COVER STORY Tamara Volskaya: an eagerly awaited return BY MARGO HUNT AND ALLAN PULKER Every generation has its great and revered musicians, whose names are synonymous with the . pinnacle of anistic achievement: our parents' generation had Casals, Heifetz and Rubinstein; today we have Yo Yo Ma, Anne Sofie Mutter and Alfred Brendel, to name a few. How many of us, however, know of Tamara Volskaya, or of her instrument, the domra, even though she is by all accounts at least the equal of the six famous musicians just mentioned? The domra is a fretted, plucked fourstringed member of the mandolin family, and is tuned like a violin. In his January 1998 Fanfare Magazine reviewof Volskaya's CD (with Toronto's Shevchenko Mandolin Ensemble) of transcriptions of violin music for domra, Robert Maxham referred to her recording as a "stupefyingly virtuosic anthology" and called her " ... the only string player who can challenge the supremacy of Heifetz and Kreisler in their own repertoire." Stanley Solomon, former principal violist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, heard Volskaya perform Camille Saint Saens' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso with the Shevchenko Ensemble's mandolin orchestra in February 1999. He wrote: "The artist's technique was staggering, her grasp of the music all that one could hope for. It was a real tour de force and made one forget that this piece had been composed for violin. Tamara's artistry reminded me of how Artur Rubinstein played the piano or Fritz Kreisler the violin." Ginger Kautto, general manager of the Shevchenko Ensemble, calls her "the most musical person I've ever heard. She has something in her, it's as if the music comes out of her body .... and when she plays she smiles and makes you feel as if she is playing just for you!" Ruth Budd, a retired Toronto Symphony Orchestra bass player, and now manager of the Toronto Senior Strings calls her "a wizard". "I have played with her" Budd told me "and when I heard the tape of the performance I gasped because I couldn't believe how good she is." So, why is it that such a musician is not world-famous and selling out concert halls everywhere? The reason is probably that the instrument she plays is .a Ukrainian folk instrument and that until less Tamara Volskaya and the · Shevchenko Mandolin Orchestra Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto than ten years ago all her performing was in her native Ukraine and neighbouring Russia, where she also was a teacher in the Ekaterinburg Conservatory. Ironically, the fact that much of her repertoire is transcriptions of violin literature caused some reviewers to dismiss Volskaya's CD out of hand. WHoLENorn spoke to Ms. Volskaya at her home in New York, and asked her about the merits of the Domra compared to the violin as a solo instrument. It is the artist, not the instrument, that communicates, she replied. While the domra (a member of the mandolin family) does have an unusual sound, which people find attractive, it is the artist's effort and total commitment to revealing the music that ultimately speak to the listener, no matter the instrument. She learned this, she says, from the work of violinists Fritz Kreisler and Jascha Heifetz, who have been an inspiration to her all her life, since her father introduced their recordings to her at a very young age. Born in Ukraine, Tamara attended the Kiev Music College in Ukraine and the Tchaikovsky State Conservatory in Ekaterinburg, Russia, where she became a professor and recipient of the "Merited Artist of Russia" award. It was in Kiev almost forty years ago, during the depths of the "cold war" that Volskaya's connection with Toronto began. At the age of 17 she was already a virtuoso on the domra and was admitted several years younger than most students to the music school. One of her fellow students was a young Toronto woman of Ukrainian descent, Ginger Kautto, and the two became good friends. They lost touch for many years after Kautto's departure from Kiev, but almost met again in 1989 when the Shevchenko Ensemble toured Ukraine and she contacted Volskaya through their teacher. Tamara had to leave Kiev before Ginger arrived, but left a record of her work. Then, back in Toronto about a year later, Ginger received a phone call from Australia. The caller was an Australian man who had been so moved by one of Volskaya's performances that he arranged a tour for her in Australia. He handed the phone over to Volskaya, and the connection was made. In 1992 Tamara made her first visit to Toronto and performed with the Shevchenko Ensemble at the Columbus Centre. She returned to perform a second time in 1992, and again in 1996 and 1999. Now she is returning for the fifth time to perform with the Shevchenko Mandolin Orchestra on May 28, followed on June 1 by an appearance with the Toronto Senior Strings, under the direction of conductor, Victor Feldbrill. Rth Budd, founder of the Toronto Senior Strings, told us how the apparently unlikely collaboration of these two organizations came about. To begin with, Ruth Budd is the bass player in both ensembles. Second, Budd says she has a debt to Ukrainian-Canadians, because as a child in Winnipeg during the Great Depression she got her musical start in life from a Ukrainian teacher who gave her lessons for free. "Now" she says "is payback time!" Third, this season the Toronto Senior Strings have been reflecting the community, inviting soloists from other musical traditions to join them. Their June 1 concert will reflect Toronto's substantial eastern European population. The fourth good reason, of course, is that Tamara Volskaya is such an incredible musician. "She is very demanding" says Budd "but in the nicest possible way". She gives so much and demands so much musicality in such a way that you just do it!" In her past performances with the Shevchenko mandolin orchestra she inspired everyone to play their absolute best. "She's a great person to be around too" Ruth said. "She's bubbly and effervescent off stage as well as on." So, put May.28 and June i on your calendars and get out to one of these concerts. With any luck, that CD, the review of Which was quoted above, and which earned Volskaya a place in Fanfare's Classical Hall of Fame, will be available for purchase at both events. (It is also available via the WholeNote online CD store, at www.thewholenote.com.)
Dawn Lyons goe,s BEHIND THE SCENES with Ned Dickens, librettist The message on Ned Dickens's call answer was in rhyming couplets and very silly. I asked !:::~ politely for an interview - I had ' ' been primed that he was VERY BUSY and might not have time to call me back, let alone be interviewed - and got a call back that afterrwon. "Oh no, I'm not THAT busy, but I have carefully cultivated that story because I'm essentially lazy. I say I'm too busy to do anything I don't want to do." Well, did he want to do an interview? · "Sure. I'm at the Moonbean Cafe in Kensington Market every morning between 9 and noon. That's where I write." I go to the Moonbean on the appointed day and I see· a guy sitting at a table in the front window by to the coffee roaster. On his table are i1 pad of paper and a paperback copy of Machiavelli's The Prince. ls he Ned Dickens, the librettist? Yes, he is. ~ Ned: "I've been writing plays full-time since 1993. It's my third career, seven years as a teacher, five years director of KYTES, that's Kensington Youth Theatre Employment Skills, and I've always done theatre." Me: "How did you get started writing plays?" Ned: "The KYTES program lost 85 % of its funding, we fought, we ran a cabaret benefit called Cut This. That's where I met· Sarah Stanley. She and her colleagues at a theatre then not-yet-named wanted to do a socially-conscious Romeo and Juliet. I said to her, Well, we've got a building for two more months, we've got some other resources. So we did this big, noisy Romeo and Juliet under the Bathurst Street Bridge. It didn't turn the government around, but it was the beginning of a theatre company now called Die in Debt Continues, next page .--------------,-----___:.__----.-.................... Professional portable remote Digital recording in your own space Roaming Variety of Digital formats Harddisk • MD • DAT flexible rates• great Mies Studios Call Tony at 416-920-3372 •••..........•.•.... ~ WORLD CLASS DIGITAL RECORDING . CD MASTERING & MANUFACTURING '(!..'~' '.The engineering ·/' .~ s special praise." - 4 • ' Robert Franner, ;,/, gical Music Magazine ...J, ' ......,.,. $ ••• the very essence ·Ii -• 1 'II f of fidelity." i Alan Lofft, ·, \l 'C .·i .Sound and Vision J;~r ~~ree, informative bi':Ochure, please call 415;.410-8248 The Audio l:iroup JUNO nominated work Over 14 years experience Owned/Operated by Robert Hanson Concert Recording • Professional digital recording of your concert 9 (plus tape cost) Deluxe Concert Recording • Professional digital reGording of your concert • Digital editing • Mastering of a CD 0 (plus tape cost) ~~w~j}."' 535-0401 contact: Mike Whitla www.deepdownproductions.com 1.-------'~·----- -------~-----~-"