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The rebirth of the Odessa Philarmonic Orchestra


Born in Venezuela to American parents, Hobart Earle leads today the Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra.


In 1991, with a salary of $50 a month, an orchestra poorly funded in a dilapidated post-Soviet city, Hobart was determined to rebuild this 54-year-old orchestra, playing on poor quality instruments in cold and almost empty concert halls. Navigating the Soviet bureaucratic system, learning Russian and Ukrainian less spoken, charming those who despised him because he was a foreigner, Hobart raised funds, conquered musicians, and filled concert halls. Today, the orchestra is considered one of the best in the world.

Hobart believes deeply in the power of music and its language that connects people of different cultures and nations. For Hobart, music is the language of peace. He is inspired by the example of a concert he conducted in September 2014 at Dom Muziki in Moscow – an entirely American program, including “Gershwin’s American in Paris” and “Rhapsody in Blue”. The concert was a somewhat surreal experience given the high tensions between Ukraine and Russia, as well as between Russia and the West.

Ukrainians face questions of language, identity and the dilemma of whether to stay or leave their country. The struggle to maintain their distinct language and identity has a long history, going back to tsarist Russia and continuing through the Soviet era to this day.  Today, many Ukrainians speak Russian but identify with Ukraine and not with Russia.

Although a foreigner living in Ukraine, Hobart was honored in 2013 as the first Westerner to be named “People’s Artist of Ukraine”, a prestigious government award.

On 21 February 2014, he conducted Verdi’s “Aida” at the Donbass Opera House in Donetsk on the eve of President Lanukovich’s departure from the official presidential residence in Kiev. No one, neither on stage nor in the audience, had the slightest idea that this would be the last performance. Nor did anyone know that this show marked the end of an era. Unfortunately, the opera house closed its doors and its warehouse, which housed the magnificent opera sets, including “Aida”, was destroyed.

A few months later, Hobart took over the “Black Sea Music Fest”, an annual classical music festival in Odessa. This festival illustrates how music is a unique tool to unite people in difficult times. While tensions are high between Ukraine and Russia, the festival succeeds in bringing together Russian artists such as guest conductor Mikhail Pletnev and pianist Konstantin Lapshin.

Since 1992, Hobart has been touring with the Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra and conducting several orchestras in Europe, Russia, Asia and the United States, including the famous Carnegie Hall. He directs a wide range of music including Gershwin, Beethoven, Mahler, Strauss, Strauss, Strauss, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky as well as Ukrainian composers such as Mykola Kolessa, Myroslav Skoryk, Yevhen Stankovych and Reinhold Gliere.

Author: Jacques Pion, French photographer, who made a reportage on Odessa

Philharmonic Orchestra concert hall during the rehearsal conducted by conductor Hobart Earle. Odessa, Ukraine, 27 September 2019.
Gestural flight of conductor Hobart Earle during the rehearsal. Odessa, Ukraine, September 26, 2019.
Two double bass players from the philharmonic orchestra in rehearsal. The bows are in symbiosis. Odessa, Ukraine, September 26, 2019.
Section of horns during the rehearsal of the philharmonic orchestra. odessa, Ukraine, September 26, 2019.
A violinist with her eyes to the sky plays pizzicato during the rehearsal. Odessa, Ukraine, September 26, 2019.
A flute player resumes her breathing during the rehearsal. Odessa, Ukraine, 27 September 2019.
Hobart Earle gives the rhythm during the rehearsal of the philharmonic orchestra. Odessa, Ukraine, 27 September 2019.
An oboe player holds his oboe reed up to the sky to inspect it during the rehearsal. Odessa, Ukraine, September 26, 2019.
Hobart Earle explains a setting point on the musical score for the orchestra’s first violin. Odessa, Ukraine, 27 September 2019.
Hobart Earle advises the first violin at the end of the rehearsal by mimicking the gesture and performing. Odessa, Ukraine, 27 September 2019.
Domino game between musicians in the men’s locker room before the evening concert. Odessa, Ukraine, September 26, 2019.
Two trombone players warm up in the basement of the concert hall before the performance. Odessa, Ukraine, 27 September 2019.
Musicians dress in the cloakroom before the performance. Odessa, Ukraine, 27 September 2019.
The horn player’s face in the locker room during the warm-up before the performance. Odessa, Ukraine, 27 September 2019.
A trumpet player tests his mouthpiece before the performance in the cloakroom. Odessa, Ukraine, September 27, 2019.
The piccolo flute player practices in a corner of the basement of the concert hall before the performance. Odessa, Ukraine, 27 September 2019.
Cor poses on the stairs of the basement of the concert hall. Odessa, Ukraine, 27 September 2019.
Warming up in the changing rooms of the basement of the concert hall between a bassoon, a horn, a high wood and a tuba. Odessa, Ukraine, 27 September 2019.
The musicians are waiting at the bottom of the stairs that lead up to the stage. The first violin warms up. Odessa, Ukraine, 27 September 2019.
The musicians climb the steps of the stairs leading to the concert hall. Odessa, Ukraine, 27 September 2019.
The musicians are waiting for the presenter to announce the orchestra’s arrival for the concert. Odessa, Ukraine, 27 September 2019.
Conductor Hobart Earle concentrates before going on stage. Odessa, Ukraine, 27 September 2019.
Conductor Hobart Earle welcomes solo pianist Alexander Romanovsky for the first part of the concert. Odessa, Ukraine, 27 September 2019.
Release of solo pianist Alexander Romanovsky and conductor Hobart Earle after Rachmaninoff’s piano concert number 3. Odessa, Ukraine, 27 September 2019.
Conductor Hobart Earle leaves the stage exhausted, a towel in hand, after the performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. Odessa, Ukraine, 27 September 2019.

Photo credit: Jacques Pion