Semyon Bychkov's conducting is admired for its clarity, unexaggerated expression, and frankness in conveying the intent of the music, regardless of what he is conducting.
He is equally comfortable conducting orchestral, choral, or operatic music. His first studies were of the piano, but he spent ten years (from the age of seven) at the Glinka Choir School in St. Petersburg singing in the choir and learning conducting. Bychkov then studied with Ilya Musin at the Leningrad Conservatory, earning such respect for his skills that he won the 1973 Rachmaninov Conducting Competition and was invited to conduct the Leningrad Philharmonic before his graduation. However, the concert and his graduation never happened. Bychkov had not been discreet about his views of Soviet policies and due to this, the concert was canceled. In 1974 the KGB handed him an exit visa. After a few months in Vienna and Italy, he found himself in New York, studying conducting at the Mannes College of Music. He then became conductor of the Grand Rapids [Michigan] Symphony, 1980-1984, and took American citizenship in 1983. At the same time, he was principal guest conductor of the Buffalo (NY) Philharmonic, eventually becoming its music director in 1985. However, it was a series of guest conducting jobs -- including with the Berlin Philharmonic, and filling in for Bernard Haitink with the Concertgebouw and Rafael Kubelik with the New York Philharmonic -- in 1984 that brought him international attention. Around the same time, his first recording, of Rossini's Stabat Mater on Philips, met with great success. Leaving the Buffalo position, Bychkov was named music director of the Orchestre de Paris in 1989, principal guest conductor of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic in 1990, principal guest conductor of Florence's Maggio Musicale in 1992, and chief conductor of the Dresden Semperoper in 1997. He stepped down from his Paris position in 1998 after being appointed conductor of the WDR Symphony Orchestra in Cologne. With that ensemble, he began a recording series of Shostakovich's symphonies, expanded its touring schedule, and premiered many new works by composers such as Magnus Lindberg and Nicholas Maw. In addition to the operas conducted in Dresden, Bychkov has also conducted Elektra at the Wiener Staatsoper, Tristan und Isolde at the Chicago Lyric Opera, and Jenufa in Florence. Bychkov's debut at New York's Metropolitan Opera occurred in June 2004, with Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov. Bychkov is married to pianist Marielle Labèque.