Oksana Lyniv
Author: Olha Skorokhod
Short profile

"The best conductor of 2020" according to the German professional magazine "Oper ! Awards". The first woman who had obtained a position of the Chief Conductor in Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra in the Austrian city of Graz. Founder and artistic director of the LvivMozArt festival, Founder and Chief Conductor of the Youth Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/YsOU.

Lockdown has made adjustments to the work of cultural institutions around the world. It also changed your schedule. How do you overcome this uncertainty and pause?

Strangely I still have almost no free time. Only a small part of the previously planned concerts have remained, but I am happy that every month there are 2-3 projects in different countries of the world. On the other hand, a week was freed up in December. I immediately called Lviv, met the team, Lviv city council helped financially, and the city organized an extraordinary Christmas record with Andrew Church. We received 400,000 views, and the attention on Lviv and Ukraine was even greater.

Many bands have been able to navigate in a lockdown and put finances in streams and records, even if they go without the public. In Europe, the principle is to use all possible activity to counter lockdown, and the art sphere has been always ignored by politicians, so we can’t give them the power to completely silence us.

Also, if before I could invite assistants or young conductors to each of my projects, who could be present at rehearsals, now it is impossible. The same applies to guests from other countries. If before my parents, friends and colleagues came to each of my concerts and premieres, now everyone is sitting in front of the stream, and thanks to this, we have hundreds of thousands of views and comments.

How do you perceive permanent work without the public?

I have fully adapted. When I play without an audience, I have silence in the hall and the highest concentration. This does not change my excitement and musical feelings at all. I conduct for the sake of works, revealing the content of music. The value of masterpieces does not change depending on whether there is an audience in the hall or not.

I also notice the mobilization of the orchestra's musicians. Just after I finish rehearsal, and I go out on the same empty stage, among us are already operators with cameras; it mobilizes all. We understand that we have two hours to record, which will then be posted online. When people go to a live concert, they dress nicely, maybe drink coffee before the concert and are generally set up to relax — it's an atmosphere outside of music. And when music critics listen to the recording online, on the contrary, they sit meticulously in front of the monitor without all this atmosphere, and all their attention is focused exclusively on the music. People have the opportunity to listen to a concert only once. However, when a recording is published, it can be listened to dozens of times. Moreover, many music fanatics listen to this with a score and check every detail. That's why it's harder to work on record than in front of an audience.

The conductor can influence the disclosure of a certain musical text. The notes are the same for all musicians. What does the conductor give: does he change the tone, sound, or give emotion?

We conduct the classical repertoire on the same scores, but each conductor will have a different interpretation. 

Music is something that stands out from the notes. That is, everyone performs the same musical text, but puts a different meaning into it due to their thoughts, temperament and attitude towards the work of a particular composer.

The work with the orchestra consists not only in playing, but also in the fact that I explain to the orchestra in words and associations what is important in this work and why I proposed this program. Even if it is a very famous work that the orchestra has played more than once, I emphasize the details that are important for my interpretation.

How readily does the orchestra accept the conductor's desire to build emotion?

All this is needed to transfer to the orchestra because the band for the conductor is his instrument. And if the musicians respect the conductor, they are attentive and open. Orchestra members prefer those conductors who are demanding of the orchestra and get bored very quickly when a novice conductor comes to the orchestra who wants to please the orchestra and, on the contrary, constantly praises the musicians without giving them big tasks. It is said of such a conductor in an orchestra, "He does not know what to do with us, and we must teach him." That is, the orchestra loves those conductors who give them tasks, but the orchestra must trust them.

Of course, the style of communication should be exciting: you need to be able to explain why you need this particular sound and what the culmination should be. You need to be able to properly distribute the load so that the orchestra does not get tired and find the right joke or compliment to keep the orchestra in shape. However, usually, the musicians themselves notice when the work begins to sound different due to the fact that everything is taught. It's a subtle sense of detail and process. I have an orchestra in my hands for 2.5 hours. The orchestra can consist of 120 people. I have to work in such a way that even the 10th violin felt involved.

Were there cases when one of the orchestra members did not accept you?

Every conductor has such cases. A discussion may ensue. It is necessary to understand very clearly whether it is a discussion in essence or it is personal. Each orchestra has its own climate: there are those who support, and there are lazy people who are better off in a dead-end. It is normal for me to say to a musician, "We will discuss this after the rehearsal." About someone completely blocking
the work — this is very rare. But in any situation, it is important not to let go of the wheel and be able to restrain yourself because you as a leader can not show that the situation is out of control.

You told a story about how you were selected for the position of chief conductor at the Graz Opera, which consisted of conducting a concert without a rehearsal, and it was very important whether the orchestra would follow you. How did it all happen then?

Yes, we did not have rehearsals, so I did not have the opportunity to explain my interpretation of the work in advance. I had to show everything with my hands during a concert in a hall full of people. The orchestra and choir supported me then. After that performance, even the critics wrote that the applause alone finally made it clear which of all the candidates the audience and musicians preferred.

You often talk about the responsibility of conductors because you have the power to bring back to life, to open or rediscover certain works and even composers. When did you feel completely free to choose the repertoire and that no one would object?

The issue of internal sovereignty is very important. You need to get to the point where you start believing in yourself. At the very beginning of my studies, I was very insecure. On the one hand, you have to have the musical will and ideas, on the other hand, unlike pianists and violinists, who start mastering their instrument at the age of 5, conductors come to their instrument (the orchestra) very late. I started learning symphony conducting at the age of 18. This profession is considered one of the most important and most challenging performing professions. The conductor does not start with light plays or sketches. We must be able to deal with a symphony or opera at once. That is, we try our skills along the way, and it is clear that not everything works out at first. An essential feature for a conductor is to be able to analyze mistakes and take a step towards self-improvement every time.

Hundreds of people are in front of the conductor, and a few thousand more are behind you in the hall. Everyone is looking at you, and with the slightest mistake all this can stop. This is the most terrible dream that I dreamed of early in this career — although the performances were successful — but in dreams I saw that all stopped, and the band could not continue playing.

We must learn to withstand physical and mental stress, control ourselves despite fatigue, stress, and illness. More than once, I went out to conduct with a temperature of 38.5 because without me everything would have fallen apart. If I left the podium empty in the evening, the Opera management wouldn’t have had time to find a replacement so quickly. I remember how I had such severe bronchitis that I didn't go 5 minutes without coughing. I had to take pills that were the strongest cough suppressant, and a cough drop lay under the score so that I could take it at any time.

Everyone will notice the mood of the conductor. The orchestra scans him or her in 5 minutes: is the conductor in a good mood or the contrary — annoyed. You don't say a word, but the orchestra sees it, and it affects the game. Therefore, the conductor has a great responsibility. However, it is not only the orchestra, but also the director, the people backstage and the whole production team. In the end, everything converges on the conductor. The conductor is the heart of the performance.

How do you choose composers whose works you want to give a new breath to? For example, you chose the works of Bortnyansky, Lyatoshynsky, and Gubaidulina to perform.

With Gubaidulina it is different, the offer did not come from me.

I constantly compare the level of classical art in Europe and here. I think about why composers of world importance are popular and the tradition of their performance is not interrupted for hundreds of years. Our composers are not known, their names do not appear in encyclopedias of world music. Very rarely, prestigious Western European orchestras perform works by Ukrainian composers. I understand that there are political reasons for this in particular. Our state finally appeared only 30 years ago, but even then society and government for a long time were in such a state that they were not paying enough attention to culture, especially in the context of international influence.

That is why I have initiated many projects in which, due to the fact that I am a famous person abroad, I conduct educational activities for the whole world about the musical culture of Ukraine. It works well. For more than 10 years, I have been regularly performing works by Ukrainian composers here and abroad.

But it also initiated very important projects for Ukraine, which immediately brought our state to a different status. In particular, there is this classical music festival Creation LvivMozArt — on the basis that we have a good relationship with the Mozart family. His youngest son, Franz Xaver, lived and worked in Lviv for almost 30 years as a conductor, teacher, pianist, and cultural figure. This fact of such a close connection with the Mozart family became very interesting to me. I established important connections between Lviv, Salzburg and Vienna. In particular, since the first festival, we have been working closely with the Mozarteum Foundation. In 2019, Lviv was admitted to the International Association "Mozart's Ways". It is an international organization that has the right to include cities that are historically associated with the activities of Mozart or his family.

This year will be the anniversary of Franz Xaver — 230 years. Do we expect that you will surpass those grandiose projects like that we have seen in LvivMozArt?

I am initiating huge, important steps to put Mozart back on the map of Lviv. In particular, I am
erecting a monument to Franz Xaver. A competition is underway to which five Viennese sculptors have been invited. We plan to open the first monument to Mozart in Ukraine at the beginning of this year's festival. There are monuments to Mozart all over the world, even in Cuba.

I believe that it is important to be conscious of historical and cultural heritage. For the city, the festival is a chance to use the brand to strengthen the image of the city of high culture and music of Mozart’s tradition.

This status is severely stressed by the fact that the second festival LvivMozArt Foundation Mozarteum provided the original violin by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

There is no price for this instrument; it belongs to the Mozarteum in Austria. The use of this violin in a concert means recognition and respect at the state level because usually such concerts take place with the participation of the President of Austria, and this is considered the highest honor of this country. The fact that this violin has already visited Lviv shows how seriously Europe takes it. I believe that we must also do much more in this area.

In parallel, we are conducting a study, which I named Mozertiana Galicia — that is, a study of archives and all documents, taking into account his letters and a travel diary, which testify to Mozart's activities in Lviv. All these documents will be published in a Ukrainian translation by Staryi Lev Publishing House with original illustrations. Because there is very little information on the Mozart’s Wikipedia Page, and thanks to our publication, everyone will be able to immerse themselves in the world and life of Mozart. I write a short text for each section. I already managed to install a lot. We know the places where he performed and the concert programs. In Franz Xaver Square alone, there are five different addresses.

This work will be the basis for many of our sub-projects. For example, for tours of Mozart's places, we will create a virtual museum. Arriving in Vienna, the cult of Mozart is noticeable at the airport. I want something like this to be the case with us. This will include souvenirs and special candies; I've already figured out what they will be.

And, of course, an important point for me is that this information was banned during the Soviet era. The communist authorities did their best to not allow the Western Ukrainian region to be directly culturally connected with the Mozart lineage. I think this is a very strong topic for us now when we talk about our European background.

You said that one of the reasons why you left stability at the Odessa Opera was Mozart. You went to Germany to follow him.

Studying the works of Mozart, as well as Wagner and other classics was a strong motivation for me to study in Germany. That's why I learned German so quickly. My library has the most professional literature in the original language about Mozart and Wagner. One of Mozart's first biographies after his death was published by his wife Constance and her second husband. They wanted to make Mozart a living legend, so they edited most of his letters, crossing out certain fragments. His personality contrasted — divine musical talent and lazy nature. Only now do we learn about these aspects of his life. Thanks to modern scanners, we can read what is crossed out. The film "Amadeus" is based on this part of the life of Mozart, which the nineteenth century tried to hide. So now we have whole volumes of new research: the dark side of Mozart, Mozart and women.
It helps us a lot in interpretation.

Literally the same goes for Wagner; he was a controversial figure. There is his genius music, and there are his conflicting sides: anti-Semitism and envy. He was a strong intriguer and swindler. He had an affair with the wives of his patrons. Studying Wagner's biography is also important to me because you can't interpret a composer's work without knowing his life as deeply as possible.

These studies, in addition to delving into European music, encourage thinking about what can be done for Ukrainian music. I'm sometimes ashamed that we can't even imagine how far behind we are.

I still ask: how far behind?

We are hundreds of years behind. Europe is following the second or third round of research of all editions of all the works of its composers because in different years all these works were edited by different publishers and they could correct something. And what about us, if we don't even have a normally published edition of the opera "Golden Hoop", for which Boris Lyatoshynsky took Proto-Slavic folklore just as Wagner took German folklore? I am interested in this staging opera, but all the materials are in a terrible state and scattered in various archives. When I take this pile of yellowed paper, it becomes scary because I understand that this is the only copy and if something happens to it, it will not be restored. For example, this year the festival opened in Salzburg with the world premiere of "94 Seconds of the New Mozart". They found in the archive a previously unknown passage by Mozart lasting up to 2 minutes, and broadcasted it to the whole world.

We need to learn a lot to preserve our heritage. We have neither a state register nor archive. We are not working on digitizing the state heritage. Every year, Ukrainian conservatories produce about a hundred music theorists. Ideally, this should become the basis for research and digitization of the archives of Ukrainian composers.

The premiere of the new opera Embroidered, about Wilhelm von Habsburg-Lorraine, who hoped to ascend the Ukrainian throne in 1918, was postponed to April. You are scheduled to conduct at the premiere. It should be a classic traditional opera — with a symphony orchestra, scenery, opera singing, clearly spelled libretto. So-called experimental operas are often staged now — in a limited space, with electronic or rock music, without classical singing. To what extent is it possible and necessary now to stage such great operas as "Embroidered"?

There are many projects today that call themselves operas, although they are not. The organizers just want to add solidity to their project. If we talk about opera in the context of world opera, the opera "Embroidered" meets all these criteria. This is a large-scale production written on a very interesting libretto by Serhiy Zhadan. The director is Rostislav Derzhypilsky. The music was created by a unique modern composer Alla Zagaykevych, who works in her own style. Opera singers and a choir are involved, but Zagaykevych also uses electronic music in the score. This is a special technology when modified and processed audio is used on a par with live sound. This means that I will conduct, and a sound director will work in parallel with me, who will include an additional track in certain effects. This mix adds a certain musical and dramatic effect.

Secondly, it is a modern approach to the vocal line, proposed in the twentieth century by the figures of the new Viennese school, who uses different types of vocal recitation: singing at a certain pitch, declamation at a certain pitch, and different vocal effects. The main role of Vasyl Vyshivany was written for a dramatic actor in general. That is, he had little singing, the main task was recitation.

This is a serious political issue for Ukraine. We can only guess what would have happened to Ukraine if Vyshyvany's plan had worked and he would have headed our state. This story inspires many today. The producer of the project Oleksandra Saenko approaches this very thoroughly. She conducts extremely strong educational activities. They published a libretto by Zhadan, in Vienna, there is a tour of the embroidered places.

How do you tune in to a certain composer's music?

Execution is great spiritual work. Each composer influences me in different ways. For example, when I was preparing for the world premiere of Gubaidulina, I had to devote a lot of time to her worldview, attitude to religion, and modern education. And so with every composer — you need to read a lot of related literature. When you are preparing a comic opera by Rossini, then the state is one, but if you are exploring deep philosophy for 5 hours, then this is a completely different story. 
As for the image on stage, I also think it over — it is better to make a bright accent or just be in low-key black. Now my repertoire includes about 30 great operas and up to a hundred symphonies. Before each performance, I have a well-thought-out image.

You always talk instructively about the conservative sentiments in the conducting community of Germany and Austria that you had to go through to become a successful conductor. How has everything changed?

Now everything in the world has changed a lot. If someone allows themselves to be recklessly reprimanded on the basis of gender or harassment, they may have problems at the court level and dismissal. We see what happened to famous people, including Placido Domingo. All contracts were terminated with them in one day on charges of sexual harassment, and other prominent colleagues were required to formally and publicly apologize for their comments about female conductors.
However, 20 years ago, when I was a student, I had to hear unpleasant remarks in which I felt prejudice. I was told, "Why do you try so hard if you still don't achieve the success that men have?" And this had to be heard from both men and women. The stereotype that only men can be conductors has taken root.

If the conductor is the leader of the orchestra, theater and the whole process during the performance, how much does this primacy carry over into your personal life? How does it affect relationships with family and friends? 

In life, the order is different: you do not become a conductor and then a leader.

First, you are born a leader, and only then choose a conductor among the musical professions. That is, our character pushes us to go forward and take matters into our own hands.

As for the personal part of life, on the contrary, I most appreciate the opportunity to relax and let go. There were many important factors for me when choosing a partner. First, it had to be Ukrainian. I understood that if I work 90% of the time in a foreign environment, it is very important to hear the Ukrainian language at home. Secondly, it had to be a person from the music sphere as well because there are many specific musical topics on which I would like to ask for advice at any time. Third, there must be such a level of trust and respect that we understand each other without words. I am glad that now in my personal life I have complete harmony. It helps me recover quickly after nervous and difficult projects.

The same applies to friends and colleagues who implement strategically important projects with me — both LvivMozArt and the Youth Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. Creative people have no division between work and private life. Creativity is life for us. So I don't actually have friends who aren't involved in joint projects, and vice versa, people on the team become friends.

Translated by Kateryna Kazimirova

Short profile

"The best conductor of 2020" according to the German professional magazine "Oper ! Awards". The first woman who had obtained a position of the Chief Conductor in Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra in the Austrian city of Graz. Founder and artistic director of the LvivMozArt festival, Founder and Chief Conductor of the Youth Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/YsOU.