Spotlight Series: Lidiya Yankovskaya

Recenly, I wrote about the new direction I am taking with this space, and as a part of that, I am excited to introduce my new Spotlight Series.  One Wednesday each month, I will interview a totally fierce, ultra-talented female who is taking the music world by storm. I am going to have a mix of performers, composers, conductors, managers, and other lady bosses who are involved in the classical music world in some way.

 

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Today, we have conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya.   Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, I had the pleasure of meeting Lidiya in Boston a few years ago when we were both doing some work with the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras.  It wasn’t long before she was whisked away to do project after project–collecting kudos and rave reviews everywhere she went.  She is currently serving as Music Director of Chicago Opera Theater, Artistic Director of The Refugee Orchestra Project, and Artistic Director Emeritus/Conductor of Juventus New Music Ensemble.  Here, she talks to us how she prepares for a performance, shares her tips of the trade for traveling and practicing, what advice she would give her 18-year old self, and tells a terrifying story of life in an opera pit!

What is your morning ritual or routine?

LY: Since my schedule varies wildly from day to day, I don’t have a routine (and don’t particularly enjoy having one). However, I generally plan out my schedule (including score study time, etc.) at the beginning of a week for that week or at least for the next few days.  If I don’t have a morning rehearsal, I will generally go jogging, go to the gym or do something else active in the morning.

Must-haves for air-travel?

LY: Scores—airplanes are great for score study.  Bring a big warm scarf/sweater in case the plane is super cold.  Comfortable clothing. Airborne in case I end up next to someone who is sneezing and coughing. Generally, I try to pack as little as humanly possible while traveling.

What was your scariest moment on stage?

LY: Last season, I conducted an opera in which a chorus of women was ‘gathering water’ by scooping clay pitchers over the pit.  Someone in props decided to give them pitchers made out of actual clay, and at one point, the handle of a pitcher broke off as a woman in the chorus did the scooping motion.  The pitcher fell into the pit and shattered directly between a cello and a violist—a few inches to the left or right and it would have fallen on someone’s head or someone’s instrument!!

What has been your most rewarding moment as a musician?

LY: There are so many.  I really love my job and there is nothing like the magic of everything coming together the way you mean for it to in a performance.  Luckily, I get to have this feeling often!

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Practicing: Love it or Hate it?

LY: There are things I love about the study and rehearsal process even more than performances.  It’s exciting to discover something the composer put into the score for the first time, or to come up with a new way to shape a phrase.  Of course, it’s also very rewarding to bring the final product to the audience, but I really love the discovery and musical shaping that takes place as I learn a new piece (or rediscover an old one).

What about when you were a kid?

LY: I liked to practice, but was also very impatient about sitting still for long periods of time.  I would want to work very intensively for about 20 minutes, then get up and do something else, then come back to work.  I came from a musical culture where I was asked to sit at the piano patiently for 3+ hours in order for the practicing to be seen as effective, and I learned to do this over time.  Of course, we now know that it’s actually much more productive to work in shorter spurts.  I do wish someone recognized this when I was a kid and allowed me to take full advantage of the practicing style that was most natural for me.  These days, I find that I’m most productive in 45-minute increments.  Work intensely for 45 mins, take a stretch or grab some water or thing about something else; get back to work.

Who were some of your role models as a young musician?

LY: I had some spectacular teachers.  Probably the most important were my high school piano teachers, the duo-piano pair Vladimir Pleshakov and Elena Winther.  They didn’t really have other students and, after a long solo career in Europe, retired to upstate New York, where they occasionally concertized in their piano museum and concert hall.  Each weekend, I would drive an hour and a half to their home in Hudson, NY and spend an hour with one and then an hour with the other.  They approached music making in an incredibly deep, nuanced, and cross-disciplinary way that has stuck with me throughout my career.  They also had this huge collection of pianos from different periods and different places and had me play all my repertoire on the instrument of that time, which gave incredible insight into the work.

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How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a professional musician?

LY: Although I studied music very seriously my entire childhood, I didn’t think I would pursue it professionally.  I toyed with the idea of getting a conservatory piano degree, but realized that I wanted to study other things and also that sitting alone in a practice room for so many hours a day was not for me.  In college, I studied music, philosophy and languages, but realized that music was the one thing I couldn’t live without.  By the end of my time in college, I realized that conducting was the most natural path for me, and a perfect way to combine my various skills and interests.

Have any pre-concert rituals?

LY: Relax, stretch, eat lots of food and drink lots of water to energize for a performance. When possible, I like to go for a long jog or do something else active to clear my head in the afternoon the day of a concert.

Favorite city to perform in?

LY: I like variety.  Each city has something different to offer, and it’s often the city you least expect that is the best place to stay for a short while and that has the most enthusiastic audience.

What is the hardest part of being on the road?

LY: Not having loved ones with you.

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What advice would you give to your 18-year old self?

LY: You have lots of time—don’t feel that you have to have everything figured out now.  Also, sometimes, sleep is more important than fitting in every single thing you want to learn and accomplish; sometimes resting more will allow you to take more advantage of what life has to offer, not less!

If you could have dinner with any classical musician, dead or alive, who would you choose, and what would you ask them about?

LY: Mendelssohn—he was such an incredible overall musician and human being.  Mahler—how did he really want his symphonies to sound?  Wagner—I’d be curious to learn how such a seemingly horrible person could be reconciled with such superb music.  Anton Rubinshteyn—he accomplished so much in his lifetime, basically building a classical music tradition in Russia.  Obviously, choosing just one is hard for me!

Where can people find you?

www.LidiyaConductor.com (where you can also sign up for my mailing list!) @LidiyaConductor on FB Twitter, instagram, etc.

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Thank you so much, Lidiya, for this glimpse into your amazing life!

Photos by Kate Lemmon.

My Week in Florida

Hi Everyone,

Sorry I have been a bit MIA as of late.  February was insane, and then March got even crazier.  I’ve missed writing, but then you know how it goes….the longer you wait, the harder it is to get going again.  I realized that I hadn’t even posted about last month’s trip to Florida, so that’s where I’ll start.

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I had planned this week of concerts around South Florida to coincide with Paul’s February School Holidays, so he was able to join me for for the trip.  I had been in Boston for some recording sessions and a concert the week before, so we met up in Miami for a little sight-seeing and relaxation, and then moved our way up and down between Ft. Lauderdale and Palm Beach.  I had a mix of public and private recitals, school workshops and master classes scheduled for the latter half of the week.  Over our 8 days there, we caught up with dear friends, met some new ones, and I got to perform my solo program for a whole bunch of people. We explored the Wynwood area in Miami, checked out the Museum of Science, and went to the New World Symphony Gala.  We walked the Riverwalk in Ft. Lauderdale and hit up the shopping strip in Palm Beach, spent time with my uncle and time at the beach. It was lovely.

But we were also there on Valentine’s Day, and what should have been (especially during marriage month!) our über romantic get-away, ended up being a horrible, horrible, awful, mind-numbing day when 17 innocent kids were gunned down at their own high school a couple of miles from where we were at the time.  Needless to say, it lent a bit of a grayish tint on my memories of the week.  Everyone was distracted.  I showed up to play my concert the following day and they had completely forgotten about me.  I do strongly believe that music heals the soul, but in truth, no one was really in the mood for a concert, least of all me.  The concerts all happened (except one, but that’s a whole different story….!) but we were all walking around in a bit of a daze–at times pretending that everything was fine, and at other times, depressed and uninterested in doing anything at all.

It was, however, good to be in some warmer weather, and as I mentioned, we got to spend time with relatives and dear old friends – some of whom I had not seen in over a decade.  We ate delicious meals and went on romantic walks. I got to see Paul get excited over geeky things at the science museum and he got to catch a glimpse into my former life in Miami Beach.

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So, there you have it.  It was a strange and bizarre trip, and while it wasn’t the luxurious get-away I was hoping for, I am so grateful that Paul was there with me.  I’m not sure I could have done it without him.  Logistically and emotionally, I needed him there.  He drove me to concerts so that I wouldn’t arrive exhausted, he chatted up audience members and convinced them to buy cds, and he let me snap at him (sorry!) when I didn’t really know how to answer his questions that were generally along the lines of “what the hell is wrong with your country?” and “Why can’t you guys solve your gun problem the way the rest of the world has?”

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It was in Miami, actually, many moons ago, when Gary Hoffman gave me some advice that I have never forgotten.  When I asked him what it was like to travel around the world as a concert cellist, he looked at me, and said “Well, you just have to accept that 85% of the time you’re going to feel like shit.  You’re going to be jet-lagged, or have a headache, or have caught a cold on the airplane, or some weird thing is going to be going on in your life or around you, but you have to learn how to just show up and do it anyway.”  That week in Florida definitely tested me in a lot of ways, but overall, I think will come away with fond memories of the people I met and got to play for, the talented and enthusiastic students I worked with, of renewed friendships and tender moments. And on Saturday, I will be thinking of all of those people marching in the States, I’ll be going for a long walk around the island in solidarity.

-Kate

The Secret to Having Discipline (also known as fake it ’till ya make it)

Growing up in the world of classical music, my life revolved around that word: Discipline.  The fact that I needed it, whether or not I had it, my peers who obviously did have it, those sad, talented kids who just didn’t have it (“what a shame!”….) Every day of my life was measured in how many hours I had managed to get myself to practice.  Did I manage 3? Or an epic, I-can-totally-hang-with-the-cool-crowd 5? Or did I sit on the couch and watch bad re-runs on TV while eating countless bowls of cheerios?  In high school, I was surrounded by an incredible group of like-minded, talented friends.  they were fiercely loyal, but also fiercely competitive.  Any practicing my lazy-ass self ever did during that time in my life was purely to keep up with them.  In college, I discovered that I had cultivated a bit of street cred for my ability to get up super early (I mean, 6 am–IN COLLEGE!  I deserved a medal!) and get my practicing done.  But even that was a matter of pride, rather than discipline.  Once people started talking about the fact that I did it, I couldn’t very well STOP doing it, right?  After college I went to the New World Symphony in Miami Beach for 3 years, and discovered other reasons to practice that had nothing to do with discipline.  Ex. A) wanting to stay on the same work schedule as my ÜBER disciplined boyfriend. Ex B) knowing that if I practiced BEFORE our 10am rehearsal, the Music Director (my boss) would sit and chat with me while I had my coffee outside the hall.

 

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And so, it wasn’t until I moved back to Boston and shared my first grown-up apartment with a non-musician friend that I learned of the true nature of discipline.  Continue reading

January 30-Day Focus: Blogging

 

I can’t believe I’m already on month 5 (F-I-V-E!!!) of my (year-long) 30-Day Focus Project, and I have to say, it has been an AMAZING experiment for me.  The clarity I have found in identifying the 12 most important areas of my life has been profoundly helpful in improving my ability to make plans, decisions, and set goals for my work, my relationships and in basically every area of my life.  I feel like I have accomplished more in the last 4 months than I have in the last 4 years!  I’ve been announcing each one as they come, but here is the full list in case you’ve been curious: Continue reading

3 Things to Leave Behind in 2017

 

Hello, and welcome to 2018! I had a great time with my family here in Bermuda and it has been so wonderful to slow down, relax, and spend some quality time with friends.(and also my couch!)

As I mentioned in this post from last September, my life and my career more closely follow an academic (Aug-July) year than a calendar (Jan-Dec) year,  but one can’t help but be swayed by the masses doing their yearly tallies and New Year’s Resolutions.  I am a total sucker for a new start of any kind, and also for any and all forms of self-reflection.  So, even though I feel as though this holiday time is merely a half-way point, it has been interesting to look at 2017 as a whole and figure out some highlights, as well as how I have grown over the last 12-months (starting with my hips, but that’s due to too many Christmas cookies!).  I believe that as we grow as people, it is as important to shed past habits, thoughts and actions and consciously leave them behind, as it is to embrace the shiny newness of an adopted habit/job/family situation, etc.  So here are 3 things I am choosing to leave behind with the rest of the 2017 detritus Continue reading

Chicago!

Remember that little trip to Chicago I took in October?  It was just last week, but it feels like it was a gazillion years ago!  It was exciting, exhausting, exhilarating, and everything you would expect.  Overall, my experiment of going to a city and playing as many concerts as I could for as many different groups of people as possible worked.  I learned a hella lotta stuff about the whole process of sending press releases, booking concerts and venues and more importantly, I learned a lot about myself and what I need in terms of concert prep. Continue reading

A Punch in the Face

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”  -Mike Tyson

If someone had told me that I would be quoting Mike Tyson on this blog, I’d have punched THEM in the face.  But, alas, it’s true.  My best laid plans for a totally Career-Centered Month were thrown for a serious loop when I managed to spill water onto my laptop.  Long story short, KAPUT.  nothing.  Did I run regular backups?  Of course!  Just not in the last 8 months or so, and that hard drive is in my condo in Boston, which I can’t get into until November.

Thank god for dropbox, but that giant spreadsheet that I have been working on for the past year with all of my contacts and venues and programs and A WHOLE YEAR OF RESEARCH?  GONE…  Gone….  gone…. Continue reading

Happy October!

Happy October! Month of fall foliage, Halloween costumes, apple picking and pumpkin spice lattes.  I will have none of those things in Bermuda; here, October means hurricanes, getting the garden planted (and then losing it all to the afore-mentioned hurricanes) and finding lightweight clothing in fall colors.  Bermudians love their Fall Fashion, even though it’s 85 degrees and sunny!  Bless them.  But don’t worry, I’ll be spending a lovely 9 days in Chicago playing concerts and working with various student groups.  I’m so excited for all of that, but I’m also excited to take a few walks around Lake Michigan, oohi-ng and ahh-ing over the changing leaves, and I will probably bribe my nephews to hit-up starbucks with me once or twice a day for a PSL fix.

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After an awesomely productive and enlightening September, I’m excited to move onto my next 30-Day Project.  September was “Health” and if you are curious, you can read about it here and here.  October is going to be…….drumroll, please….. “Career”.  Specifically, my performance career.  (Spoiler alert: the “Teaching” and “Youth Orchestra” aspects of my career will each have their own month).  I’m looking forward to booking some more concerts for this year and next (and the next—I’m already booking concerts for the 2019-2020 season!) cleaning up and updating my website, maybe getting some new headshots done, and learning how to write and send a good press-release, amongother things. I’m looking forward to ending the month with new kinds of content and a lot more of it to choose from.  Obviously I’ll be practicing a ton gearing up for my week of concerts in Chicago, and I’m curious to see how playing so many recitals in 1 week will feel.  I’m starting things off with my brand new business cards that the mother of one of my students designed.  Didn’t she do an incredible job?

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designed by @mercedesigns

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designed by @mercedesigns

Again, the name of the game here is to make a little bit of progress in this area each day.  Make necessary investments and read whatever I can find on the subject.  If you have any ideas, please send them along in the comments.  And in the meantime, Enjoy a caramel apple and a cider doughnut for me, please.