A question of taste - Vlad Smishkewych

Vlad Smishkewych presents early music programme, Vox Nostra on RTÉ Lyric fm, on Sunday mornings from 7am to 10am. He was born in New Jersey to a Spanish mother and a Ukrainian father, and also performs and teaches in the early music sphere.

A question of taste - Vlad Smishkewych

Best recent book you’ve read: 

Quiet, by Susan Cain.

Best recent gig you’ve seen: 

A fantastic concert in The Hague by the da Milano Lute Quartet — it was amazing to hear the interplay of four lute lines in poetic conversation.

Best piece of music you’ve been listening to lately:

‘Si vis vera frui luce’, a 13th-century song by Phillip the Chancellor, as recorded by Benjamin Bagby of Sequentia.

First ever piece of music or art or film or gig that really moved you:

In 1993, I was doing a Baroque singing course at McGill University in Montreal. There I heard Stanley Ritchie on Baroque violin and Kenneth Gilbert on harpsichord, performing 17th century Italian chamber music. It was incredibly moving and I first got the feeling of chills up the spine that move me viscerally when I listen to something wonderful. It also made me decide that I’d pursue early music, this sound and this repertoire, as my livelihood.

The best gig or show you’ve ever seen:

Back in 1991 I went to an incredible triple headliner concert in Santiago de Compostela: The Chieftains, Alan Stivell, and Milladoiro shared the stage on an unforgettable evening.

TV viewing:

I don’t have a telly, so the closest thing is Netflix. I love science and culture documentaries, so it’s usually a combination of Cosmos, David Attenborough’s Planet Earth, Michael Pollan’s Cooked, and things related.

Radio listening and/or podcasts: 

For US homesickness relief I tune in to National Public Radio’s news and podcasts, including Hidden Brain, How I Built This, Nerdette, Invisibilia, Outside/In, TED Radio Hour, Harmonia (which I used to write for), and a bunch more. On our own RTÉ, I’m a big fan of Mooney Goes Wild and the Documentary on One.

You’re curating your dream festival — who’s on the bill?

Girolamo Kapsberger, the 17th-century German-Italian theorbo player and composer. Leonard Cohen. Marco Ambrosini, nyckelharpa player.

Your best celebrity encounter:

Meryl Streep, who was filming One True Thing in New Jersey back in 1997 and I was hired as part of a singing ensemble for one of the film’s scenes. She was incredible friendly, warm, and consummately professional.

You can portal back to any period of human cultural history or music event — where, when, and why?

Probably the late Renaissance, early Baroque period when the sciences, art, and music were flourishing under more secular governments such as those in Venice and the Netherlands. If the time machine broke I’d take the music- and poetry-rich 13th century in France as a second option.

Do you have any interesting family or ancestors?

On my paternal side, my great-great granduncle is Joseph Conrad, the Polish writer who mastered the English language well enough to become a major author.

Unsung heroes:

Working mothers —which means pretty much all mothers. They have the multiple burden of not only working full-time at both home and workplace, but the invisibility of doing so, as evidenced by the comments that come my way as a working dad: “I don’t know how you do it — keeping a career going and being a dad!” Well, mothers have been doing that for eons but without the kudos. They most often have to fight against the stereotype of being the ones who will stay with the children if a working partner has to go away, as well. This inequality affects the working women first, and hurts us all in the end.

You are king for a day — what’s your first decree? U

niversal free health care, free education from creche though university or vocational apprenticeship, a minimum living wage for all, and the highest echelons of budget to go to the arts, music, free open libraries and museums, educational exchange programmes, sustainable small-scale high-yield non-monoculture farming, and the promotion of scientific enquiry.

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