He served as a ballet repetiteur from 1923 to 1931. His first public conducting appearance was in 1929. Through the 1930s he conducted at the Kirov Ballet and Bolshoi Opera. In September 1938, he won the All-Union Conductors Competition in Moscow. In October 1938, Mravinsky took up the post that he was to hold until 1988: principal conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, with whom he had made his debut as a conductor in 1931.
Under Mravinsky, the Leningrad Philharmonic gained a legendary reputation, particularly in Russian music such as Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich. During World War II, Mravinsky and the orchestra were evacuated to Siberia. But members of the Leningrad Philharmonic's reserve orchestra and the Leningrad Radio Orchestra were left behind in the siege of Leningrad, so it fell to Karl Eliasberg to conduct the surviving musicians in the Leningrad premiere of the Symphony No.7 "Leningrad". Legend has it that at the first performance of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5, during the applause immediately after the performance, Mravinsky took the score in his hand and waved it above his head.
Mravinsky gave world premieres of six symphonies by Shostakovich: numbers 5, 6, 8 (which Shostakovich dedicated to Mravinsky), 9, 10 and finally 12 in 1961. His refusal to conduct the premiere of Shostakovich's 13th Symphony in 1962 caused a permanent rupture in their friendship. He premiered Sergei Prokofiev's sixth symphony in Leningrad the year of its composition (1947). Mravinsky made commercial studio recordings from 1938 to 1961. His issued recordings from after 1961 were taken from live concerts. His final recording was from an April 1984 live performance of Shostakovich's Symphony No.
12. Mravinsky first went on tour abroad in 1946, including performances in Finland and in Czechoslovakia (at the Prague Spring Festival). Later tours with orchestra included a June 1956 itinerary to West Germany, East Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Their only tour to Great Britain was in September 1960 to the Edinburgh Festival and the Royal Festival Hall, London. Their first tour to Japan was in May 1973.
Their last foreign tour was in 1984, to West Germany. His last concert was on 6 March 1987 (Schubert, Symphony No. 8, and Brahms, Symphony No. 4). Mravinsky died in Leningrad in 1988, aged 84.
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