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Victor Yampolsky to retire from Bienen School after 38 years of teaching, conducting

Fall concerts feature a musical homage to orchestral masters and holiday favorites
Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra in Shanghai. Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Victor Yampolsky, the Carol F. and Arthur L. Rice Jr. Professor in Music Performance at Northwestern University’s Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music, will retire at the end of the 2021-22 academic year, marking the conclusion of a 38-year teaching and conducting career at Northwestern. In addition to his duties as director of orchestras at the Bienen School, Yampolsky has served as music director of the Peninsula Music Festival in Door County, Wisconsin; honorary director of the Scotia Festival of Music in Halifax, Nova Scotia; music director of the Omaha Symphony Orchestra; and principal conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra concerts planned for the 2021-22 season will reflect on the composers that shaped Yampolsky’s career, as well as his musical legacy.

“My programs will represent a musical homage to great masters of orchestral music, as viewed nostalgically back from today,” Yampolsky said. “You will see the deep thanks to Beethoven and Brahms in October; to Debussy, Messiaen and Honegger in November; and to my time as a violinist of the Boston Symphony, performing light classics for the holidays, with a program conducted by my students.”

All performances will take place at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. Admission is free and advance reservation is required. Seating for all fall events is general admission.

Tickets can be reserved online at, by phone at 847-467-4000, or in-person at the Ticket Office, which is located at the southeast entrance of Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. Ticket Office hours are Mondays through Fridays from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Saturdays from noon-3 p.m.

Northwestern Symphony Orchestra fall concerts

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23
Victor Yampolsky and graduate assistant Jake Taniguchi conduct a program featuring Ludwig van Beethoven’s Overture from “Fidelio,” Op. 72c and his Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Op. 60, as well as Johannes Brahms’s Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73.

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13
Victor Yampolsky and graduate assistant Moyue Zhou conduct a program showcasing Claude Debussy’s “Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune” (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun); Olivier Messiaen’s “L’Ascension” (Four Symphonic Meditations for Orchestra); and Arthur Honegger’s Symphony No. 3 (“Symphonie liturgique”).

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4
Jake Taniguchi, Moyue Zhou, Andrew Ritchie, Yuxin Dai, Alexander Chen and Jennifer Huang—all graduate assistant conducting students of Victor Yampolsky—will take the podium for a program of light holiday classics. The festive fare includes selections from Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Hänsel und Gretel”; Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite,” Op. 71a; W.A. Mozart’s “Exsultate jubilate,” K. 165/158a featuring soprano soloist Helaine Liebman; and “Die Schlittenfahrt” (Sleigh Ride) in G Major from “3 Deutsche Tänze” (Three German Dances), K. 605; Frederick Delius’s “Sleigh Ride”; and Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride” and “A Christmas Festival Overture.” 

Yampolsky’s early career

Early in his musical career, Yampolsky studied violin with David Oistrakh at the Moscow Conservatory and conducting with Maestro Nicolai Rabinovich at the Leningrad Conservatory. He was a member of the Moscow Philharmonic as both assistant concertmaster and assistant conductor, under the direction of Maestro Kyrill Kondrashin. In 1973, Yampolsky emigrated from the Soviet Union to the United States, where a recommendation from conductor Zubin Mehta led to an audition for Leonard Bernstein, who offered him a scholarship to conduct the Young Artists Orchestra at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood, Massachusetts. He soon accepted a position in the violin section of the Boston Symphony and was later appointed the orchestra’s principal second violinist.

“Bernstein had this unbelievable passion for the art of music and an unstoppable desire to share it with youngsters, so I try to share with my students everything I know,” said Yampolsky. “We are not only teaching intellectual knowledge; we are teaching emotions and life skills.”

Dedicated educator

Yampolsky has conducted over 80 professional and student orchestras worldwide, including repeat engagements with ensembles in the United States, Canada, Spain, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan, the Czech Republic, Israel and Chile.

He has recorded for Pyramid and Kiwi-Pacific Records. He was recently appointed conductor laureate of the Peninsula Music Festival in Door County, Wisconsin. He also serves as music director emeritus of the Omaha Symphony Orchestra and honorary director of the Scotia Festival of Music in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

A dedicated educator, Yampolsky has led conducting master classes throughout the world. He has served as adjunct professor of violin and director of orchestras at the Boston University School of Music. Other teaching engagements have included the State Conservatory of St. Petersburg, Russia; Stellenbosch Conservatory in South Africa; the Cape Philharmonic Youth Orchestra in Cape Town, South Africa; Emory University; and the universities of Akron, Victoria and Nevada. Other activities include serving as a panel member of the American Symphony Orchestra League (now the League of American Orchestras) Conductors’ Continuum Committee. He has been a juror for the Prokofiev International Conducting Competition in St. Petersburg, Russia; the Len van Zyl conducting competition in Cape Town, South Africa; and the Conductors Guild and CODA associations.

Yampolsky led the Omaha Symphony in its debut recording, “Take Flight” (2002) and the world premiere of Philip Glass’ second piano concerto, which received an award from the Nebraska Arts Council. He holds honorary doctoral degrees from Doane University and the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Yampolsky’s legacy

Yampolsky joined the Northwestern faculty as director of orchestras in 1984. In 1993, he was named the first chairholder of the Carol F. and Arthur L. Rice Jr. University Professorship in Music Performance. In celebration of the School of Music’s centennial in 1996, he conducted the Symphony Orchestra in a gala performance in Chicago’s Orchestra Hall and recorded an album with the ensemble featuring faculty violin soloist Gerardo Ribeiro. Yampolsky conducted a fall 2000 performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony held in honor of the 25th anniversary of Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. He served as director for the Bienen School’s “Music from Kyiv: A Festival of Ukrainian Composers” in 2010 and that same year led the Symphony Orchestra in concert at Chicago’s Millennium Park in conjunction with the John Corigliano Festival. In 2016, Yampolsky conducted two performances of Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony in honor of the opening of the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts. He conducted the Symphony Orchestra in a spring 2018 Asia Tour, which included performances in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Thousands of students have trained under Yampolsky over the course of his Northwestern career. Alumni of the Northwestern University Symphony Orchestra are members of major symphony orchestras across the country and around the world. Conducting alumni hold positions as music directors and administrators in arts organizations and universities across North America, Asia, Europe and South America. Bienen senior lecturers Stephen Alltop, music director of the Apollo Chorus of Chicago, and Robert G. Hasty, music director of the Kenosha Symphony Orchestra, both studied conducting with Yampolsky.

Yampolsky’s former students continue to distinguish themselves with honors and awards. Giancarlo Guerrero ’92 MMus is the six-time Grammy Award-winning music director of the Nashville Symphony. Roderick Cox ’11 MMus won the 2018 Sir Georg Solti Conducting Award and has gained international attention for recent appearances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Houston Grand Opera and Philharmonia Orchestra in London. Daniel Black ’17 DMA and Taichi Fukumura ’17 MMus ’21 DMA have each been selected as recipients of the Sir Georg Solti Career Assistance Award. Elizabeth Bennett ’04 was named one of 10 finalists for the 2020 Music Educator Grammy Award and received the 2014 University of Chicago Educator of the Year Award. Joana Carneiro ’99 MMus, principal conductor of the Portuguese Symphony Orchestra, is the recipient of a Helen M. Thompson Award from the League of American Orchestras. Emanuele Andrizzi ’13 DMus was a recipient of the Illinois Council of Orchestras' 2021 Conductor of the Year Award.

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