Remembering Yuri Temirkanov: Honoring The Legacy Of The Maestro And His Wife Irina

ByQuyen Anne

Nov 6, 2023

Yuri Temirkanov, the acclaimed conductor whose baton directed some of the most prestigious orchestras worldwide, passed away on November 2, 2023, at the age of 84. Notably, as the artistic director and principal conductor of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, he left an indelible mark on the world of classical music. Behind this iconic figure was his wife, Irina Temirkanova, a former ballerina and choreographer whose life was intertwined with Yuri’s, both personally and professionally.

Yuri Temirkanov conducting the St Petersburg Philharmonic in 2017

Irina Temirkanova’s shadowy yet impactful presence beside her illustrious husband formed a union of arts and elegance. Living together in Oxford, she supported Yuri through his vibrant journey across the stages of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Despite the veil of privacy around her life, her influence as Yuri Temirkanov’s wife is an undeniable footnote in the maestro’s storied career.

Summary of Yuri Temirkanov’s Wife

Aspect Detail
Name Irina Temirkanova
Date of Death September 1997
Occupation Ballerina and Choreographer
Relationship Wife of Yuri Temirkanov
Life Together Lived in Oxford
Influence Supported Yuri’s career
Legacy An integral part of Yuri’s life and success

Yuri Temirkanov’s legacy is vast, encompassing decades of musical direction that shaped the very fabric of classical music. His wife, Irina, although not as publicly recognized, played a critical role in his life.

Their shared experiences reflected a partnership grounded in the arts, with Irina’s artistry in ballet complementing Yuri’s orchestral mastery. They shared not just a home but a deep connection to the world of performing arts.

Yuri Temirkanov’s Life and Career

Yuri Temirkanov emerged from Nalchik, Russia, to become a name synonymous with orchestral excellence. His career soared as he took the helm of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic after the Soviet Union’s collapse.

His talent also found a home abroad, where he directed the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. His achievements brought him numerous accolades, including the prestigious Order “For Merit for the Fatherland.”

The Partnership of Yuri and Irina Temirkanov

The love story of Yuri and Irina began with their shared passion for the arts. Their marriage was a private affair, reflecting their reserved public life.

Irina’s influence on Yuri was significant, offering support as he led orchestras across the globe. Their home in Oxford became a bastion of their shared love for art and each other.

The Artistic Legacy of Yuri Temirkanov

Yuri’s signature performances remain a testament to his genius. He left an indelible mark on the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, guiding it through a transformative post-communist era.

His recordings and concerts have become part of the classical music canon, contributing to a global appreciation of musical artistry.

Irina Temirkanova The Woman Behind the Maestro

Though much about Irina’s life is left unsaid, her career as a ballerina and choreographer hints at a life devoted to the disciplined grace of ballet.

Her artistic endeavors, though overshadowed by Yuri’s public persona, were a vital part of their shared narrative until her passing in 1997.

The Final Curtain Yuri Temirkanov’s Death

Yuri Temirkanov’s death has left the music world in mourning. The details of his passing remain private, with the cause undisclosed.

Tributes have poured in, celebrating the maestro who touched countless lives with his music and presence.

Remembering Yuri and Irina Temirkanov

Yuri and Irina’s impact on arts and culture stretches beyond their lifetime. Colleagues remember them both for their dedication to their respective crafts.

Their legacy continues to inspire artists and audiences alike, ensuring that their contribution to the world of performing arts will not be forgotten.

He scowled his way through concerts and said that female conductors ran ‘counter to nature’ because the essence of a conductor was strength

Yuri Temirkanov, who has died aged 84, was a Russian conductor known for his old-school approach both to music-making and women; he drew rich, romantic sounds from orchestras in Britain, America and his homeland, but insisted that the presence of female conductors ran “counter to nature”.

On stage Temirkanov, who conducted without a baton, was an aloof figure, scowling his way through a concert. Off stage he divided opinion; some found him disdainful and stern, while others described him as softly spoken and courteous.

The musical results, especially in the Russian repertoire of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Shostakovich, were high-voltage affairs. “Temirkanov leapt into the arena with a performance of Glinka’s Russlan and Ludmilla Overture which fairly sizzled with vitality and power. No holds barred here,” noted a Daily Telegraph critic approvingly in 1978.

Temirkanov had made his British debut in 1972 conducting the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in Tikhon Khrennikov’s second piano concerto with the composer as soloist. Khrennikov’s position as first secretary of the Union of Soviet Composers and former Stalin acolyte casts doubt on Temirkanov’s later claims that he had avoided joining the Communist Party.

In 1977 he inspired lively playing from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto with Dmitri Alexeev at the Royal Festival Hall in London. The following year he was appointed the orchestra’s principal guest conductor and from 1992 to 1998 was their principal conductor. He also achieved renown on the international stage when in 1988 he became the first Soviet artist to perform in the US since the outbreak of the Soviet-Afghan war.

Temirkanov conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, 1979
Temirkanov conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London, 1979 CREDIT: Popperfoto

Temirkanov had little truck with being a star conductor. He was unimpressed when the city of Baltimore, where he was Marin Alsop’s predecessor at the symphony orchestra, bestowed on him local-hero status, especially the excitement caused when he visited a jazz club. “I like jazz,” he shrugged. “I like good musicians. It doesn’t matter what they play.”

Yuri Katuyevich Temirkanov was born in Nalchik, in the North Caucasus, on December 10 1938, one of four children of Khatu Sagidovich Temirkanov, minister of culture in the republic of Kabardino-Balkaria who was executed by the Germans in 1941, and his wife, Polina Petyrovna. The composer Sergei Prokofiev lodged with the family while working on the opera War and Peace.

Temirkanov began playing the violin at age nine and soon added the viola to his repertoire. He was sent to a school for talented children in Leningrad and eventually joined the Conservatory there. From 1961 he played violin with the Leningrad Philharmonic and in 1966 won a conducting competition in Moscow, beating Maxim Shostakovich, the composer’s son, into fifth place.

Vladimir Putin bestowing a National Award on Temirkanov in June 2018 at the Kremlin
Vladimir Putin bestowing a National Award on Temirkanov in June 2018 at the Kremlin CREDIT: YURI KADOBNOV/AFP

After a year as Yevgeny Mravinsky’s assistant at the Leningrad Philharmonic, during which he was never actually allowed to conduct the orchestra, he was appointed music director of the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra, the city’s second orchestra. He also toured the US, Mexico and Canada with the violinist David Oistrakh and the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, sharing the conducting with the orchestra’s musical director Kirill Kondrashin.

When Mravinsky died in 1988, Temirkanov inherited the Leningrad Philharmonic and for a few years benefited from the orchestra’s special status under the Communists. Yet as he told The Daily Telegraph in 2002: “Everything has changed since the Communist time, and there is now very little money for culture.”

In a 2012 interview with the newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Temirkanov outlined his opinion of women conductors by quoting Karl Marx’s response to the question “What is your favourite virtue in a woman?” – “Weakness”. He added: “The essence of the conductor’s profession is strength. The essence of a woman is weakness.”

Temirkanov’s wife Irina Guseva died in 1997. Their son Vladimir, a violinist, also predeceased him.

Yuri Temirkanov, born December 10 1938, died November 2 2023


The Temirkanovs’ lives were a duet of personal and professional harmony. Their enduring influence on music and dance resonates still, as we commemorate their contributions to the arts.

We reflect on their shared journey with admiration, recognizing the profound legacy they leave behind.

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