Sunday 4 December 2016

Bondings: Singing the same old tune

Yonit Kosovske and Vlad Smishkewych moved here from the US in 2011, and have found freedom and diversity

Published 11/05/2015 | 02:30

Dynamic duo: Yonit Kosovske and Wolodymyr (Vlad) Smishkewych came to Ireland in 2011 from the US and are both teaching and performing here. Photo: Tony Gavin
Dynamic duo: Yonit Kosovske and Wolodymyr (Vlad) Smishkewych came to Ireland in 2011 from the US and are both teaching and performing here. Photo: Tony Gavin

Timing is everything, say Yonit Kosovske, 44, and her husband Vlad Smishkewych, 40, who managed to be in the same places for several years without actually meeting one another. They attended two colleges in the US at the same time, were in a choir together for a year, had mutual friends, and were included in group emails, but they don't recall even seeing one another until they finally met in the music library of Indiana University.

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Harpsichord maestro Yonit was 27 and tenor Vlad (real name Wolodymyr) was 24 when he came to audition for the university's doctorate in music performance programme, and Yonit had an instant crush on him. "I thought he was cute," she says, "but he looked more Russian than I was expecting because I was told he was Spanish."

The confusion is understandable, as Vlad's dad, George, is Ukrainian and his mum, Margarita, is Spanish. They met in Spain at veterinary college, and then moved to the US. Vlad was always singing while growing up in New Jersey, and he went to study voice performance at Rutgers University, and completed a master's degree and doctorate. He has become an internationally-renowned tenor, specialising in baroque, medieval and Renaissance music.

He started dating Yonit when he arrived at Indiana in 1999 to begin his doctorate. She was looking for a lift to the airport one morning and he immediately offered, and when he arrived to pick her up, he kissed her on the cheek and handed her an espresso, which she thought was very romantic. "He seemed completely different from anyone I had met, and was unique, and incredibly kind and compassionate," she says. "I fell in love with his voice when I heard him sing, and he was also interesting and articulate."

"I had a crush on her too," admits Vlad. "We met at a party when she came back and she was very intriguing and slightly mysterious. And when I heard her play, it was just another level. Yonit and I have been together for 16 years now, and are best friends. She is fiercely devoted and passionate about anything she does."

Yonit grew up in South Carolina. Her father Howard is a rabbi and also an amateur violinist, while her mother Barbara, now retired, formerly worked as a governor's speech-writer and social worker. Her parents' marriage ended about ten years ago, although they were together for over forty years. So what was it like growing up as a rabbi's daughter?

"I didn't think I was different growing up because that was all I knew," she says. "We were at the synagogue a lot, and my sister followed in my father's footsteps and became a rabbi too. I was born with an artist's musical soul and was six when I started piano."

Yonit completed a degree in music at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and then gained a master's and a doctorate in music performance. In the summer of 2000, a year after she started dating Vlad, she unexpectedly became pregnant while they were in Israel - she was leading a tour there. They were delighted and their daughter, Talya Smishkewych Kosovske, was born in 2001, while they were both in the middle of their doctorates.

"We got married, well we kind of eloped and told our parents afterwards," laughs Yonit. "We had a proper family wedding when Talya was 21 months old, and she was the flower girl. The next few years were an incredible balance of being in school, teaching at university, performing, having children and breast-feeding around the clock. Looking back, I don't know how we did it. Many artists are introverts by nature, and it's a challenge to balance the needs of children and your needs as an artist. I need a lot of daily alone time to think about my music and to practise, but as a parent, you get less time to be with your craft."

Talya is now 14, and has been joined by younger sister Mitzi, 11, and brother Ilani, 8. The family stayed in Indiana for fourteen years, apart from a year spent in Spain, and then moved to Connecticut. Then Vlad and Yonit decided they wanted to live in Europe, as their performing career there was hard to maintain from the US. So when two positions came up in the University of Limerick, they applied and both happily landed those positions.

They came over to Limerick in 2011, and moved to Killaloe two years ago. Yonit is currently a lecturer in classical piano chamber music, and she teaches piano and is also an accompanist for the string players. "Ireland wasn't on my radar at all, but I came here and it was really wonderful," she says. "Everyone is so welcoming and friendly, the landscape is incredibly beautiful, and I am constantly inspired by the humour and the storytelling.

"Synagogue is important to me, and we go to the Dublin Jewish Progressive Synagogue when we can. It's a lovely community, but it's far away, and I would have liked to be able to go to services every week and have a Hebrew school education for my children."

Vlad worked as course director of the MA in ritual chant and song at UL, but left as he wanted to fully pursue his freelance career again. These days, he is singing nationally and in Europe, and sometimes works with Yonit. They are both performing separately at the forthcoming Galway Early Music Festival, which promotes the performance of medieval, renaissance and baroque music in Galway city and county. It features concerts by top international performers, workshops, schools events and music and theatre in Galway City Museum and on the street, and highlights the medieval town of Galway and the artistic and cultural richness of the area. "There is freedom and diversity in music in Ireland," says Vlad. "We have made lots of friends here and have worked with so many different music groups."

Yonit Kosovske and Wolodymyr Smishkewych perform at the Galway Early Music festival 2015, which runs from May 14 to 17.

www.galwayearlymusic.com

www.smishkewych.com/wolodymyrsmishkewych

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