/ Spotlight on Lidiya Yankovskaya

You may recognize Lidiya Yankovskaya as Assistant Conductor and Chorus Master of the BYSO Opera Chorus, but Lidiya is known throughout Boston for her superb work in opera and classical music. Currently the Artistic Director of Juventas New Music Ensemble and Music Director of Commonwealth Lyric Theater, Lidiya also works with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra, Beth Morrison Projects, American Lyric Theater, Opera Saratoga, Brookline Symphony, Metro West Opera, and has worked with Harvard's Lowell House Opera, Center for Contemporary Opera in NYC, and Opera Boston, among others.

We sat down with Lidiya to learn a bit more about what makes her work at BYSO special, and her process in preparing such works as Tchaikovsky's, Eugene Onegin.

"This is one of my favorite jobs, if not the favorite. I work mostly with professional musicians, and obviously that’s amazing to work with people who perform at a really high level.

But I find that there’s something really magical about working with extremely capable and extremely talented high school students (or middle and high school aged); they’re often, in some ways, capable of achieving more than professional orchestras."

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, as a child Lidiya was very fortunate to grow up with opera. The first opera she remembers attending was at age 5, Prokofiev's The Love for Three Oranges.

"I was lucky that my mother loves opera, and she grew up listening to opera recordings and going to the opera. My grandfather sang in an amateur opera company; so, I've been around opera for a long time."

Lidiya studied piano, violin and voice and later conducting, as well as philosophy, languages and the liberal arts. It wasn't until later in life that Lidiya realized she wanted to work in opera.

"I didn't really know that I wanted to work in opera because especially as a kid I wasn't as lucky as our BYS orchestral players so I didn't have a chance to perform operas.

There are few opportunities when you are young to really perform opera."

In high school, Lidiya was fortunate to have her first shot at conducting after winning a concerto competition with her high school youth orchestra, and she has not stopped conducting since.

"I was really lucky to have a conductor like Fed who was so dedicated to music making and also to developing and teaching us how to make great music."

But it was not until college that Lidiya had a chance to combine all of her interests into conducting opera.

"I've always had a wide range of interests. In opera I found a way to combine my training as a string player and an orchestral conductor with my love of playing piano and accompanying, my own vocal training, and on top of that my love for languages and text and literature and history. In opera I can combine all that."

With BYS, Lidiya likes the opportunity to talk to them about the text, the original Pushkin, to discuss the language and the meaning of what is happening at each moment of the story. She hopes that they appreciate the full, cross-disciplinary experience that opera provides.

"One of the reasons that it is rare for young musicians to have a chance to make opera is that it does involve so many elements, and it is very difficult to make all of those elements happen at a very high level. In BYSO we are lucky to have exceptionally talented students, but also Fed has really high expectations for them, and they meet them."

The unique opportunity to work with singers is one that Lidiya especially highlights with our students.

"Especially for those of [the students] who have done this for several years, when I tell the cellos 'sing this', they know what this means; working with the singers allows them to do that. Ultimately, the human voice is the original instrument. All of our music derives from the human voice in some way, in particular, music of the time of Tchaikovsky."

When preparing an opera, Lidiya reminds us that it is important to put in the proper preparation, in particular understanding what all of the other moving parts are doing, from singers, to musicians, to stage direction. She always begins with learning the story in and out, followed by a study of the score.

"Opera is hard. If you can perform opera, you can perform anything else in music, but that only happens if you really prepare the operas to the level at which they need to be prepared. I always start with the text: that is where the composer started. I am rereading Pushkin's Onegin right now, and I find new things with it each time. As a musician, it is easy to forget about [the story] because we are focusing so much on the music."

There are many complexities to a piece such as this, and each player must understand what part they play at any given moment. When they do, they unlock the full understanding and appreciation of this immense work of art.

"It is very challenging, but ultimately I think there is nothing more rewarding than creating this story all together and being really fully aware and present in the moment while you are creating it."

Thank you, Lidiya, for all the work YOU do at BYSO in helping to prepare our kids for this incredible accomplishment! We hope everyone will join us on Sunday, January 29 in Sanders Theatre for what is sure to be a moving performance of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin!