There are very few conductors who can trace their musical DNA directly to such innovators of Classical music as Britten, Shostakovich and Khachaturian. Well, meet Maria Eklund. And. Yes, she can. And staying true to her musical ancestry she herself keeps pushing boundaries and challenging stereotypes on the highest level of conductor's profession. In 2015 Maria presented La Traviata in Stockholm twenty three times to sold out house and praises from the music journalists and the public. In 2012 she established Stockholms Solister Chamber Orchestra with purpose of bringing classical music to all citizens of the Swedish Capital. And in 2005 she became the first ever female conductor to perform at Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Born in USSR, Maria received her first musical lessons from her grandmother who was an accomplished pianist herself and a graduate from Moscow Conservatoire. She recalls that at a very early age she felt she wanted to move her hands while listening to music.
“I did not control it but even when small I was drawing in the air imaginary things while hearing the sounds. The biggest impression of my childhood was listening to a symphony orchestra. And from that moment there was no doubt in my heart – I wanted to be a conductor.”
At Moscow Conservatoire her piano teacher happened to be Nuna Khachaturian, Aram Khachaturian's daughter and this is how Maria's love and understanding for modern classical music took root. Maria graduated from both the Moscow Tchaikovsky conservatory and the Gnesin Academy of Music. In 1997-2000 she continued her education at the Royal University College of Music in Stockholm. In 2001-2004 she pursued her studies in the Diploma class of the legendary conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky. Mr Rozhdestvensky had a human and a professional friendship with almost all main figures within classical music of the 20th century. However, his favourites were Britten and Shostakovich. He peformed and rehearsed their works often with these composers present in the room. And received instructions first hand from these legends of modern symphonic music.
“I must admit I am very lucky to have had so many great mentors and teachers who would refer to people most of us would regard as legends and/or geniuses using their first name. And I am very happy to be able to carry on their skill and the philosophy to my audience today.”
Well, today Maria Eklund is one of the most distinguished conductors of her generation. She started season 2017 with conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Stockholm and Gothenburg Opera. She works with leading symphony orchestras and opera houses such as the Bolshoi Theatre, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra the Academic Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Philharmonia, Arena di Verona, National Opera of China and Russian National Orchestra as well as other Swedish and German orchestras. She is an artistic leader and conductor of a chamber orchestra "Stockholms Solister", which she started in Stockholm in 2012.
“I think the training of a future conductor is very different to other classical musicians. It is not only the technical skill or the range of music you study together. The culture, the philosophy and the psychology of the profession as well. We as conductors are bound to bond with others, with the orchestra. You need to be ready for this as each and every person in the orchestra is important and you need to be able to reach to each and every one. So, yes, it is not just turning up on time and doing your home work. A lot of time it is something else you cannot learn from the books."
During the season 2013-2014 she made a tour with Stockholms Solister to Moscow Russia and Växjö in Sweden. Between 2005 and 2013 she was performing regularly within the Moscow Philharmonic programme “Stars of the 21 Century” and “Romantic Concerts”, which was highly rewarded by Russian press. In 2010 was followed by a tour in Sweden with the Swedish Royal Military Band and a tour with Stockholm Wind Symphony to the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, and Berwaldhallen in Stockholm.
During the years 2005-2008 she has been a Principal Guest Conductor at the Symphony Orchestra of Russia. In October 2010 Maria opened the season of the Moscow Philharmonic Society, presenting to the Russian audience for the first time the newly written work by very much recognized female composer Viktoria Borisova-Ollas with the piece ”Open Ground” .
“I firmly believe that the world never stands still. We all work in progress. It does not matter what you do and how successful you are there is always the next level. And I like challenging myself and my co-workers on trying new things and new venues and new music.”
Along with public profile come responsibilities as well. Since 2012 Maria leads KUPP! – the association of Swedish Female Conductors who monitor the gender equality in classical music in Sweden. Their work has lead to many publications in press including the statistics on male and female conductors and soloists and the debate is very much out there in the public sphere.
“I love conducting. I love working with music and musicians and there is nothing else I want to do in my life. I simply was born to be a conductor!"
Read a big interview
with Maria with OPUS Magazine, April 2016 (in Swedish - use Google translate site tool).