Conductor has fond memories of time with WSO

Andrey Boreyko lauds local orchestra fans for their open minds


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New music and old friends have made for a welcome return to Winnipeg for Andrey Boreyko.

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New music and old friends have made for a welcome return to Winnipeg for Andrey Boreyko.

The Polish-Russian conductor, who was the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s music director from 2001 to 2006, will be back at the podium leading the symphony when it continues its 75th-anniversary celebrations Saturday night.

He’s felt a flood of fond memories after returning to the city late Monday night and was looking forward to comparing the 2022 version of the WSO with the one he left behind after his five-year term.


An ovation welcomes Andrey Boreyko’s final appearance with the orchestra in 2006; the maestro is back on the podium Saturday night.

“It was a great time for me here. It was all positive and I felt it was a good moment for myself to discover the North American continent,” he says, marking the Winnipeg New Music Festival in particular. “There are not many cities in the world where you can play seven, eight concerts in a week, the opportunity to play absolutely unknown music.

He says he will never forget a February 2003 festival performance of Giya Kancheli’s Life Without Christmas, which requires each 30-minute movement to be played at 6 a.m., noon, 6 p.m. and midnight.

“It was minus 50 degrees outside and when I was driving my place to the first concert at 6 a.m. I was almost sure I was mad; nobody will come,” he remembers. “I will never, ever forget the impression, in the dark, the line of people, slowly moving through the huge snow drifts and about 200 people came to hear the music of someone they’d never heard before. This is a moment that’s very, very special.”

His only regret is that he has little time to look around between rehearsals for Saturday’s concert.

“There’s a little bit of sorrow because I don’t have enough time to see the places I like to visit. All the parks, all the lakes and the beautiful places around. It’s a very short time,” he says. “Assiniboine Park, we were there very often with my family and friends, and Kenora is also a special place; the orchestra played there for the summer festival.

“I know many beautiful places in the world but Canadian nature is unique.”

The maestro was in a familiar environment at the concert hall, and renewed acquaintances with musicians who were part of the orchestra when he was conducting, including concertmaster Gwen Hoebig.

Boreyko’s time with the WSO was during a turbulent financial era for the orchestra. The organization was swamped with debt during his tenure; in 2003, staff and musicians accepted a 20 per cent pay cut and Boreyko contributed half of two months’ salary to help keep the orchestra afloat.

The WSO is on a firmer financial foundation in 2022. It reported a $400,000 surplus in October after receiving government pandemic assistance available to Canadian businesses, but remains cautious about the future.

“It was a very stormy time. I heard from Gwen later on that the situation is stabilized and I’m very happy now (for the WSO),” Boreyko remembers. “I’m afraid that within the last 20 years, 30 years, most of the orchestras in the world, they do have financial problems.”


Maestro Andrey Boreyko helped the WSO kick off its 55th season in 2002.

Boreyko has performed with many orchestras since leaving the WSO, especially in Germany, where he has led symphonies in Duesseldorf, Hamburg and Stuttgart. He’s also worked in Brussels; Bern, Switzerland; San Sebastian, Spain; and Naples, Fla.

His musical bases are in Milan, Italy, where he is the resident conductor with Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano, and in Poland, as music and artistic director with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra.

There’s a lot to look at while listening to the music at an orchestral performance, whether it’s the synchronization of the string section’s bow movements, the precision of percussion players, and if you have a seat the concert hall’s loge seats, the woodwinds and brass sections located at the rear of the orchestra.

More often than not, though, the conductor catches the attention of everyone in the audience. It is a performance in itself, but there’s far more to it than the eye can see.

“I’ve met only a few people who do understand what’s in this profession, the conductor’s profession,” Boreyko says of those outside of the orchestral world. “(A conductor) must get them to play what you need, the sound you need them to produce, the form and the shape of the piece.

“It’s much more how than when.”

Musicians in every orchestra play the same instruments, but that’s where the similarities end. An orchestra’s culture is differs greatly when crossing borders or oceans, he says.

“The differences between the orchestras aren’t only in the level of playing, it’s their mentality. Spanish orchestra, Russian orchestra, Polish orchestra, German orchestra, Italian orchestra, there are five different mentalities, and the conductor must adjust to these mentalities within the first 30 minutes or there is no chance,” he says. “Each orchestra has something special.

“You should know that in Italy you shouldn’t stop the orchestra (in rehearsal). If you need to say something, it’s better to say it while conducting, ‘mezzo forte’ (moderately loud). If you stop, they start to chat.”

Boreyko was in Milan on Feb. 24 when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, and the conductor denounced the attack in an official statement that was published on the symphony’s website.

Naples Philharmonic

Andrey Boreyko was the WSO’s music director from 2001 to 2006.

The Warsaw symphony has performed benefit concerts to help Ukrainians who’ve fled to Poland to escape the missile attacks that have killed thousands of civilians.

The town where his Polish great-grandfather lived is now in western Ukraine, but over the centuries has been ruled by many other nations and empires.

“I never thought that one day I’ll be in a situation where one country of my origin will attack a country where my Polish roots are,” he says.

“For me, Russia is not Putin. Russia is Tchaikovsky and Dostoevsky and Chekhov. Russia is a beautiful nation but what is going on there now is a tragedy. Too many people are zombied by the propaganda.”

Twitter: @AlanDSmall

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Alan Small

Alan Small

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.

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