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A Maestro of Destiny
WHAT’S ON, № 19, 21 -27 May 2010

While What’s On’s moments of dialogue and discussion on the sofa almost always include those individuals creating new masterpieces, musical or otherwise, this week we have a gent who still sees value in the classics. And growing up during a time and into a family who were all a big part of the musical flavour of the day, it’s easy to see why the current conductor of the National Radio Company of Ukraine Symphony Orchestra, Volodymyr Sheiko, has chosen the path he has.


Born in Kharkiv to a choir-master and conductor, Volodymyr Sheiko’s first memories have to do with music: “Whether it was at the Conservatory or at rehearsals, I was always with my parents and that is how I came to love music.” Like most boys his age, he had also fallen in love with the sea and had hoped that one day he might enrol in Ukraine’s Naval Academy. It would take some time, but it was music that finally won him over and at 14 years old, Volodymyr Sheiko decided that he would link his fate with music and enter music school instead.


A Different Kind of School

“My experiences at music school were like many of the other kids at the time: I played the piano, I sang in the boys’ choir and I dreaded playing concerts!”


This was at the beginning of the 70s where the quality of music as well as the education of musicians was top notch, and so much was happening in the musical sphere that it was almost like a Ukrainian Renaissance was taking place. “Art and music literally exploded and there was a huge desire to create some truly inspiring and innovative projects. It was incredible because this was also during the time of the Khrushchev thaw and yet large numbers of concerts, art exhibitions, theatre performances and comedy cabarets were being held all the time. Unfortunately, foreign artists were a very rare thing and there was little international exchange, and yet, the level and class of our own performers was very high!”

No doubt inspired by this flood of artistic endeavour, Sheiko continued studying at the Tchaikovsky Music Academy, where he received a master’s degree in Conducting for Opera/Symphonic Orchestras and Choirs. “In addition to classes and such, we would disappear in the opera theatre from morning ‘til night, greedily devouring all we saw and heard. It was such a new world and a totally different life.”

In 1989, Sheiko went to train at the Bolshoi Theatre of Opera and Ballet in Moscow where the husk of a new and incredible era was being unpeeled. “It was a staggering era,” Volodymyr recalls. “There was the collapse of socialism while at the same time there was a surge of self-determination. I returned just two years later to a free and independent Ukraine where everything had affected the creative life and all of a sudden we had opportunities and choices.”


A Labour of Love

While in Moscow, Sheiko was very connected to what was going on in Ukraine and in 1990, he, along with a good friend, created the first Ukrainian non-state orchestra. “We gave it the name ‘Ukraine’ because we thought it had an air of freedom to it. Not just freedom for the country, but freedom in art, the freedom to create, and the freedom to craft the best, most virtuosic orchestra in the country.”

In 1993, having carried out the first few concerts on home soil, Sheiko took his new orchestra abroad and played for the first time ever in Croatia and Italy. They immediately received invitations for more and more concerts: “We were a sort of discovery and were able to introduce Ukraine to the rest of the world with a completely different perspective.”

Since this time, Volodymyr Sheiko has been Chief Conductor of the Kyiv Operetta, and since 2005, he has been the head of the NRCU Symphony Orchestra where almost all of his free time has been spent trying to impel the musical community to continue developing. “The eternal dream of every conductor is just to conduct,” he says, “but that is not feasible. A lot of time is given to office work and so I have to sacrifice my free time. However, I do pay tribute to my childhood dream by spending as much as I can in my boat by the sea.”

With such a full musical history, I ask him, what his most prized achievement is, and while I am expecting something like, “the contribution of the cultural and social identity of Ukraine in Europe” (which he thinks is definitely an important contribution). The answer is much simpler: “I think I’ve raised a good son.”


Lana Nicole