Born in the USSR, her story begins in Moscow, when at the age of 4 she made a very conscious decision to become a conductor. As her mother recalls, she took a symphony score off the shelf in the family library and brought it into their bedroom. After she asked what it was for the girl started singing and conducting at the same time with great energy and enthusiasm. But she had not yet seen an orchestra.
Today. Maria Eklund is the only lady conductor to perform at the Bolshoi Opera Theatre in Moscow. Ever.
"I remember having some kind of desire to move my hands in different manners since I was a child. I wanted to move them first together and then separately and when I stood in front of a choir at the age of 14, I knew it.
This is where I belong."
She was the only child in the family of a modest but honest Russian "intelligenzia" couple in a Moscow apartment. Her parents were very young but already had a reputation of pioneers in lots of areas including child upbringing. They would go on to support Maria unconditionally and always, no matter what. Maria will never feel a lack of love or patience from her mum and dad. Even today she keeps very close ties with her family wherever she is.
That love is still in the air.
The gifted child was sent to music school and it also happened to be one of the best in the country. There she learned the first ropes of Soviet educational system: practise, practise and practise again, which little comrade Maria found very amusing.
While Russian tanks were pounding the walls of the Russian White house in the turbulent 90s, Maria unaffected by these events continued her studies. Still with the best. The Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory is the home for the finest names in global classical music history. This became Maria's Alma Mater.
"I remember the sensation of physical confrontation when somebody grabbed me from behind. I knew I had to fight for my life and that is what I did." This is how Maria recalls the random violence attack on her at the door of her apartment one late evening back in 90s Moscow. She managed to fight off her two attackers and then providence moved in.
She fell in love, got married and moved from the crumbling Soviet empire to the picturesque kingdom of Sweden where she became a little blonde princess.
"My transformation from the everyday hardship of post-Communist revolutionary Moscow into the idyllic and comfortable haven of Stockholm was very swift. It made me realize how much I have suffered but also filled me with a great deal of confidence that anything can be done now and there is nothing impossible for me...ever. The emotion of living through the breakdown of "the empire of evil", being in the midst of misery and struggle, seeing thousands of lives crashed and burned by the new fearful reality of capitalism and the very uncertain future. These cataclysms made me a better person and a better conductor. And I am very fortunate to live through and survive this turmoil. "
Most stories about lady musicians coming from east to west would probably finish here.
But not ours.
Maria continued her studies at the Royal University College of Music in Stockholm when one of the greatest conductors of our time, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, happened to be in town. He was a principal conductor of the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and Maria's teacher, mentor and main professional influence.
Sorry to restate the obvious, but for a lady conductor in a world of classical music some doors would have to be opened with a great push. You would think.
"I do not feel prejudice as a woman. It is a tough and competitive business and sometimes things do not work out the way I expected. But I believe I am not being pushed aside or otherwise looked down by my colleagues. I think."
Just for the record. It has been only 10 years since the Vienna Philharmonic Society lifted a ban on women conductors...
Having finished all her formal studies with the greatest possible honours Maria still works a lot. By herself. With herself. With other prominent names in the classical music industry. She works all the time. At home. In the gym. In front of musicians and audiences. Due to her dual background and the fact that she spent most of her adult life in Europe, it makes her a true crossover artist. From Russia to Europe and China. You name it.
She is fluent in several languages and since 2005 she travels the world an average of 200 days per year. In 2005 she was appointed Principal Guest Conductor at The Symphony Orchestra of Russia. In 2005 Maria had her historic dйbut at the Bolshoi Theatre. And her first performance in Asia.
In 2006 she visited China twice with two different orchestras. The performance at Arena Di Verona Opera with its 300 musicians and choir became another triumph Maria added to her busy 2006 schedule. During the same year she worked with some of the best classical stars: Paata Burchuladze, Mariella Devia, Vincenco la Scola.
Since 2005 Maria is performing regularly with The Moscow Philharmonic in the on-going series of concerts "The Stars of the 21st Century". In 2007 she was the person to bring Arena Di Verona Theatre to Moscow for the very first time and once again performed with them in front of thousands of classical music lovers in Russia.
During the season 2008-2009 she was cooperating with many different orchestras and festivals, such as the Baltic festival. In 2009 she made her successful dйbut in Berwaldhallen in Stockholm, the most prestigious concert hall in Sweden. Among other highlights of the last season was her dйbut with the Svetlanov Russian State Symphony Orchestra, with which she made a major tour in Russia.
This season started with the tremendous success within the Moscow Philharmonic programme, which was highly rewarded by the Russian press. It was followed by a tour in Sweden with the Swedish Royal Military Orchestra. Among future projects in 2010 are: a tour with Stockholm Wind Symphony to the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Riga, Tallin and Stockholm.
Everywhere she goes she is wanted back by producers, musicians and the most important - the public. A favourite child has many names. Maria is referred to differently in different countries but the important thing here besides her looks is always her conducting.
Dear reader, I wouldn't want to finish this presentation with an Americanism as I am writing it in Cambridge, UK of all places. But it summarizes the life of Maria Eklund - the conductor very well. So, please allow me.
You think you've seen it all. YOU AIN'T SEEN NOTHIN' YET.
Meet Maria. Follow her. Fall in love with her. See her make history on that podium.