In the genteel world of classical music, the competition to play in prominent festivals can be as fierce as any reality-TV show. So it is an extraordinary feat for both Dr. Kira Omelchenko, assistant professor of music, and junior Olivia Smith to be chosen to participate as conductor and violin soloist, respectively, at an international music festival in Bulgaria this summer.
The two will participate in a classical music festival hosted by the Vidin State Philharmonic Orchestra in the northwestern Bulgarian city of Vidin, which sits on the famous Danube River, in July. Although both will be part of classes and workshops during the two-week festival, the highlight of the festival for them will be a performance with the orchestra, which Dr. Omelchenko will conduct with Smith as the soloist.
Applying to the festival as professor and student was Dr. Omelchenko’s idea. She has participated in international festivals before, and she was drawn to the one in Vidin because it focuses on younger performers and also has an emphasis on the performance of concertos, which allows for collaboration between conductor, orchestra, and soloist. Last fall, she asked Smith if she would be willing to apply.
“Olivia is a special student,” said Dr. Omelchenko, the conductor of the Florida Southern Symphony Orchestra. “She’s very talented. She’s the concertmaster of the orchestra, and she works hard. She’s very disciplined, very passionate.”
Smith said she was speechless when her professor invited her to apply.
“I’m humbled she asked me. I realized how big an opportunity it is. Students from around the world audition for this festival. It’s a lot bigger than a school project,” she said.
Both professor and student were chosen through a competitive application process. Dr. Omelchenko was one of just six conductors chosen to participate. For Smith, the audition process required that she be able to play two full concertos from memory, one from the Classical era (about 1750 to 1820) and one from the Modern era.
Smith already had studied Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, which satisfied the Classical requirement. At the suggestion of her teacher, Rimma Bergeron-Langlois, she picked the Violin Concerto by Aram Khatchaturian, as the other work. Both pieces require virtuoso technique, and the Khatchaturian concerto is especially difficult.
“The Mendelssohn concerto is easier to get a grasp on how it’s supposed to be played, but I like the Khatchaturian better, and that’s the one I hope they pick for me to play in Bulgaria,” Smith said.
Smith will take master classes with professional violinists and also play with a chamber ensemble during the festival in addition to the performance with the Vidin State Philharmonic.
Once they were accepted to the festival, Dr. Omelchenko applied for and received an FSC faculty-student research grant to help cover the expenses.
“Olivia will be gaining international experience. When she comes back, she’ll be able to share that experience with her peers, and it will contribute to the rest of her education here,” she said. “It’s a professor’s dream to see her student develop and be a professional. Olivia will represent Florida Southern in the best light.”
Smith began playing the violin at age five, but despite her expertise, she chose to major in accounting, minoring in music. She said she felt accounting offered a more stable career path but didn’t want to give up playing.
“This way I can choose what I want to do in music and have the best of both worlds,” she said.
She said while she expects the musical experience in Bulgaria to be intense, the pleasure will come off the stage.
“The most exciting part will be meeting people from other parts of the world and having that interaction,” she said.