Music conductor, Oleksiy Baklan was born in 1961 in Kyiv to a family of famous ballet soloists of the Kyiv Opera and Ballet Theatre. In 1987, he graduated from the Kyiv State Conservatory, where he studied symphonic conducting with the outstanding Ukrainian conductor Stefan Turchak. When he was finishing his degree, he conducted a famous ballet “Giselle.”
Since 1987 Oleksiy Baklan worked as conductor at the National Opera of Ukraine (Taras Shevchenko National Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre of Ukraine.) He was a Chief conductor from 1995 to 2008, and in 2008–2012, he was the Art Manager of the Kyiv Municipal Opera and Ballet Theater for Children and Youth. He was awarded the People’s Artist Award of Ukraine prize in 2009.
With orchestras of the National Opera of Ukraine, and the Kyiv Municipal Opera and Ballet Theatre for Children and Youth, Oleksiy Baklan performed in Mexico, Canada, U.S., Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, Columbia, Peru, Portugal, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Great Britain, Russia, Estonia, Serbia, Macedonia, Egypt, Oman, Korea and Japan.
Please tell us how you decided to become a conductor. Describe your path to mastering this difficult and creative profession.
Each person has his or her own destiny in life. Being a conductor is my destiny. I didn’t study music until I was twelve years old. Usually, talented children begin playing instruments at the age of six, but it was not my case. At one point, my parents decided that I needed to study piano, and send me to take some piano lessons. Back in the Soviet Union, it was common to plan out their child’s path in life, to develop one’s talents.
When I was twelve, I began my studies at the Musical School with teacher – Maryna Nebesskaya, and I am forever grateful to her for giving me knowledge I still utilize in my current work as a conductor. She was quite emotional in her teaching style, calling my name loudly when I made mistakes, but she paid special attention to me because I was much older than the other students. Owing to her positive through which she made me believe that I could master this path. In three and a half years I completed the seven-year program of the musical curriculum.
When I was fifteen, I began my studies at the Specialized School of Music with Olga Orlova as my principal teacher. She was extremely strict, and her teaching skills helped form me as a human being and as a musician. I completed my musical studies at that school in four years.
What was the next step in your education?
The next step was the Conservatory (now called the Musical Academy), the highest point of musical education in Ukraine. It was time to choose a specific profession as a musician, and I began to recall my childhood. I grew up in a big ballet family – the Baklans and the Potapovs.
The essence of creativity, creative moods and expressions, they were all present in my life from my early childhood, whether consciously or subconsciously, the energy of creativity, of the theatre, stayed with me for many years.
I was part of the theatre since I was a child. I saw many performances and many rehearsals. All of these experiences had a huge impact on my future development as a conductor. The first sounds of the orchestra, the costumes in movement, applause, excitement of the artists, positive vibe of successful performance, all of these experiences resonated with me and developed my life. The world of the theatre drew me in, creating a certain aura in my life. As I remember all these emotions, I considered, for the first time in my life to try my strengths at conducting.
I started studying symphonic conducting, and in particular, conducting for the theatre and ballet. I enjoyed ballet as a form of expression through choreography, through the movement, and I understood from my parents that it is also very hard work. I always had and have a great respect for ballet dancers.
I studied under Stefan Turchak for four years. He noticed my love for the theatre, and he also knew my family’s deep ballet roots. When I turned twenty-six years old, in February of 1987, I conducted the ballet “Giselle,” when I completed my degree. After that I was offered a position as an assistant conductor at the National Theatre of Opera and Ballet.
Tell us about your emotions during your first conducting experience of “Giselle” at the National Theatre of Opera and Ballet.
I had fear and I was worried, considering the amount of responsibility I took upon myself in front a large group of people. The level of the musicians in the orchestra added to my fear, as I always had great respect for their work. The other side of the story was my responsibility as a conductor for what is happening on stage – the coordination between the masters dancing onstage and the orchestra. This was the most stressful time of my life! This performance was life changing for me, and my only chance to really show my talent. I remember asking my teacher for at least one rehearsal, but he told me that this is my only chance. He taught me how important it is for a conductor to save my energy during performance, to keep on going even if I make mistakes. This day was probably the most important day in my career as a conductor, as it paved my way to become the professional I am today.
Describe your relationship with people you work with. How important are the connections made backstage, the energy interchanged between the performers, for the performance itself to be successful?
You are absolutely right, the aura backstage adds to the performance, it is extremely important. As in any country, any family, any nation or any collective, there can always be a negative side to emotions – whether it’s pride or selfishness, all people are drawn to succumb to their emotions. Our collective at the National Theatre of Opera and Ballet is more than 1,000 people, and of course, certain situations occur, as it is very important to stay positive, especially when there are difficulties.
The conductor is positioned at the centre, behind him is the audience, in front of him – is the orchestra, and than there is stage. The combination of this is the soul of the performance, and it lies in the hands of the conductor. The main goal of the conductor is to create a flow of music and movement on-stage, in order to achieve a harmonious performance for the audience.
There is a lot of ambition backstage, which can compromise healthy and positive relationships. Once rehearsals are completed, this ship needs to sail, and this is the job of the conductor. The creative sincerity, energy and drive are the main ingredients.
What kind of connection you feel with the audience during a performance?
It is important to consider that the audience is here for a one-time experience. It doesn’t matter that it might be your fifteenth time conducting the same ballet performance. The performance needs to be at the top level, in order for the audience maximum emotions. This requires concentration and focus from the performers.
Even if there are highs and lows during rehearsals, the performance needs to be a top-10. People come to the theatre to relax, to gather positivity and creativity, to distract themselves from their everyday problems, and this is what the performers are responsible for. We offer people happiness and beauty, at the time of the show, and for this to happen we need to be in harmony with ourselves. As conductor, I bring all of these emotions together during the performance, and I share them with the audience. The audience, in turn, gives us back positive harmonious energy we have shared.
This is a circular motion, and a complete harmonious experience. We are in the process of constant energy exchange. If conductor is in a bad mood, or feeling empty, the orchestra picks up on this energy instantly. It is important to be healthy, in good physical form, focused and ready for the challenge. This way the circular motion of the energy exchange is complete, and the performance is successful. I am very grateful to the people I work with, together we contribute to the great art of conducting theatre and ballet.
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