Teodor Currentzis, The Greek Conductor Who Took Russia and Europe by Storm

Teodor Currentzis has been dubbed the “rebel of classical music,” “the bad boy of classical music, and even a “hellraiser.” These are all descriptions that are perhaps more fitting for a rock star than a man who conducts Mozart and Beethoven.

In his case, in addition to “genius” and “enfant terrible”, descriptions such as “narcissist” and “anarchist” sound more like compliments.

At the age of 47, the Greek wonder who has made St. Petersburg, Russia his home, is a sought-after conductor and composer. He has a rich discography, his concerts across the globe are sold out days in advance, and he is one of President Vladimir Putin’s favorites.

Currentzis clearly seems bent on revolutionizing classical music. He takes it out of its old, conservative environment and adds flair and aplomb to make it attractive to a wider audience, and perhaps to younger generations who think of it as the music of their grandparents.

Born in Athens on February 24, 1972, Currentzis took up the piano at the age of four and began learning the violin at seven. He entered the National Conservatory in Athens at the age of twelve, concentrating on the violin. In 1987, at age 15, he began composition studies under Professor George Hadjinikos, and then in 1989 under Professor B. Shreck.

In 1994, Currentzis moved to St. Petersburg, where he studied conducting at the St. Petersburg State Conservatory under the guidance of Ilya Musin until 1999.

Currentzis  served as principal conductor of the Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet Theatre in 1999, and he founded the Russian period-instrument orchestra Orchestra MusicAeterna and the Chorus MusicAeterna in the same year.

Since February 2011, Currentzis has been the music director and artistic director of the Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre of Russia.

His conducting and later recordings of Mozart’s three most popular operas (Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro and Cosi fan Tutte) made the Greek conductor the talk of the town in classical music. He won Best Director of an Opera For Cosi Fan Tutte in 2012. He also recorded Mozart’s masterpiece, the Requiem.

Currentzis made his first recording in 2008, with Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas. He then recorded works of Shostakovich, Rameau, Stravinsky (Le Sacre du Printemps, Les Noces), Tchaikovsky (Violin Concerto, Symphony No. 6), Artyomov, and Mahler’s Symphony No. 6.

He records in Perm, a cold city located in the middle of Russia. He is a well-known perfectionist who forces musicians, singers, sound engineers and technicians to spend weeks in isolation to create music.

According to a feature in The Guardian, Currentzis pushes “everyone involved beyond the limits of what most would consider possible. He chooses speeds that are, to many, unplayable. Vocal techniques that are not taught in any schools. Interpretations that make most music critics and regular opera audiences question everything they thought they knew.”

And the awards keep coming for Teodor Currentzis and MusicAeterna. In December, the talented musician and his orchestra took the top prize in the 2018 Japanese Record Academy Awards for their recording of Mahler’s 6th Symphony. Alongside a recognition for “Best Orchestral Work”, the recording was recently awarded “Best Album of the Year”.

A month earlier, MusicAeterna’s recording of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony 6 won the 2018 “Edison Classic Award” in the Orchestral category, the Netherlands’ highest accolade in the realm of classical music.

Even though Currentzis has stated that he is not keen to return to Greece because he has more freedom and talented collaborators in Russia, he has not forgotten his Greek heritage.

In 2002, along with renowned Hellenist scholar Fatima Yeloeva and under the auspices of the Greek Ministry of Culture, he founded the Center for Greek Culture at the University of St. Petersburg.

MusicAeterna, with Currentzis at the helm, will tour Europe and perform Verdi’s Requiem in the spirit of Easter in March and April of this year.  The ground-breaking, award-winning musicians will visit the nations of France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerlnad, Austria, Russia and Greece.