Christoph Eschenbach began his musical career as a pianist. At age eleven, he won the Steinway young pianists‘ competition. Later, having achieved world renown as a pianist, Eschenbach began to devote more and more attention to conducting. Having made his US debut as a soloist with the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell, he studied conducting with the great maestro until Szell‘s death. The eleven years he spent directing the Houston Symphony Orchestra (1988-1999) proved decisive in Eschenbach‘s career. Although Eschenbach was already Principal Guest Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and Director of the Tonhalle in Zurich by the late 1980s, he was still mostly known as a pianist.
Christoph Eschenbach is currently one of few musicians who are equally well known as a pianist and a conductor - his great talent and skill allow him to perform in either capacity. He continues to direct the Chicago Ravinia Festival and the NDR Orchestra in Hamburg, and last year he directed the Schleswig-Holstein Festival. Recently he made his debut at the Bayreuth Festival (Parsifal), and was appointed Musical Director of the Orchestre De Paris.
Wagner‘s last opera concerns one of the most mystical and popular subjects of the Middle Ages about the Holy Grail. In the late 12th and early 13th centuries, several poems were written about Parsifal - by the French poet Cretien de Troyes, the Norman Robert de Boron and the German Wolfram von Eschenbach. Wagner‘s libretto is based on Eschenbach‘s poem. Wagner took forty years to approach his last work: in 1841 he discovered the poem and started work on the libretto in 1857 and the music in 1877. The orchestration took three years and was complete exactly one year before the composer‘s death.
The Mariinsky Theatre‘s 1997 production of Parsifal, directed by Tony Palmer, was the first production of the opera in Russia for many years. Because of the thirty-year ban on the work, which was premiered in Bayreuth in 1882 and performed there exclusively throughout that period, it was staged for the first time in Russia only in 1913 at the Grand House of the Nations in St Petersburg, and in 1914 at the St Petersburg Theatre of Musical Drama. Parsifal then disappeared from Russian theatres for a lengthy period. On 11th May 1997, the opera was performed at the Mariinsky Theatre for the first time under the baton of Valery Gergiev.