“One of the cities we performed in was Odessa and I was invited to return to Odessa to conduct the local orchestra,” he
tells us. “I thought, ‘why not’ and came back seven months later, and the rest
is history.” Seventeen years have passed since then and today the Odessa
Philharmonic is a remarkable success story: the only Ukrainian orchestra with
not only nationwide but also international status. It’s certainly the best-travelled
orchestra in this country, having played all over Europe and North
America, as well as elsewhere. What’s the secret of the group’s success?
“If there’s a secret, then it’s best kept as such!” he
says. “However, in the performing arts - as in any walk of life - the truth is
that many results are possible if you work hard, with unrelenting dedication.”
Hobart Earle was born in Caracas, Venezuela.
His father was an insurance agent and his mother the conductor of a church
choir. Earle subsequently studied conducting at Vienna’s
Academy of Music
and clarinet at the Trinity College of Music in London,
and graduated from PrincetonUniversity magna cum
laude. In the late 1980s he founded the American Music Ensemble Vienna/Ensemble for Viennese Music New York,which performed numerous premieres around the world.
Over these years Earle has brought the Odessa
Philharmonic to the world’s best venues, including Carnegie
Hall, Washington’s Kennedy Centre,
and others. It’s possible, however, that the most important work he’s done is to
perform in such small Ukrainian towns as Poltava,
Zhytomyr, and Mykolaiv – in 15 Ukrainian cities in total, bringing world
class-level art music to places where otherwise it might not be heard.
Recently there’s been less travelling.
he says, “no other symphony orchestra in Ukraine has traveled as far and
wide as we have throughout the country. However, the problem is very simple -
most of these trips were in years gone by: in recent years we travel far, far
less throughout Ukraine.
The reason, I regret, is obvious. Today, it costs far, far more money to move
the orchestra around in Ukraine
than it used to, and there are fewer people willing to finance this.”
He continues, “If you look east to Russia today, and
look at such cultural institutions as the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg,
they have amazing management, and the kind of support – worldwide – that not
many cultural institutions in the ‘West’ could imagine.”
A Question of Money
Why is that? “The main issue, I believe, is one of funding. In Russia
during recent years, the level of funding for the arts has simply sky-rocketed.
Here in Ukraine, if we’ll experience anything even remotely like the growth in
the level of funding for the arts Russia has seen since the year 2000, then all
will be well.”
In addition, there have been the usual ups and downs.
“I was given the title ‘Distinguished Artist of
Ukraine’ back in 1994, and in 2003 the Russian Cosmonaut Association (in
conjunction with leading newspapers in Ukraine) named a star in the Perseus
constellation as ‘Hobart Earle.’ But over the years, I have had all sorts of
thorns in my side, from many corners of society, most often from the
bureaucrats. I guess one could consider that to be normal. But the nice thing
is that the general public does seem to have an appreciation for what has been
Support the Youth!
Today the Orchestra is also facing some financial troubles. In particular
they’re being asked to pay a whole lot more money to stay in their central Odessa premises.
“Philharmonic Hall is our legal address and our
official residence on a daily basis, and has been so for the past 70 years,
since 1937. And it should remain this way for the next century, at least.”
Earle has done a lot of travelling as a guest
conductor as well; he says conductors are international creatures, and he
personally enjoys it. “During recent years I’ve traveled abroad to guest
conduct with greater frequency (and with a free conscience, since the Odessa
Philharmonic has much more stability now). In particular, I’ve really enjoyed
my recent tips to Asia, to various countries, most recently to the Taipei
Symphony Orchestra in Taiwan.
The Southeast Asian Youth Orchestra in Bangkok
is another amazing cultural institution I’m proud to be associated with.” He
makes clear, “None of this travel diminishes my relationship to Odessa and the Philharmonic.”
Where does he get his inspiration?
“Sometimes, I must say, I don’t know. I guess the deep
conviction that music is important is a guiding force. There is so much rubbish
in the world today. We musicians have a unique life, and a unique opportunity.”
Local critics these days say that Earle conducts
Slavic music with Slavic soul.
“I grew up with a lot of ‘Slavic’ music, such as
Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, right from my early childhood. But it goes without
saying that after eight years spent living in Vienna during the 1980s, today my entire
outlook on Slavic music is very different. That’s perfectly natural. And yes,
the changes from inside, after 17 years living in a Slavic country, do help one
to acquire a totally different feel for the music.”
He’s absorbed a lot of knowledge about Ukrainian music
in his years here, too.
“As to Skoryk and Kolessa, I had no idea who they were
when I was a child. Today I’m proud to have conducted their music in many
At the end I ask Earle about the fate of Ukrainian
classic music. “It’s absolutely impossible today to imagine how much has
changed since the early 1990s,” he says. “Back then, nobody - and I mean,
nobody - could have imagined what life would be like here today. In 2001,
during my tenth anniversary season, we printed a ‘then and now’ list of changes
from 1991 to 2001, and the list was astounding. However, far too many things
still remain unchanged. The sad thing about music education here in Ukraine (the same goes for Russia) is that
there is virtually no tradition of youth orchestras. The entire system is
focused on training soloists. I think this is an error, because not everybody
can become a soloist. Today there’s no doubt whatsoever that the long-term
future of classical music in Venezuela
is secured for decades, due to this amazing system of youth orchestras. The
future of classical music in Ukraine
rests entirely on today’s youth. The more young people are attracted to
classical music, the better. Asia and Latin America
are giving the entire world – including us, here, too – an amazing example to