The fearlessness and experimentation of tenor Wolodymyr Smishkewych

Early music expert performs Purcell’s ‘The Indian Queen’ with the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra.

WOLODYMYR (VLAD) SMISHKEVYCH: What caught me first is how uniquely early music tells the story (photo credit: Courtesy)
WOLODYMYR (VLAD) SMISHKEVYCH: What caught me first is how uniquely early music tells the story
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘I perform mostly early music or that composed after the WWII, leaving much of what is in between to my talented colleagues. There still is a lot of repertoire for me to sing,” says 44-year-old tenor singer Wolodymyr (Vlad) Smishkewych, who has come in Israel to participate in the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra performance of The Indian Queen, by Henry Purcell.
Born and raised in New Jersey to Ukrainian father and Spanish mother, he grew up going to his mother’s native land – Galicia, Spain, in the summertime.
“In my childhood I did not realize that I was exposed to different cultures and just spoke Spanish with my mother’s family, while speaking Ukrainian with my school friends from Ukrainian school in New Jersey as well as with the family of my father, who grew up in Argentina,” says Smishkewych in a phone interview from his home in Ireland.
He received his training in voice performance from Rutgers University and Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, having studied with leading tenors Frederick Urrey, Paul Elliott and Alan Bennett.
Nowadays, Smishkewych is an internationally acclaimed artist, who has appeared at the world’s prestigious stages and festivals. A sought-after performer and vocal pedagogue in medieval, contemporary, and world music, he has lectured and taught masterclasses at universities in the United States, South America, Canada and Europe.
And as if this is not enough, he is active as a researcher, he writes, records, and creates video about singing, ethnomusicology, historical instruments, and music and nature and presents a weekly radio program.
Smishkewych lives in Ireland with his partner, historical and contemporary keyboardist Yonit Kosovske (“No, she is not an Israeli, despite her Israeli sounding name,” he smiles), and their three children.
The family has moved in Ireland in 2011, where Smishkewych joined the faculty of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick.
“But the work there consumed too much time, while I first and foremost consider myself a singer, so I went back to performing and also got a radio program. I see this also as educating, since thousands of people listen to my radio programs, which are very popular in Ireland.”
His current three-hours-long Sunday program is focused on early music.
“I enjoy performing this repertoire and learning about it,” he says. “The program is called Vox Nostra – ‘Our voice’ in Latin, and is also connected to the region of Galicia in Spain because this is the name of a song from a manuscript about Santiago de Campostela. My first program, ‘Astrolabe,’ was about science, culture and history through music, which I enjoyed creating and performing.”
So what is it about early music that he loves so much?
“What caught me first is how uniquely early music tells the story,” Smishkewych says. “You have to scratch under the surface to find out the back story, not only the texts and the music itself, but everything, including tuning and the instruments used, and more. This is the performing that I enjoy so much and this enriches the performance, because you not only do what your teacher taught you, you go in for yourself and discovering and finding out what makes this music tick.”
The singer explains that “it is the same with contemporary music: they both require fearlessness and experimenting. And when you find this fearlessness and experimenting in a performer, this is not important what repertoire he performs anymore. This is why I love this repertoire – it requires you to do that. The way music is quite often taught is to learn a piece by Mozart or Brahms, whatever from your teacher the way he did it without asking too many question, because they do it in a successful way. And everything outside of it becomes wrong. While early music performers have to ask questions and inspect many other ways of thinking. If you ask the questions the right way, very adventurously and intelligently you get beautiful results even if the sounds are different.”
Music research is among his other activities.
“For several years, I was a Fulbright scholar for a research in Spain on hurdy-gurdy instrument, which was all over Spain for the last thousand years,” he says. “This instrument became one of my passions – there were so many songs about it and songs performed with it. I was about to write a book about it when my collaborator in the project disappeared. So I decided to make a documentary instead of the book, because I was making videos of people I interviewed. Since money is always a problem when it comes to independent projects and which are not Hollywood big ideas, the project advances very slowly. But now I’ve got an interest from a Spanish producer who makes wonderful documentaries. I have also a few projects in the making with Irish radio and TV with Spanish connections and I am getting into more film and documentary projects.”
Henry Purcell’s famous semi-opera The Indian Queen will be played alongside other instrumental works written by Henry Purcell. The program also features the first Israeli performance of Jeremiah Clarke’s “Ode on The Death of Henry Purcell.”
Andrew Parrott conducts, the soloists are Yuval Oren, Simon Lillystone, Wolodymyr Smishkewych and Yair Polishook.
The concerts take place Thursday, November 29 at 20:00 at Zucker Hall, Heichal Hatarbut, Tel Aviv, Saturday, December 1 at 13:00 at the Catholic Church Mar Alias, Haifa and Sunday, December 2 at 20:00 at International YMCA, Jerusalem.
For reservations: or *6119.