conductor before becoming the Principal Conductor between 1968-76. He was also appointed Music Director of the Kirov Opera and Ballet in 1976.

He would go on to conduct major orchestras around the world including the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Staatskapelle Dresden, the London Philharmonic, the London Symphony, the Philharmonia orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and Academy Orchestras of Santa Cecilia in Rome, among others.

He became the principal guest conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in 1977 and its Principal conducting between 1992-98. He was also music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra between 2000-06.

In 1988 Temirkanov became the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the  St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, which the conductor regularly toured and recorded with.

He would win numerous accolades including the Order “For Merit for the Fatherland” in 1998, 2003, 208, and 2013. He was also the People’s artist of the USSR,  laureate of State Prizes and the Presidential award, Commander of the Order of the Star of Italy and the Japanese Order of the Rising sun, among numerous other awards ad recognitions.

While he was a much-admired conductor, he did make controversial statements about women conductors, stating in interviews that “Yes, women can be conductors. I am not against them conducting. But I simply don’t like it.”

In an interview with The New Yorker, he added, “I don’t know if it’s God’s will, or nature’s, that women give birth and men do not. That’s something that no one takes offense at. But if you say that a women can’t conduct, then everyone’s offended. As Marx said, in response to the question ‘What’s your favorite virtue in a woman?’—’Weakness.’ And this is correct. The important thing is, a woman should be beautiful, likable, attractive. Musicians will look at her and be distracted from the music!” He would add in that same interview, “The essence of the conductor’s profession is strength. The essence of a woman is weakness.”

He also famously retired when Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022.