Interview with Violinist Dmitro Udovychenko, Winner of the 2023 Montreal Violin Competition

May 15, 2023, 4:18 PM · Playing Dmitri Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 was little like taking a dive deep into the ocean for 23-year-old Ukrainian violinist Dmitro Udovychenko during his final round performance in the Montreal International Music Competition in April.

"It's hard, as you get deeper and deeper, because the pressure becomes higher - emotional and mental pressure for me," he told me during an interview in Montreal, the day after he won First Prize in the competition. "Once I start to go into the music, my mindset changes. After my performance, I was like a shell, emotionally. Nothing left."

Dmitro Udovychenko
Violinist Dmitro Udovychenko, First Prize Winner in the 2023 Montreal International Music Competition - Violin Edition.

"It's my favorite concerto, my favorite piece of music," Udovychenko said. Choosing it just felt right, mostly because of the content of the music. "This music fits very well with my feelings, in general. It's actually very challenging, at some points, but my message was to be able to express content of this music - which is about sorrow. I hope I succeeded."

BELOW: Dmytro Udovychenko performs Dmitri Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1, with Orchestre Symponique de Montréal and conductor Rafael Payare in the Finals of the 2023 Montreal International Music Competition:

The Shostakovich concerto also was one of the last pieces that Dmitro performed in his home country in late 2021, before the Russian invasion in early 2022. After that, there has not been much going back home for Dmytro.

Dmytro was born in Kharkiv, in eastern Ukraine.

"I was born into a musical family," he said. "Both of my parents are viola players, and my younger brother now is a violist."

"So basically I had no choice but to be a musician," he said. "My first impression I remember in my life, from the time when I couldn't speak yet or I couldn't walk properly, was this glorious memory of my dad, playing viola in front of me."

"So from very early age, the musical instruments were my toys," he said. "My dad's bow was a nice toy for me. I was playing with it and he was playing, too." He isn't even sure exactly when he started - age four or five. Then at age six he was admitted to the Kharkiv Specialized Musical boarding school - a school that allows specialized musical study alongside all the other subjects.

"My dad practiced with me until my teenager years," Dmytro said. "He was my first advisor, my first teacher."

And why didn't he play viola, like everyone else in the family?

"I don't know, they always make these terrible jokes about viola players..." he said with a smile. No, that wasn't the reason. "I was comfortable with the violin, so somehow I did not consider viola. At some point, of course, I will. In fact, I would learn this instrument just for one piece - the Arpeggione Sonata, to be able to play it at least in some way. I will - I don't know at what point, but I'm sure I will do it."

Udovychenko moved to Germany in 2016 to study with Boris Garlitsky at the Folkwang Universität der Künste in Essen. Then in fall of 2022 he also started studying at the Kronberg Academy, with Christian Tetzlaff.

His brother Ivan, 19, also studies in Germany, at the Hochschule für Musik in Köln.

The brothers' plans pre-dated the current situation in Ukraine - "we both had connections with our current professors before we left Ukraine, so we actually knew what we were doing and where should we go - it was already decided in advance," he said. "We are quite lucky in terms of this."

But his parents have had to deal with more hardship.

"Unfortunately, my parents - they are not divorced whatsoever, but they are divided now because my mom's orchestra was forced to move to Slovakia," Udovychenko said. His mother, Irina, plays viola in Kharkiv's Opera Orchestra. "Sometimes when she has free time she goes back to Ukraine just to visit my dad, because he is alone there."

His father, Nikolai, is a professor at the Conservatorium in Kharkiv. "He teaches his students online nowadays," Dmytro said. Both of Dmytro's parents used to work at the conservatory, his mom preparing students for his dad. But right now everything is on hold.

"Life in Kharkiv has actually stopped, especially musical life," Dmytro said. "There are no concerts. There is no orchestra. There are no students because everybody left. It's quite depressing."

"Nowadays, I think the main problem that we try to fight (in Ukraine) is that everything that is happening is becoming routine," Dmytro said. "I try not to allow myself to fall into this trap because it's all still terrible every day there. People are dying and fighting. And some of my close friends and people that I have close connections with are fighting. What can I say, I really hope that it will end soon, but it doesn't seem so."

Dmytro plays on a 1769 Giovanni Battista Guadagnini violin, on loan from the Deutsche Stiftung Musikleben, Hamburg.

"The audition for this foundation was in February 2022 - on the second or third day of the war," Dmytro said. "I played, but I was not there - emotionally. The war had just started - it was huge. Nobody knew anything about how things were going to go. But I somehow managed to play this (audition) and win this instrument."

Playing the Guadagnini violin has been a wonderful opportunity. "It's definitely the greatest instrument I have ever had in my life," he said, "I'm grateful that I have this opportunity to play it. And I've done a lot of work with this instrument in past year, and also played in a lot of competitions.

In fact he has won top prizes in a good number of competitions over the last five years, including first prize in the 2022 Singapore International Violin Competition, the International Leopold Auer Competition for Violinists in Saint Petersburg, the International Leonid Kogan Competition for violinists in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, the International Violin Competition Andrea Postacchini in Fermo, Italy, and the International Odessa Violin Competition in 2021. He also won second prize at the 2018 Joseph Joachim International Violin Competition in Hannover and the 2017 International Jascha Heifetz Competition.

Next fall, he will continue his studies with Christian Tetzlaff. "It's an honor to be able to study with such an amazing musician," Dmytro said. "The way he sees things and talks about music, it's very different from what I've encountered before. So I am able to discover something completely new, and I'm very grateful for that..

Being in Montreal was Dmytro's first visit to North America, and "this is definitely the best first impression I could get," he said.

While his family remained scattered across Europe, they were able to watch his performances via the Internet.

"This group of contestants is just incredibly strong," he said of his fellow violinists at the Montreal competition. "It's a great honor to be awarded the first prize amongst them because they're just really fantastic - everybody. And it has been said many times, a competition is a lottery. I'm sure everybody showed his best." He also lauded the American violinist Nathan Meltzer for choosing to play the Berg Violin Concerto - a piece rarely performed in the competition setting - in the Finals. "A huge shout out for Nathan for choosing this concerto, because nobody does it, and people should hear this music," he said.

As for his own performance, he said that he holds to advice that Shostakovich gave to performers: Don't get too excited about your performance - instead, stay focused and do your job in creating the music - and the audience will listen. "I consider it a bit like a motto: We are doing our job, for the people listening," Dmytro said. "I hope I said what I could, with my music."

BELOW Dmytro Udovychenko performs in the first round:

BELOW: Dmytro Udovychenko performs in the semi-finals:

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May 16, 2023 at 07:36 PM · I really enjoyed Dmytro's Shostakovich and look forward to hearing more from him!

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