A young American conductor and a nearly 60-year-old Ukrainian
orchestra may seem an unlikely combination. But it was "love at first sight"
Hobart Earle said of his conducting debut with the Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra
several years ago. He is now the orchestra's music director.
Under Mr. Earle's direction, the 101-member orchestra will play its first
American tour this month. A concert tomorrow night at 8 in Princeton will have
special significance, Mr. Earle said in a telephone interview from a hotel in
Odessa, which he calls home for more than half the year. Mr. Earle's parents
live in Princeton, and in 1983 Mr. Earle graduated magna cum laude from
The concert wilj be a benefit for the
endowment fund of the Friends of Music at Princeton, which is celebrating its
50th anniversary year. The program, in Richardson Auditorium of Alexander Hall
on the university campus, will include excerpts from Prokofiev's "Romeo and
Juliet" and Elgar's "Enigma" Variations.
Odessa, the principal maritime port of Ukraine, is famous for a long
cultural tradition that has produced many virtuoso musicians, including the
violinists David Oistrakh and Nathan Milstein and the pianists Emit Gilels and
Sviatoslav Richter. Us first music school was founded in 1834, and by the end of
the 19th century, Odessa was considered one of the most im portant cultural
centers in Russia.
The Odessa Philharmonic Orches tra was founded in
1936. Mr. Earle was appointed principal guest conductor in 1991, and the next
year he became the first American ever appointed as music director of an
orchestra in the former Soviet Union.
In January of this year, the
Ukrain ian Government awarded the orchestra federal status. "It's a status
symbol," Mr. Earle said. "We are now funded by the Ministry of Culture in Kiev."
The orchestra also receives some private financing.
Under Mr. Earle's direction, the orchestra has increased its touring -
it had not been allowed to leave the country for 50 years - and attend-ance has
expanded. "Culture in this part of the world is important," Mr. Earle said. "The
orchestra is seen as an important cultural ambassador of the city of Odessa." He
said several Odessa "industrial-ists and factories and seven members of the
government at the local level" had supported the American tour. "They don't
quite believe they are going," he said of the orchestra members, whose average
age is 35. Mr. Earle, the son of American parents, was born in 1960 in Caracas,
Venezuela, and grew up in the city, where his father was in the insurance
business and his mother directed a church choir. In addition to his Princeton
University education, Mr. Earle studied clarinet at Trinity College in London
and conducting at the Academy of Music in Vienna and at Tanglewood.
encountered the Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra while conducting the American
Music Ensemble Vienna, which he formed in 1987, on a tour that included Odessa.
"It was the first orchestra from Vienna in Odessa since the Russian Revolution,"
He still maintains a residence in Vienna for several months a year.
While in Odessa, he lives in a hotel across the street from the concert
"Odessa is a very colorful city, but things are difficult," he
said. "Living and working here is an experience which is hard to describe and
share with people who haven't spent time in this part of the world. You would
need a very wild imagination."
There is a "high level of enthusiasm" in
the orchestra, Mr. Earle said. "What makes me so happy is making a really valid
contribution to musical life here in the Ukraine," he said. "I'm not doing it
for the salary."
Mr. Earle is now fluent in Russian, but he began
conducting in Odessa without knowing the language at all. He spoke Spanish and
communicated through a Cuban violist in the group, who acted as interpreter. Mr.
Earle has also learned some Ukrainian.
Last year, the orchestra
participated in an international festival of Jewish music in Odessa, and in 1994
the orchestra will join the festivities celebrating the 200th year of the city's
"Odessa has a strong identity," Mr. Earle said. "People call
themselves Odessites, and 99 percent of the orchestra graduated from the Odessa
Conservatory of Music. Sixty percent were born there. Odessa has a chance to
come back into its own as a cosmopolitan city."
There has been much interest in' the tour particularly among American
residents who came from the former Soviet Union, Mr. Earle said. On a recent
visit here, he met with many former members of the Odessa Philharmonic who now
live in the United States and plan to attend con certs on the tour.
orchestra will play in several American cities and will perform in New York City
at Carnegie Hall on Nov. 30.
The Friends of Music at Princeton presents
40 concerts a year, generally open to the public without charge. Proceeds from
the Odessa Philharmonic concert will benefit the Endowment Fund of the Friends,
to assist the organization in continuing the free concerts.
Tickets to the Princeton concert are $15, $20 and $25. Student tickets are $1