“Amid the current proliferation of nativism across the industrialized world, musicians are uniquely positioned to convey the following simple message that we should all, as artists, understand: no matter who you are, where you are from, how much money you have, or what language you speak, you have inherent worth.”
“The richness, variety and depth of music that has come out of immigrant and refugee communities is immense. I hope our audiences see that refugees have come from many places throughout our history, and any of us could find ourselves in the position of desperately needing help.”
Lidiya Yankovskaya has a passion for the new and for the neglected. She’s here for a Refugee Orchestra concert, she’s the Music Director of Chicago Opera Theater, and a whole host of other things that make me feel deeply inadequate.
“Today, I often still find myself the sole female voice in a room, and I see an even bigger lack of other types of diversity within my profession. How can we all work to bring a plurality of viewpoints to every area of our art form?”
“All of us who are on that stage come to the experience with our own feelings and our emotions about what fleeing and seeking for home means to us.” The Refugee Orchestra Project brings together musicians from all over the world and provides a space for refugees and immigrants to share their experiences through music.
“Opera’s strength has been in its ability to unite the arts to tell powerful, moving stories. In order to cultivate a diverse generation of talent, we must find a way to overcome the existing limitations of accessibility to sufficient training.”
“In bypassing institutional gatekeepers, these conductors have brought relevance, vitality, and an expanding number of previously unrepresented voices into the field. Indeed, the dynamic new ‘catalyst-conductor’ could help bring the revitalization that the classical music industry so desperately seeks.”
Her musical presence has revitalized a company that had become a shadow of itself. The Chicago premiere of Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick in April was a major event, in no small part because of Yankovskaya’s elucidation of the score… The Chicago premiere of Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta was no less revelatory.
Founded in 2015 by conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya, the ROP has taken its message of inclusion to hundreds of thousands of listeners around the world via live and streamed performances in New York, Boston, Washington D.C. and at the United Nations. The UK debut concert will raise money for London-based charity Refugee Action.
Now that she’s running a multimillion-dollar operation, Yankovskaya directs casting, chooses the repertoire, and oversees management of the orchestra; and, of course, she conducts most of the company’s productions.
Friendly and fearsomely articulate about her personal goals and plans for COT, she clearly relishes opera’s nonstop interaction with colleagues, from singers and musicians to administrative personnel, from stage directors to stagehands.
“The work that we are performing today is very interesting. We come together with the stars of the world of classical Indian music – Amjad Ali Khan and his sons Ayaan and Amaan, who play the traditional instrument of India, the sarod. The piece is a concert for a trio of sarods, accompanied by an orchestra of classical music. Thus, the music of India and classical Western music merge into one. The music will be played not only by India, not only by Western European music - the music of the whole world merges here in the United Nations.”
“You don’t need to speak a common language linguistically to perform together because music is universal. We try to express emotions – we try to touch our listeners through rhythm and through melody. And maybe we use a different scale or a different mode or a slightly different rhythmic pattern to do so, but ultimately it is all the same. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what your context is…”
”The young musicians we recognize are part of the fabric of our future musical landscape. From what we have seen and heard, it is going to be a glorious, immense vista, full of creativity, energy and passion,” said Ms. Van Horn.
It's far from being one of his best-known operas, yet Donizetti's Pia de' Tolomei, after Dante's Divine Comedy, has a memorable performance history. Pia now sees its American premiere. We spoke with its conductor, Lidiya Yankovskaya about performing rare works, and her respect for the singers she conducts.
"The musical field gains a great deal when our artistic leaders are from diverse backgrounds. Art is a reflection of the world around us. If only a small slice of humanity participates in the art-making, we – as creators in an uber-collaborative process – cannot fully express our world, and, in this way, are significantly less effective in reaching our audiences."
Any art is an expression of the world around us, and our world has changed dramatically. One of the things I love most about opera is the way it brings together individuals of all backgrounds and fields in the creation of a single work. This particular work, an opera that describes the unsympathetic, cold reality of the immigration process, was relevant when it was written in 1949, and has unfortunately become even more relevant today. However, as I watched the diverse cast, the crew moving the set pieces, and the international production team, I felt optimistic.
“The problem is that in the world of classical music, everyone is afraid of risk. Money is always not enough, everyone relies on charitable donations, and therefore the administration prefers not to experiment and, following customary traditions, chooses male conductors. The hardest thing is to get a chance to show yourself.”
“I was sad, in a way, to find out when I got this position – and we didn’t know this until we did some research – that I was the only female music director of a major opera company in this country. But I think it’s starting to change, and there are so many amazing women doing work out there, conducting and directing, and doing behind the scenes work leading companies.”
“If I could come up with an ideal position for myself, I would come up with just this one. Chicago Opera Theater in all respects is perfectly suited to what interests me – namely, modern, unusual and rare operas.”
Lidiya Yankovskaya, the newly named music director of Chicago Opera Theater, has built an imposing reputation in opera and new music. Her schedule includes symphonic and opera assignments across the country. Here she chats with OPERA America President/CEO Marc A. Scorca about her life and career, and the challenge of developing new audiences for opera.
“Lidiya represents the future of opera,” noted COT Board Vice President Susan Irion. “She is as skilled with operas of the past as she is with works of living composers, and often collaborates with other arts and community groups to create productions highly relevant to her audiences.
“It’s my way of giving back,” she said. “To me, as a musician, there’s only so much I can do to help this and other issues today, and I don’t have millions of dollars that I can donate to some organization to make an impact. But I can do something like this.”