Prize Winner 2016: Teodor Currentzis

In awarding its 2016 prize to Teodor Currentzis, the committee is not only honouring an exceptional musician but also acknowledging the work of an artist who, transcending traditional boundaries in the arts, is uncompromising in his determination to resist the constraints to which today’s music business is subjected. The Greek-Russian conductor has won international acclaim for his radical reinterpretations of the works in his repertory, causing sensation after sensation in the staid world of classical music and impressing his audiences with his distinctive style, his devotion to music and his willingness to take artistic risks.

Teodor Currentzis is the music director of the Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre as well as the artistic director of the award-winning MusicAeterna Orchestra and Chorus. The city of Perm lies in the foothills of the Urals more than 700 miles (1151.51 kilometres) from Moscow and is the most easterly city in Europe. Built as a garrison town, it became a centre of the armaments industry in the Second World War and under Soviet rule remained cut off from the outside world. During the post-war period it also had a large gulag. As such, Perm hardly seems a suitable place for great performances of Mozart, Beethoven and Rameau, but, as Currentzis said in an interview with Die Zeit in December 2014, “I am happy in this city, which was punished by the Soviet Union for remaining loyal to the tsars. Under Communism Perm was cut off, a city built with the blood of the political prisoners from the surrounding gulags. But there was also an intelligentsia here which, on its release from the gulags, created a climate for avant-garde art.” Currentzis and his ensemble have carried Perm’s reputation beyond the Russian border in the course of tours that have taken them to Spain, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, during which time they have built what Die Zeit has called “an operatic empire from which the rest of the world could learn a good deal”. 

Teodor Currentzis was born in Athens in 1972 and began to study conducting in the city in 1987, before continuing his studies with the legendary Ilya Musin at the St Petersburg Conservatory from 1994 to 1999. From 2004 to 2010 he was principal conductor at the Novosibirskiy gosudarstvennyy akademicheskiy teatr opery i baleta (Novosibirsk State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre), the largest opera house in Siberia. Here he founded a period instrument ensemble and a chorus that formed the nucleus of the later MusicAeterna Orchestra and Chorus.

Currentzis has lived and worked in Perm since 2011. This year alone the Perm Opera has been nominated no fewer than twenty-six times for the Golden Mask Award of the Federation of Russian Theatres, a record in the history of this award. Among the prizes that Currentzis has received for his recordings are an ECHO Klassik Award and Opernwelt’s CD of the Year, with which he was honoured for the first two instalments of his cycle of Mozart’s Da Ponte operas, a cycle that he is currently completing under the terms of his exclusive contract with Sony Classical.

Teodor Currentzis received the 2016 KAIROS Prize at a special ceremony in the theatre Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg on 8 April 2016.