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With the wave of a wand. Conductor’s wand.

1 April 2016

Nowadays we are used to praising Russian conductors. When people who don’t know a thing about classical music hear a name like Vladimir Spivakov, Yury Bashmet or Valery Gergiev, they immediately start to nod in approval. But Belarus is also rich in Vladimir Ovodok in orchestratalented musicians. Will they be famous overseas and perform to a full house there?
We can’t predict this with certainty. But here is the front-runner  – Vladimir Ovodok.

His promotional CD is a dream not only for the students at the conservatorium of music, where he teaches, but also for his colleagues. Of course there are a couple of conductors in Belarus who are successful overseas. But never  before has Maestro Riccardo Muti given his place to a young conductor as he did for Vladimir Ovodok.  The great Maestro Yuri Simonov invited Vladimir to perform the opening piece for the finale event of his masterclasses two years in a row. These are incredible achievements for this young musician. As a matter of fact, Vladimir, who is just turning 30, still hasn’t completely decided whether he should follow his pianistic career or that of conductor. But one thing is certain- he considers himself   lucky to be able to combine hobby and job. How did Vladimir get into the music profession? It’s a common story for one born into a musical family. His parents chose the piano as a first instrument for him, and got him enrolled in music school. They also asked little Vladimir for some reason: “Son, would you like to go to a male or female teacher?” And what do you think the 7 year- old boy answered? He described Rimsky-Korsakov: a respectable man with a beard.  Vladimir still wonders how it came to his mind and where he could have seen a portrait of the composer. Probably he subconsciously wanted to study with a serious-minded person who could give him a lot of knowledge.

The five years in the music school flew past so quick and of course not without some problems. There were some tearful times when something went wrong or he just didn’t want to even sit at the piano.  But there were definitely significant academic achievements as Vladimir was invited to the Republican gymnasium-college under the Belarusian State Academy of Music. At that moment he finally realised that his life belonged to music. He would spend hours and hours practising at the piano of his own free will, no one needed to persuade or push him.

Indeed, that 12-year-old boy who lived alone in a big city in a hostel, was happy to spent his free time in such a way.   “There was a remarkable atmosphere that really encouraged you to improve your professional skills. Everything there was oriented towards developing your musical talent” – Vladimir remembered his teenage years. – “It was challenging as my teacher Ariadna Guzhalovskaya set the bar incredibly high and I had to reach it and maintain that high level”.

Vladimir reached, maintained and exceeded that level – this is immediately apparent in the exceptional musician he is today. He graduated from the Gymnasium-college with distinction and enrolled at the Academy of music with the highest mark.  At the same time he was very much taken with conducting. His father who was both a bayan-player and conductor, imparted all his knowledge of conducting to his son, who absorbed an entire two- year college program of information in just one month. Gennady Provatorov, the People’s Artist of Russia, appreciated his efforts and became his teacher. Vladimir regrets that he didn’t listen to his great pedagogue and sometimes worked less intensively than he could have. But he was really grateful to Maestro Provatorov for demonstrating how a conductor should feel and lead music.

Владимир Оводок, фортепианоToday the musician remembering his first meaningful conducting experience with a smile on his face. It was in Hungary. First year student Ovodok took part in masterclasses during Bela Bartok’s Festival. Participants worked at the same piece – the opera “Bluebeard’s castle”. All the young talents copied each other but the Belarusian student decided to go his own way. It was a failure. Maestro clapped Vladimir on the shoulder, saying  directly to him: “Daring boy! Perhaps something could be made of you”. A lesser man might have given it all up in despair after that. Though Vladimir of course had the piano to fall back on. He was an exceptionally gifted pianist, and had been invited to perform at FRG president’s villa while he was still a student. Later on as a pianist he had concerts in France, Austria, Poland and other European countries. But he just couldn’t resist the conductor’s wand.  Moreover, he attained a degree in Opera and Symphony Conducting. At the same time he had been working with the Chamber Orchestra  of  Gomel Philharmonic for three years.

Today Vladinir Ovodok is a teacher in the conservatory and… a student. Despite his experience and age, he is still a scholar. At the first opportunity he sends out applications for masterclasses, but not for those open to just anybody. He prefers those with competitive selection. Having been selected in this way, Vladimir was lucky enough to work not once but twice with Yuri Simonov and the Moscow Symphony Philharmonic orchestra. Maestro Simonov has very strict rules at his
masterclasses: he allows only 24 to 48 hours to prepare a piece. Vladimir is fond of this way of working, he firmly believes that a conductor must be able to work under tough conditions and perform under pressure. As a result, this Belarusian conductor was chosen twice to open the finale events. It is a resounding success, given that   gifted students from all over the world are coming to Simonov’s masterclasses.

Vladimir considers his biggest achievement to be winning the Italian Opera Academy competition. He was noticed by Maestro Riccardo Muti himself, who formerly headed “La Scala” theatre and now is working with Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and what all the musicians dream about. Vladimir was among them. When he sent his CV to Italy he knew perfectly well that there would be hundreds of applications of the same kind. That is why he considered the call from the masterclasses management as a real victory. He was invited to Ravenna. When Vladimir arrived he found out that there were just ten of them. Everyone were offered to conduct “Falstaff” by Verdi followed by an interview with Maestro Muti. As it happened, he was to be one of just four young people Maestro chose for  further work.  The name Ricardo Muti opens the door for most prestigious venues. What are they? Vladimir prefers his dreams left unspoken. He doesn’t like to talk about his plans. “It’s sad to see so many of our talented people who were “on top” but couldn’t accept the harshness of reality. Life can ground one’s expectations and people are often not ready for that. As they say, what goes up, must come down. I prefer to go ahead and be on firm ground”.

Yuri Simonov said in a masterclasses: “You should just faithfully do your job and you will definitely receive a chance to make a name for yourself”. Vladimir agrees with that.  He combines his teaching job with concerts as a member of V.S.O.P. quartet and other projects.

In the near future he is going to perform in Germany with the program “Pavarotti vs Sinatra”, where he is both a pianist and a conductor – it is kind of a new form of artistic presentation for him. Vladimir is in continual state of exploration and is tirelessly committed to working hard. If anyone has a chance to make it on the world stage, he does!

 

 

 

Natalia Stepuro

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