`Stunned' Ashkenazy walks out of the RPO

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The Independent Online
Vladimir Ashkenazy, one of the world's greatest musicians, has walked out of his job as music director of the Royal Philharmonic. He alleges that the orchestra has been negotiating behind his back to replace him.

Last Tuesday, after a recording session, Ashkenazy says he was approached by Paul Findlay, the orchestra's chief executive, who told him that he had made an offer to the Italian, Daniele Gatti, to succeed him.

Ashkenazy was too shocked to respond fully and had to rush to catch a plane to Berlin. But the next day he instructed his agent in London, Jasper Parrott, to tell Findlay that he could no longer work with the RPO. "I was stunned and upset when Paul spoketo me," Ashkenazy said from Berlin, "but I controlled myself. I thought I would give myself time to reflect on it when I was alone. The next day I realised this was unacceptable. I really don't understand why they did this, it would have been so simple just to keep me informed."

An orchestra spokesman said last night: "There are discussions going on with orchestra and Mr Ashkenazy on the longer-term aspect of our work with him. I am not aware he has left. Discussion is going on about the future of the music director."

The move ends a long and not always happy relationship between Ashkenazy and the orchestra. He has been associated with the RPO since 1984 and music director since 1986. He succeeded Andre Previn and he was given an undertaking when he joined that efforts would be made to improve the quality of the artistic work - the RPO has always been the most "poppy" of the four London orchestras.

By 1991 it had become clear artistic quality was not improving. The orchestra was taking all the work it could and not allowing enough rehearsal time. As a result, quality recording contracts dried up. Ashkenazy told the then chief executive, Ian Maclay,he would not continue indefinitely. A deal was made that would allow him to phase himself out, via a sabbatical, in 1993-94. But no public announcement was made to avoid destabilising the orchestra.

In 1992, Findlay took over as chief executive and made a new commitment to artistic quality. He also began planning celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations which would involve seven world-wide tours between June 1995 and May 1997.

Ashkenazy was asked to undertake all these tours and, as a result, his withdrawal from the job was deferred.