Portrait and interview of Aleksey Semenenko , 2nd laureate of Queen Elisabeth Violin Competition
Ukrainian violinist Aleksey Semenenko is praised for passionate performances replete with “stunning technique and intonation, verve, wit,delicatesse, and beautiful phrasing” (The Boston Musical Intelligencer), as well as consistently demonstrating “an unparalleled level of refined musicianship and stage presence” (The Strad).
This was evidenced in his triumph at the 2015 Queen Elisabeth Competition in Belgium, where he captured Second Prize and went on to perform Laureate concerts throughout Belgium with the Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège in Liege, Brussels, Namur, Charleroi, Hasselt, and Antwerp, and with the Brussels Philharmonic in Bruges and Ghent. In 2015-2016, he performs in Europe at the Musée du Louvre in Paris, the Rotary Club d’Arlon in Belgium, and the Rotary Gent-Zuid in Gent, and in the U.S., where he appears in recitals and concerto engagements at University of Florida Performing Arts, Tannery Pond Concerts, Merkin Concert Hall, the Embassy Series, the Eastern Connecticut Symphony, the DuPage Symphony, and the Meridian Symphony. He makes his Alice Tully Hall concerto debut with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s on the Young Concert Artists Gala Concert in May 2016.
Aleksey Semenenko has appeared as soloist with orchestras including the Moscow Virtuosi, the Kiev National Orchestra, the Junge Philharmonie in Cologne, and the Sinfonietta Hungarica, among others. He appeared at the Interlaken Classics Festival in Switzerland as soloist with the Zakhar Bron Chamber Orchestra and toured Germany, performing recitals in the Best of NRW Series. At the 2011 Musik:Landschaft Westfalen Festival, he performed Paganini’s Concerto No. 2 with the National Philharmonic of Russia under Vladimir Spivakov, and was subsequently invited by the Spivakov Foundation to perform at the Kremlin in Moscow and at the Moscow International Performing Arts Center. Aleksey Semenenko performed the violin solo from John William’s “Schindler’s List” with the Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra in Hamburg. An avid chamber musician, Aleksey Semenenko founded the Stolyarsky Quartet, which has given concerts in Russia, the Ukraine, France, Malta, and Switzerland.
Semenenko’s other honors include First Prize in the 2015 Boris Goldstein International Violin Competition, Musical America’s New Artist of the Month (March 2015), the Audience Prize at the 2015 Musical Olympus International Festival in St. Petersburg, the Alois Kottmann Award at the 2010 International Day of Music Festival in Hofheim, Germany, and the Grand Prix of the 2006 National Violin Competition in Lviv, Ukraine.
Winner of the 2012 Young Concert Artists International Auditions, he was presented in debut recitals at Merkin Concert Hall and the Kennedy Center. At the Auditions, he was also awarded special prizes resulting in performances at the Paramount Theatre, the Usedomer Musikfestival, and the Friends of Music Concerts. He has also appeared in recital at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Port Washington Library, Rockefeller University, the Vero Beach Museum of Art, the First Presbyterian Church of Myrtle Beach, La Grua Center for the Arts, and on the Embassy Series.
Born in Odessa, Aleksey began his violin studies at the age of six with Zoya Mertsalova at the Stolyarsky School, and only a year later performed Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in A Minor with the Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra. He currently studies with Zakhar Bron at the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne. Aleksey Semenenko plays a 1760-70 Carlo Ferdinando Landolfi violin, loaned to him by the Deutsche Stiftung Musikleben fund of Hamburg, Germany.
1) Dear Aleksey, when I heard you at 2nd round I knew immediately you would be in top ranking. Did you feel it yourself?
Well, actually kind of yes. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but I was relaxed, in top shape and felt the good atmosphere in the hall. I was scared of performing Mozart right after my recital because there you are almost naked and can’t express yourself in your comfortable way.
2) You won already several very important Prizes:
Winner of the 2012 Young Concert Artists International Auditions, 1st Prize at the Boris Golstein Competition in 2015.
Why did you decide to participate at the Queen Elisabeth Competition ?
Because QEC is one step higher. And because I wanted to take my revenge of the previous one in 2012 when I was eliminated.
3) How did you feel at the Chapelle Musicale, for a week without phone, computer and cut off the world , just surrounded by
other violinists who are in fact your competitors?
I imagined it many times being so difficult and horrible, that later in fact it wasn’t. I focused very much on modern piece in the beginning and let the rest flow by itself. What important is not to consider it as a competition and not to close yourself in the room. It’s an adventure of 12 young guys and girls trying to learn a new piece in a short period of time. Having no internet or phone helps a lot to gather energy, which I had more than enough, to get to know your limits.
I tried to find a friend .It became Will Hagen. We walked and jogged a lot.
4) Are you coming from a musical family ? Why did you choose the violin ?
My father played clarinet. He passed away more than 10 years ago. My Godfather, who was his best friend and colleague in the Odessa Philharmonic orchestra, said I should try the violin. That’s all, no romantic.
5) Some musicians say they feel exhausted after a month of stress and then the marathon with all these concerts. You kept your smiling face… How did you feel inside you ?
Every time I had doubts I said to myself : “Are you a man or what?”
It is important to be with your closest people, family even in your thoughts during the whole competition and to go step by step. Today my aim is the 1st round, then recital and so on.
When it’s over you feel strange not to have this kind of stress any more because you so got used to.
6) Are you still studying with Prof.Zakhar Bron (the teacher of Vadim Repin and Maxim Vengerov), or is he now just your Mentor ?
Yes, I am. One needs actually control through the whole life and I’m very scared some day to have to go by my own.
6) What are you going to do next ? As a violinist you may not stop practising for more than three days… Are you going to take a vacation ?
Well I had already several concerts after the competition and I’ve just been to the exciting Meklenburg Vorpommern festival in Germany on the Baltic see with a lot of chamber music and new friendships.
Now I’m gonna take a vacation in beaufitul Odessa with probably more than 3 days of no practising. (smiling)
Aleksey Semenenko on tour :
Sept. 26, 6:00pm – New Lebanon, NY – Tannery Pond
Chamber Music / Inna Firsova, piano
Sept. 30, 7:30pm – Gainesville, FL – Phillips Center for the Performing Arts
Chamber Music / Inna Firsova
Oct. 4, 15:00 – Bruxelles, Belgium – Palais de Beaux-Arts
Tchaikovsky / Orchestre National de Belgique
Oct. 6, 7:30pm – Washington DC – Ukrainian Embassy
Oct. 7, 9:30pm – Washington DC – Ukrainian Embassy
Chamber Music / Inna Firsova
Oct. 10, 8:00pm. – Naperville, IL – Wentz Concert Hall
Tchaikovsky / DuPage Symphony Orchestra
Oct. 17, 8:00pm. – Massapequa, NY – Berner Middle School
Glazunov / Massapequa Philharmonic Orchestra
Oct. 20, 2:00 pm. – New York City – Merkin Concert Hall
Chamber Music / Inna Firsova