Kiril Kondrashin, one of the top conductors of the Soviet Union, yesterday asked for political asylum in the Netherlands, according to a Dutch police spokesman.
Kondrashin, who is 64, has been a regular guest conductor of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw for the past four years. Last week he was appointed a permanent conductor of that world-famous orchestra, sharing the post with Bernard Haitink. Kondrashin said he was asking for asylum "in order to enjoy complete artistic freedom." (First reports about whether Kondrashin's wife Nina would remain with him in Amsterdam were conflicting. One report said she was in hiding with the musician. Another quoted 3 police report that she had decided to return to Russia where the Kondrashins' three children are still living.)
Mstislav Rostropovich, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, who was stripped of his Soviet citizenship last March, made this statement yesterday, upon hearing of Kondrashin's request for asylum:
"I was shaken by this news. Kondrashin's step was not only natural but also often the only alternative for a great artist. I can feel the immense inner struggle which led to this decision. Out of all the musicians I knew in the U.S.S.R., Kondrashin seemed the most Soviet. This trait was in no way false. He was sincere.
"Having known him and performed with him for more than 25 years, I have often felt that his musical and his human consciences were in continual conflict. One cannot know the span of years given to us by God. An artist, having reached maturity, must necessarily try his strength with the free choice of repertoire, orchestras, audiences, and even countries, without dictatorship from above."
Kondrashin, who has regularly conducted the major symphonic and operatic organizations of Moscow and Leningrad, first came to this country in 1958, conducting a series of concerts with Van Cliburn, who had just won the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.
In addition to orchestral programs, he conducted performances of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Since then he has been a fairly frequent visitor to this country with various orchestras. He is extremely well known to record collectors for recordings with practically all the leading Soviet artists including Richter, Gilels, Kogan, David Oistrakh and Vladimir Ashkenazi, another Russian artist who defected from the Soviet Union some years ago.
Kondrashin's recordings have been made with a dozen of the leading Russian orchestras as well as with major orchestras in England and the United States. These have included not only concertos by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, with Van Cliburn as soloist, but also the Third Concerto of Rachmaninov with Byron Janis.
The Kondrashin-Cliburn recording of the big Tchaikovsky concerto, listed in current catalogs as RCA 2252, is still today, 20 years after it was made, the biggest-selling classical recording in history.
Kondrashin is admired here and abroad for combining superb musical discipline with marked dramatic power. Rostropovich said he regretted the loss of Kondrashin from the Soviet Union.
"I can't say I was happy at this news," Rostropovich said. "I suffer for my country, and think the hour has gone when the Soviet government must fundamentally change its attitude towards artists and freedom of expression in general. Our country would only gain by granting complete freedom to musicians and artists. I know personally all of the musicians who have lately left our country. These are great musicians.
"If one takes into consideration that death has lately deprived us of Oistrakh, Shostakovich and Khatchaturian, the condition of our musicians seems most critical. Knowing each one personally, I can say that not one would have left our country if he had freedom of creation. Not one of these people is in any way a traitor, no matter who tries to show them as such.
"All these people have always loved and will always love their people and their country. The responsibility for these choices -- the only ones possible -- is not theirs. Glinka, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich did not write music for one country only. They wrote for the whole world. Musicians, performers and conductors, playing this music, continue to serve their country and their people with honor, regardless of the corner of the globe in which they serve."