Imagine the fusion of Ukrainian and other ethnic cultures, a diverse program of folk, classical and contemporary songs and music. That’s the Shevchenko Musical Ensemble, a unique combination of mixed voice choir and mandolin orchestra! And although the Ensemble’s roots lie in the Ukrainian community, its repertoire includes Ukrainian, Russian and other folk songs and dances, popular operatic arias and choruses, Canadian folk and contemporary songs and music, and classical orchestral music. The Ensemble has been delighting audiences throughout Ontario and beyond for more than 55 years. Each Ensemble concert also presents outstanding instrumental and vocal soloists who perform with this unique combination of choir and mandolin orchestra.
Toronto Mandolin Orchestra
Founded in 1956, the Toronto Mandolin Orchestra is one of Canada’s oldest community performing groups. The orchestra’s illustrious history includes performances in such prestigious venues as Massey Hall, Ontario Place Forum, Hamilton Place, and National Arts Centre, concert tours across Canada, two separate tours of Ukraine, as well as commissions of new Canadian compositions, and milestone collaborations with world-class artists. Though founded in the Ukrainian-Canadian community, the group’s membership (Ukrainian, Russian, Jewish, Italian, Yugoslavian, Macedonian, Hungarian, Dutch, English, Peruvian and more) is as ethnically diverse as its repertoire which spans classical, folk, popular and Canadian music.
The TMO’s unique instrumentation sets it apart from all other orchestras. Featuring the mandolin family of instruments in place of violins (first and second mandolin, mandola, tenor mandolin, mandocello, mandobass), augmented by a five piece wind section and complete percussion section, the orchestra combines the intimacy of a chamber ensemble with all the power of a symphony, appealing as much to lovers of classical and baroque music as to fans of folk and world music.
In 2001 the TMO hosted “Mandolins of the World,” the Annual Convention of the Classical Mandolin Society of America (CMSA). Highlighting the multicultural nature of both Toronto and the mandolin itself, the convention presented five amazing days of workshops and concerts featuring a vast range of mandolin music from around the world. The success of this event sparked new ventures for the TMO, including the initiation of a concert series known as “Mandolins of the World” performed in Hamilton Place, Showplace Peterborough and Toronto.
The Toronto Mandolin Orchestra proudly celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2006. From as early as 1921 string orchestras, combining mandolins and violins, existed in the Toronto Association of United Ukrainian Canadians (AUUC) where the TMO finds its roots. But in 1956 Eugene Dolny, then conductor of the orchestra, revived the exclusive use of mandolins in the string section in order to preserve and perpetuate the tradition of mandolin orchestral music in Canada. At that time the orchestra took the name Toronto Mandolin Orchestra.
In celebrating its 50 years, the TMO also celebrated the historical significance of mandolin schools and orchestras in many different communities throughout Canada and North America. Such schools, and subsequently orchestras, were established in the early 1920s in the Jewish, Macedonian, Russian, Finnish, Greek, German and other ethnic groups, including university fraternities. Many musicians in the Toronto Mandolin Orchestra today have their roots in those early mandolin schools of the different ethnic groups.
What made the mandolin so popular and widespread? The best authorities agree that the Neapolitan mandolin, developed in Italy, originated from the family of plectrum instruments in various parts of Asia. The mandolin was played as a concert instrument with music written for it by such composers as Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven and later Mahler, Prokofiev and others.
As it spread throughout Europe, the mandolin was adopted by many as a folk instrument. It is relatively easy to play due to the fretting and is comfortable to hold and carry. Although it was played widely in Ukraine, it was never adopted as a traditional folk instrument of that country as was the bandura.
The mandolin accompanied immigrants from European countries, including Ukraine, to all corners of the world. The existence today of the Federation of Mandolin Ensembles in Australiaand the Keio Mandolin Club of Japan attests to this.
The mandolin was brought to North America as well. At the turn of century, the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Mfg. Co. was founded in Kalamazoo, Michigan and began to produce the complete family of mandolins, from prima to mando-bass.
The “flat-back” style mandolin, not only Gibson instruments, but Lyon and Healy, Martin and other brands became the accepted instrument.
By the early 1920s the production of these instruments had reached its peak and their popularity became widespread. This was also due in part to the organization by the Gibson Co. of small touring groups utilizing the family of mandolins in order to promote their product. They also published music arranged for mandolin orchestras and ensembles. The wellknown American music publisher, Carl Fischer, also issued music for mandolin orchestras: Progressive Mandolin Orchestra Edition and Mandolin Club Publications.
In Canada the mandolin became popular, not only in the Ukrainian immigrant community, but in many others. It was soon incorporated into ethnic cultural associations and clubs, forming large schools for children, especially those from working class families who otherwise would not have the opportunity to study music.
In 1930 you could buy a mandolin for as little as $5.75 and lessons were 25¢ a week. These mandolin schools, in many different immigrant communities, became a social phenomenon. Parents who loved music and their cultural heritage were now able to educate, within their financial means, a generation of children some of whom would make music their livelihood.
Over the decades the Toronto Mandolin Orchestra has become an outstanding exponent of Ukrainian orchestral music as well as classical, folk and contemporary music. It reached a professional level of performance under the talented leadership of the late Eugene Dolny and continues to grow in quality of performance under the direction of the highly qualified and gifted musician Alexander Veprinsky.
Today the repertoire of the orchestra numbers over 200 selections, many of them major compositions such as Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue for domra soloist and orchestra, the completePeter and the Wolf by Prokofiev, Shostakovich’s Finale of Violin Concerto N 1 (the Burlesque), also for domra soloist with orchestra, and the most recent – Night on Bare Mountain by Modest Mussorgsky.
The orchestra performs annually at Glenn Gould Studio and other venues, as well as part of the Shevchenko Musical Ensemble in a number of programs and venues.
Alexander Verprinskiy, Artisitic Director/Conductor
Alexander Veprinskiy was born in Lviv (capital city of Western Ukraine) into a family of music lovers. For his early education he attended the Lviv Music School where he studied and played in the student folk instrument orchestra.
In 1975 Alexander enrolled in the Mykola Lysenko Lviv State Conservatory in the faculty of operatic-symphonic conducting. As an accomplished pianist, while still a student at the Conservatory, he worked as accompanist for the ballet of the Lviv Opera.
Upon his graduation from the Conservatory in 1980 Alexander worked as conductor of the Kharkiv Theatre of Operetta. From 1983 to 1986 he taught at the D. Sichinsky Music School in Ivano-Frankivsk and conducted its student symphony orchestra.
From 1986 until his arrival in Canada in 1993, Alexander was Principal Conductor and Director of Music at the M. Kropyvnytsky Music Theatre of Kirovohrad. He has been Artistic Director of the Shevchenko Musical Ensemble (both choir and orchestra) since 1996.
Alexander has composed music for a number of Ukrainian productions (and has been published), and has considerable experience in staging musical dramas and productions.
He is a very competent and prolific choral and orchestral arranger. Among his orchestrations for the Toronto Mandolin Orchestra are Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, the children‘s dance suite Thumbelina by Ukrainian composer Zhanna Kolodub (both of which were performed with choreography and narration), the Bizet-Shchedrin Carmen Suite, and George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and excerpts from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade Suite arranged for solo domra and mandolin orchestra. In 2009 in Glenn Gould Studio the Toronto Mandolin Orchestra premiered Veprinsky’s arrangement of Night on Bald Mountain from the opera Fair at Sorochinsk by Modest Mussorgsky.
He has also orchestrated numerous operatic overtures as well as orchestral accompaniments to vocal and instrumental soloists. For the 50th Anniversary of the Shevchenko Chorus, Alexander arranged, orchestrated and composed original bridges for a medley of 23 songs, old favourites of the Shevchenko Male Chorus. He has arranged numerous choral works for the mixed choir including the Christmas Suite by Ochterlony.
Alexander played a significant role in orchestrating a diverse repertoire for Mandolins of the World, a new initiative by the Toronto Mandolin Orchestra which featured various genres of mandolin music and performance.
Most recently Alexander Veprinskiy has arranged four new programs of popular waltzes, polkas, tangos, and other dance music for “Romanza”, another initiative by the Toronto Mandolin Orchestra.
As conductor and accomplished musician, Alexander Veprinsky has done much to raise the performance level of both the choir and orchestra and has inspired the entire Shevchenko Musical Ensemble to greater artistic achievements.
IRA EROKHINA, DOMRA
Ira is a highly skilled performer on the 3-string domra, a mandolin-like Russian instrument. She received her education at the Russian State Academy of Music in Moscow. After completing post graduate studies she was appointed senior lecturer at that institute. Ira was a soloist with the world renowned Osipov Folk Orchestra in Moscow for many years, is an award winning performer at competitions, and has been recorded for television and radio both in Russia and abroad. After living and performing in South Africa for a number of years, Ira emigrated to Canada where she is currently a well sought after performer and teacher of mandolin, domra, guitar and piano. Ira has been a member of the Toronto Mandolin Orchestra, and its resident soloist, since 2002. With the TMO she has performed such pieces as Hora Martisor by Diniku, Introduction and Waltz from the film Dr. Zhivago, Hungarian Rhapsody by F. Liszt and more.
Adele Kozak, Soprano
Adele is a graduate of the Univerity of Toronto’s Faculty of Music and Opera School. She has sung nationally and internationally on both the concert and opera stages. Some of her engagements include performances in Toronto, New York, Florida, Taiwan and Vancouver where she made her operatic debut with the Vancouver Opera. She has also performed in concert with the Alaska Symphony Orchestra. Adele enjoys her participation in the Shevchenko Ensemble, particularly in the choir where she is able to sing songs of her Ukrainian heritage, as well as appear as a soloist with the Toronto Mandolin Orchestra.
TANYA PODOLSKA, ALTO
Tanya studied voice and piano at the Moscow Music Academy and upon graduation became a member of the famous Pyatnitsky Russian Folk Choir as a contralto. As a buyer for fine French wines for the Russian Government, Tanya traveled to the Bordeaux region of France where she became interested in the many French songs she heard. When she arrived in Canada, Tanya immediately searched for musical venues and enrolled in the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. She also sang for four years with a vocal quartet in Toronto and toured with this ensemble to Northern Ontario. Tanya joined The Shevchenko Musical Ensemble and later the Toronto Jewish Folk Choir where she sings in the chorus and as a soloist. Tanya’s repertoire with the SME includes Padam, Padam by Glanzberg, Mon Pays by Giles Vigneault, La Vie en Rose by Monnot and Guglielmi and othetrs.
Herman Rombouts, bass
Herman Rombouts arrived from Holland via the Canadian Army where he played clarinet and saxophone in the famous Black Watch Military Band. He went on to study voice at the Banff School of Fine Arts with Dr.Vinci and enrolled on a scholarship at the Opera School of the University of Toronto. He joined the Canadian Opera Company in 1962 and sang with them and the COC Touring company for some 17 years.
Mr. Rombouts sang with the Ivan Romanov Chorus on Songs of My People on CBC Radio and Television for eight years as chorister and soloist. He performed at the Stratford Festival and with other opera companies in Canada. Herman has sung for many years with the Shevchenko Musical Ensemble, acquiring an extensive repertoire of Russian and Ukrainian songs so well suited to a basso profundo. Among his classical selections are La Calunnia from The Barber of Seville by Rossini, Go Down Moses, La Vendetta from Le Nozze di Figaro by Mozart, and many more. His acting talents were particularly evident in his portrayal of the Narrator/ Grandfather in the Ensemble’s successful production of Peter and the Wolf. Herman also sings with the Toronto Jewish Folk Choir as chorister and soloist.
Sergei Stilmachenko, Baritone
Native of Ukraine, Canadian baritone Sergei Stilmachenko started studying singing in Kharkiv. He then continued his studies in USA and Canada, before coming to France, to enter the Atelier Lyrique of Paris National Opera in 2001.
Winner of numerous international competitions, such as the Rosa Poncelle International Competition in New York (1994), the Tchek Competition in Toronto (1999), the Joseph Rouleau Competition in Montréal (2000), the Marmande International Competition in France (2001), and the Amber Nightingale International Chamber Music Competition in Kaliningrad, Russia (2006), to name a few.
Sergei’s singing career has seen him perform on various international opera stages; he appeared over 150 times at the Paris National Opera, and has also performed at the Royal Madrid Opera House, the Opera Comique in Paris, Montréal Opera, Toulouse and Strasbourg National Operas, Limoges, Reims, Vancouver, Kharkiv…..
During his career, he performed under baton of a variety of renown conductors such as, Kent Nagano, James Conlon, Alexander Vedernikov, Marcello Viotti, Jiri Belohlavek, Jesus Lopez-Cobos,Pinchas Steinberg, Bruno Campanella, as well as famous stage directors: Robert Carsen, Jérôme Savary, Francesca Zambello, Laurent Pelly, Robert Wilson….
His repertory includes over 50 roles. He has distinguish himself in Figaro, in Le Barbier de Séville, Ford in Falstaff, Onegin, Prince Yeletsky in Queen of Spades, Marcello and Schaunard in La Bohême, Count Danilo Danilovitsch in the Merry Widow, Tarquinius in the Rape of Lucretia, Peter in Hansel und Gretel, and Dr Malatesta in Don Pasquale.
He has given numerous recitals in Europe and North America.