Jean-Jacques Kantorow is a modern exemplar of the great French-Belgian violin school, with a dash of influence coming from his Russian ancestry. He has also become noted across Europe in his second career as a conductor.
Kantorow was born in Cannes, France, on October 13, 1945. He showed talent in childhood and enrolled at the Nice Conservatory and then, at 13, at the Paris Conservatory, where he took home a top prize in 1960. Throughout the 1960s he remained one of Europe's most consistent competition prize-winners, and his performance career became worldwide in scope, focusing on the standard concerto repertory Among the many figures in the musical world who hailed his playing was Glenn Gould, who called Kantorow a "staggering" talent and the most original violinist he had ever heard. Grove dictionary noted his playing "combines the best features of the French and Russian schools."
Kantorow grew into conducting as an orchestra leader, serving in that capacity with the Orchestre de Paris in 1977 and 1978, and with the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra from 1978 until 1984. He became the principal conductor of the Auvergne Chamber Orchestra in 1985 and the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris in 1993. He also held substantial conducting engagements with various ensembles outside France, including the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, the Tapiola Sinfonietta, and the Helsinki Chamber Orchestra, serving as artistic director of the Helsinki group.
Kantorow has recorded much of the standard concerto repertory, with a special emphasis on virtuoso Russian works. Of his more than 160 recordings, dozens remain available. Many of his violin recordings were released on the Denon label; as a conductor, he has often been associated with BIS in his capacity as conductor of the Tapiola Sinfonietta. In 2019, he released a recording with that group of the Piano Concertos Nos. 3, 4, and 5 of Saint-Saëns, a composer for whose work he has had an affinity as both violinist and conductor. The soloist on that release was his son, fast-rising pianist Alexandre Kantorow. Kantorow's CV has included major teaching positions at conservatories in Strasbourg and Rotterdam, and the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris.