Vladimir Ponkin, currently artistic director and chief conductor of the Helikon Opera Theatre in Moscow, and chief conductor of the Kuban Symphony Orchestra, is one of Russia's leading conductors. His refined conducting style is distinguished by his delicate elaboration of details as well as his deep understanding of musical form and its realization. Versatile and mindful of the composer’s intentions, Ponkin gracefully integrates his exquisite technique and intellect into performances of a broad range of repertoire.
Ponkin, born in Irkutsk in 1951, graduated from the Gorky Conservatory and later from the Moscow Conservatory where he completed a postgraduate course in opera and symphonic conducting mentored by Gennady Rozhdestvensky. In 1980 he became the first young conductor in the Soviet Union to win the 5th Rupert Foundation Conducting Competition in London. Over the years, he was the chief conductor of the following orchestras: the Yaroslavl Symphony Orchestra, the State Symphony Orchestra of Cinematography, the Krakow Philharmonic Orchestra, and Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra.
Between 1990 and 2004, Vladimir Ponkin worked extensively with Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra. During these years the orchestra became very popular, both in Russia and abroad, performing at the most well-renowned concert halls and international festivals in Russia and Europe. In the summer of 1996, Ponkin and this orchestra participated in the 42nd Puccini Festival in Torre del Lago. During the opera festival, he conducted two symphony concerts of Russian and French music. The Italian press wrote: «Ponkin’s diverse interpretations of composers from different historical eras and styles significantly raised the festival's emotional temperature…» (La Nazione, Viareggio)
Ponkin was a regular guest at a number of international festivals including the Lutosławski Festival in Moscow and the international festivals of Pärt and Penderecki in Stockholm. He shows a keen interest in performing contemporary repertoire. In Russia he premiered many compositions by Lutoslawski and Penderecki. Penderecki’s Utrenja for soloists, chorus and orchestra, which was performed during a concert in Stockholm as part of a festival dedicated to the composer, was also highly praised by the composer himself.
As guest conductor, Vladimir Ponkin has worked with leading international orchestras such as the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, the State Academic Symphony Orchestra of Russia, “Svetlanov Orchestra”, the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra, the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Jena Philharmonic Orchestra, the Bergamo Festival Orchestra, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra in Brisbane, and the Palm Beach Orchestra among others. He performs regularly with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra.
Vladimir Ponkin successfully toured throughout Europe, Asia, South and North America, and Australia. He worked with artists such as Angela Gheorghiu, José Cura, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Evgeny Nesterenko, Paata Burchuladze, Zurab Sotkilava, Maria Bieșu, Yuri Mazurok, Lucia Aliberti, Virgilius Noreika, Ivo Pogorelich, Evgeny Kissin, Grigory Sokolov, Daniel Pollack, Denis Matsuev, Eliso Virsaladze, Edith Chen, Nikolay Petrov, Alexander Ghindin, Andrei Korsakov, Sergei Stadler, Oleh Krysa, and Natalia Gutman.
In 1995 Vladimir Ponkin was invited to become chief conductor of The Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Academic Music Theatre. He has conducted numerous ballets and operas, including The Taming of the Shrew (Michael Bronner), Romeo and Juliet (Sergei Prokofiev), Shulamith (Vladimir Besedin), Otello (Giuseppe Verdi), and The Tale of Tsar Saltan (Rimsky-Korsakov), among others. Ponkin’s prolific collaboration since 1999 with the Helikon Opera Theatre led to an invitation in 2002 to become its chief conductor. Under his direction a number of productions were staged and performed, such as Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District (Shostakovich), Lulu (Berg), Kashchey the Immortal (Rimsky-Korsakov), Dialogues of the Carmelites (Poulenc), Fallen from the Sky (Prokofiev), Siberia (Giordano), Boris Godunov (Mussorgsky, in Shostakovich’s edition), The Love for Three Oranges (Prokofiev), The Ban on Love (Wagner), and La belle Hélène (Offenbach). From 2002 to 2006, he was the chief conductor of the Galina Vishnevskaya Opera Centre, where he was engaged in staging many operas by Russian and foreign composers, notably The Tsar's Bride (Rimsky-Korsakov), Ruslan and Ludmilla (Glinka), Rigoletto (Verdi) and Faust (Gounod).
Vladimir Ponkin received prestigious awards. The concert given by Ponkin and the Krakow Philharmonic Orchestra at the residency of Pope John Paul II was recognizably an outstanding event in his career, leading to the Pope’s decision to honour the conductor with the “Guest of Honour” medal. He also followed the invitation of the Dalai Lama to Taiwan together with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra where the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism awarded him the “Guest of Honour” certificate from the World Buddhist Centre. The Dalai Lama expressed his special respect by giving the maestro his own rosary at their farewell. Moreover, Ponkin was awarded the title of People's Artist of Russia (2002) and two Golden Mask National Theatre Awards (2001, 2003). In 1997 he received a Medal for Merits to Polish Culture from the Ministry of Culture and Arts of the Republic of Poland; in 2001 a 2nd Class Medal of Merit for Contributions to the development of Kuban; in 2005 a 1st Class Cross as a Defender of the Fatherland for services to the Fatherland in the field of cultural development in Russia and abroad from the Council for Public Awards of the Russian Heraldic Chamber; in 2006 a Medal for Service to Russia from the National Committee of Public Awards of the Russian Federation, and in the same year a 1st Class Cossack Medal for Love and Loyalty to the Fatherland. Vladimir Ponkin was recently honoured with the Order of Friendship (2012), which is given to Russian and foreign nationals for special merit in strengthening peace, friendship, cooperation and understanding between nations, and for fruitful work on the convergence and mutual enrichment of cultures of nations and peoples.
Vladimir Ponkin has a huge repertoire covering both classical pieces of music and pieces by contemporary composers. He introduced the Russian public to a number of pieces by Penderecki and Lutoslawski. One of the most outstanding creative works by Ponkin involved conducting a monumental and extremely difficult musical composition Matins (by Penderecki) for soloists, chorus and orchestra. It was performed during the concert in Stockholm as part of festival dedicated to the composer. Penderecki highly appreciated Ponkin's skills by saying: «I have no more desire to conduct this music piece in person after this concert».
Vladimir Ponkin’s passion of bringing music to young audiences propagated his idea of creating new educational musical concepts. In his children’s concerts, also acting as a curator, he encourages and inspires children to participate in discussions about music. These concerts have brought him widespread popularity.
Vladimir Ponkin has served as a professor at the Moscow Conservatory since 2004. He is also Chairman of the Opera and Symphony Conducting Department at the State Musical Pedagogical Institute “M.M. Ippolitov-Ivanov”. Along with teaching in Russia, he regularly gives master classes abroad. Since 2009, he has been the jury chairman of the All-Russian Young conductor's Competition “I.A. Musin”.