Ukrainian Jewish Heritage: A chat with Oksana Lyniv, Ukrainian conductor with the Bavarian State Opera

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Oksana Lyniv. Photo credit: www.Opera4u.com

Oksana Lyniv is an up-and-coming star on the classical music scene.

She is a Ukrainian conductor currently working at the Bavarian State Opera as assistant to the General Music Director Kirill Petrenko.

On September 29, 2016, she will make her debut in Ukraine, conducting a classical concert that will be held at the Kyiv Opera House, under the directorship of British opera star Pavlo Hunka.

The concert is part of the 75th Anniversary commemoration of the Babyn Yar tragedy, sponsored by the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter of Toronto.

In 1941, the Nazis murdered some 150,000 people, including over 32,000 Jews. The massacre at Babyn Yar is considered one of the most heinous atrocities of the Holocaust.

The concert will feature classical musicians from Ukraine, Israel, Canada and Great Britain, and a symphony orchestra from Germany.

Ms. Lyniv took time from her hectic schedule of rehearsals for an interview on Nash Holos to tell us about herself, her career, and the upcoming concert.

This is a feature interview. Transcript is available below. Enjoy!

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Pawlina: I am Pawlina, host of Nash Holos Ukrainian roots radio. This fall the 75th Anniversary of the Babyn Yar tragedy will be commemorated in Kyiv, on the initiative of the Ukrainian Jewish encounter.

One of the events will be a classical concert, organised and directed by inaudible opera star Pavlo Hunka of London England. And Oksana Lyniv will be playing a leading role as well, as conductor of the orchestra. Oksana is something of a sensation herself, and she joins us now by Skype, to tell us a biy about herself and maybe give us a sneak preview of the concert where she shall be conducting.

So Oksana welcome, вітаю!

Oksana: Hello, hello, hello!

Pawlina: Now, you were born yourself, to musical parents, so a musical career for you, is no great surprise. You play several instruments yourself right? Piano, flute…

Oksana: Piano, flute, violin a little bit. Also I like to sing also yes. I was also surprised that in the end I changed my profession to conducting.

Pawlina: I was going to ask you that. What made you decide to change?

Oksana: The question that was in my special musical college, I started in Lviv, then I was from, my 14 years to 18 years. At the end we had a concert where I had to conduct the student orchestra. After this concert I got this idea from different people to start my professional career only as conducting. I was, on the first moment I was very surprised, but after I thought, yes, maybe this is really where I can put together all of my musical talents, and all the things that I would like to do together, you know? Because as conductor you need to have a special touch to all the things … to instruments, to soloists, to choirs, to all things.

Pawlina: So you really, obviously, love music and you just wanted to be in charge?

Oksana: Yes and you have to put … to organise, to manage all the things together. And this is very interesting, because when you are conducting the opera you have to become the steering also for staging … also for optic things, you know? And this is very interesting to create this dramatical line, to perform this big performance and I saw it was really something for me.

Pawlina: So, as a female conductor, you are something of a novelty in a male dominated field. Do you encounter any difficulties or special challenges because of your gender?

Oksana: Yes. In the beginning you always had more difficulties because, you have to put through it in your career, not only like young conductor but also like a young conductor and a female conductor, and this is unconventional for now in 21st century. But, when you can develop more and more, and when you get more success, it becomes easier and easier.

Pawlina: You were born in Brody, which before the Holocaust was a major hub of Jewish life for centuries. Growing up there, were you aware at all of Brody’s Jewish past?

Oksana: No, my family is not from Brody directly because the family, the line of my mother, they moved from East Poland to Brody after the second war. And the line of the family of my father, they come from the Carpathian Mountains. But in Brody it was a very big Jewish population, more than 80% .. and also wonderful, very big synagogue. But it’s a pity because now it’s in ruins. But when you see it you can feel this very important Jewish centre … because the next kilometre of Brody it was Russia already. It was very important town for economic and historical things.

Pawlina: You started out working in Ukraine at the Lviv National Academy Opera and Ballet. And, also you were at the Odesa National Opera and Ballet Theatre?

Oksana: Yes.

Pawlina: And then you went to Germany. That was a new challenge and opportunity. How is it that you managed to end up in Germany?

Oksana: I can say only this, maybe it sounds strange, but now I already conducted in Japan and Paris and now in Stockholm and I am conducting in Barcelona, but it will be my Kyiv debut.

Pawlina: Really?

Oksana: Yes, I know it’s funny, but in Kyiv I already conducted in May, I conducted very small concert with very small chamber orchestra, but never some really serious concert with big symphonic opera stuff. And it will be my very important national debut also.

Pawlina: Oh that’s funny. They say that prophets are never recognised at home, right?

Oksana: I am very proud to conduct so important concert, with so wonderful and very, very difficult program. And really on the international level. I’m preparing very, very hard for this, and because I think it has to be really, very deep and interesting and very touching for all people who can hear this.

Pawlina: What’s the largest orchestra you have conducted?

Oksana: Maybe the biggest orchestra that I have conducted, it was in June at the Bartok festival in Hungry and it was maybe around 115 people in the orchestra … for Bartok pieces.

Pawlina: Wow. What was your first job? When did you first take the baton and conduct your first orchestra? Tell us about that.

Oksana: This is difficult to say, because my first job was like…teacher in a school, in the musical special choir in a musical school in Lviv and I was 16 years old.

Pawlina: Oh my… 16!

Oksana: I conducted choir, but not orchestra. And after, it was very difficult to conduct an orchestra and to get some money, because in Ukraine, it was very challenging times. Maybe it was that I conducted but without honorarium … without money. Or maybe I paid for musicians… because we were together with other student composers, wanted to organise some very interesting concerts with modern music. Those pieces were just composed and we put our money together to organise this concert and to pay to rent some hall, and to organise musicians and scores and all things. I very, very much appreciated, really, to conduct. This was not a question for me … money or not. And I think the first opportunity to conduct for the small honorarium was already in Germany after the competition where I got the 3rd prize for international conductor, Competition of Gustav Mahler. Because after this competition I got international invitations for different concerts and festivals.

Pawlina: Well congratulations on that award, and I would say that spring-boarded your career then?

Oksana: Yes … it was a very exciting moment for me. It was after I finished the Lviv music academy, for one year I had a job. And for one year I hadn’t conducted any orchestra, I hadn’t opportunity to make music. And after, it was this invitation to the international conductor competition to Germany. And to start with a German orchestra, one of the best German orchestras … and this program; you know Mahler’s symphony and all things. It was big symphony stuff, it was really exciting and for me a really crazy moment in my life because I thought, this is the opportunity. And this chance I can get only once in my life.

Pawlina: Yes, for sure. So how did you feel then, about this invitation to conduct at the Babyn Yar commemoration? I mean, you said it is going to be your Kyiv debut, so I imagine you are pretty thrilled?

Oksana: Not [just] in Kyiv, this is my Ukraine debut! Because in last two years I think there was a lot of publication in the press in Ukraine and the international media. And I think this is interesting for people to see my work. And for me, it’s also a very big honour to be invited to conduct this. Because, I understand and I feel very deeply, the meaning of this historical drama … what has happened. And now we also have war in Ukraine, you know? I am always thinking about this. It is so short a moment from peace to war you know? Because no one was waiting for all these things happening now in Ukraine. And this is really terrible, all this terrible news that we have [had for the] last three years. And I think that all people have to feel a big responsibility to keep the peace, you know?

Pawlina: How was it that you were approached and invited to be the conductor of this orchestra?

Oksana: Do you know Pavlo Hunka? He is an international famous singer. And we met for the first time in the Berlin State Opera for the Lulu production. There he sang in Munich, and I was conducting the rehearsals. And he said that for the first time in my life [he] was conducted from a Ukrainian conductor, but also from a Ukrainian female conductor. This is a much bigger surprise! And after he spoke also about all what has happened and what we can do for Ukraine and Ukrainian culture. And after he also heard my interviews (there are a lot on the internet) and he said it was incredible we had the same ideas about what we can do with Ukrainian music to present this in the whole world. And after, he also told me about this concert and about this idea. And he said, we have no conductor now [and] maybe you can conduct this. [So] that I can introduce my country on the international professional musical level. Also, I am working with Kiril Petrenko and he is the chief conductor of Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra … a very famous, incredible conductor and I am, like, his right hand now in one of the most important opera houses in the world. And also my career has now developed very, very good. And I think it was the idea of Pavlo Hunka that, it is wonderful to put together for this performance musicians of different countries. He said it is wonderful that you as conductor can be from Ukraine. And yes … Kiril Petrenko said also that I can conduct this wonderful program. And it was decided.

Pawlina: Excellent. Tell us about the orchestra. What is the orchestra that you will be conducting?

Oksana: The orchestra will come from Germany and this is the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra. I think this is a wonderful idea to put three main nationalities together in this concert … German orchestra, soloists from Canada and from Israel. And, me, Ukrainian conductor.

Pawlina: Right, and Pavlo of course the director….

Oksana: Yes, England, Ukraine, yes.

Pawlina: So, you have lived for three years now in Germany…

Oksana: Yes.

Pawlina: And you were quoted somewhere as saying that you don’t consider yourself an immigrant, because you return home to Ukraine often for inspiration. So, what is it that draws you back and where is your home first of all?

Oksana: For me, my home is here in Ukraine in Lviv where I have also my apartment and I can stay here for very long time. But for me it is very important to have this feeling that this is my home. And I can come and here is my library, and here is my piano, that I played when I was a child. You know? And all of my favourite pictures … and my friends. I can meet my friends. All the things that you have when you go home, you know? That you can become this feeling again, to take the energy again, because I miss always … I miss my language, I miss my culture. Also, I miss the people, that I cannot invite so often for my concert or performance … my family or my friends. I tried. My mother was in Munich already, also my father, also my brother, also my friends. But, this is only one or two person that you can invite. And I can’t help this feeling how here [in Lviv] I can invite really a lot of different people who are important for me, for my life. And this is very important for me to keep this contact. And also to keep this contact, to be inside of also challenges and all different [things] what has happened in my country you know? Because each year, it’s happy times and it’s strange also the people and their opinions. I have to be also inside. I cannot be completely abroad and only read something [in the] news, from the internet, or from the newspaper you know? This is not enough for me. I have to come in again and again. And also for me and my career. It’s also very, very important [to have] contact for example, with composers living now in Ukraine, because I would like to be always informed what has happened, what they are creating, which new pieces. And when it is something very interesting, I always to present and to introduce this also in Germany, for example. You know? And I am very happy when these ideas can work. For example, now in the Met I will have some concerts with a German orchestra and I can play the pieces of Ukrainian composer Myroslav Skoryk, for example. One year before, for the Bavarian State Radio Company, I recorded a wonderful… my favourite Ukrainian symphonies, for example of composer Boris Lyatoshinsky. And I am very happy because, this is not a lot of things, but it is very important that somebody presents his culture in the world you know? For example, you have [Valery] Gergiev who is always trying to perform some Russian composer, to bring some Russian soloists [to the stage] …  And [so] this is very, very important for Ukraine, I think.

Pawlina: You have a real strong sense of your own roots.

Oksana: Yes.

Pawlina: So your home in Lviv is your home base, that is your whole identity, and you go out into the world and share, not just yourself but your roots and your whole national identity. That is admirable.

Oksana: Yes. I try.

Pawlina: Yes it is… yes, wonderful. Well thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. And hopefully perhaps you will be conducting here on the North American continent?

Oksana: Oh I hope so, also.

Pawlina: Thank you so much Oksana … щиро дякую … and all the best.

Oksana: Thank you, thank you very much.

Pawlina: Thank you.

Oksana: Bye bye.

Pawlina: I was speaking with Oksana Lyniv who will be conducting the Hamburg symphony orchestra in a classic music concert at the 75th anniversary commemorations of the Babyn Yar massacre during world war two in Kyiv. The commemorations of which the concert is just one event, are being organised by the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter and will take place in late September in Kyiv. The concert where Oksana Lyniv will be conducting, will take place at the Kyiv opera house on September 29th. Home for Oksana Lyniv is Lviv Ukraine. She works in Munich Germany where she is Conductor and Musical Assistant to the General Music Director of the Bavarian State Opera House.

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Ukrainian Jewish Heritage is brought to you by the Ukrainian Jewish Encounter based in Toronto, Ontario. To find out more about their work, visit their website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter. Transcripts and audio files of this and earlier broadcasts of Ukrainian Jewish Heritage are available at their website as well as at the Nash Holos website.

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