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Ioana Osoianu talks to KEITH BRAMICH
about her life in the East and West


Born at Cluj-Napoca in Romania, a decade before the collapse of communism thrust Romania into its new western life, conductor and pianist Ioana Osoianu's life has, of necessity, straddled two worlds.

In the old, where she studied piano and conducting at the music academy Gheorghe Dima in Cluj, she was brought up by her grandfather, the famous gypsy violinist Alexandru Titrus (1922-1989).

Listen -- Hategana from Alba Iulia,
played by Alexandru Titrus and a folk ensemble from Cluj

He performed on Romanian TV, recorded, played at weddings and in restaurants, and reluctantly entertained the important guests of Nicolae Ceausescu's regime:

'I used to see men in suits coming to the house and waiting for him', Ioana remembers. 'Grandma used to ask them if they'd like some coffee, and they used to say "Nu, multumesc" ("no thank you"). They used to wait for hours until Tati (my grandfather) came home from shopping and doing the daily chores. Then they used to say 'Titrus we go!' There was no choice. He used to have his shower, powder himself, tune the violin and then they'd go. We'd see him three days later when he came back from the wedding, laden with food, gifts and money. Often he'd come home from playing in a restaurant at 2am, then at 4am he'd get up to go and queue for bread, milk and butter, and at 7am he'd take me to school.

Ioana Osoianu
Ioana Osoianu

'Even the walk to school was interesting with Tati ... everyone on the street stopped, took their hats off and said "buna dimineata maestre" ("good morning maestro"), so it would often take 45 minutes (instead of thirty), sometimes making me late for school. They really respected him ... it's difficult to realise now how dark and bad it was then, and how much hope musicians brought to people in those times.

'If a shop had bananas, you'd have to queue up the whole night in the freezing cold to get 1 kilo the next day. Even for oranges you had to queue for hours and hours. People used to boil their own soap. Granny used to. I'm so glad that Romania is now a democracy and has got its rightful place in the European Union.

Listen -- Doina Ardeleneasca,
played by Alexandru Titrus and a folk ensemble from Cluj

'Grandad really shaped who I am ... even my sense of humour. My memories are as vivid as if it was yesterday ... Mostly serious and kind, he made no compromises about my education -- there was no playing allowed until my homework and piano practice were finished. I remember too his passion for music ... how he used to tune his violin and practice for hour after hour.

'Officially, you know, we gypsies were not even recognised -- Ceausescu never acknowledged our existence, saying that there were only Romanians, Hungarians and Germans in the country. And isn't it funny how Romanians still always look down at the Rroma (gypsies, tzigane) and call us thieves, crows and all sorts, but how gypsy musicians are the best interpreters of Romanian folk tunes? The truth of course is that there are good and bad people of any nationality, and actually I'm proud of both my Romanian and Rroma heritage.

A poster for the festival in Romania named after Alexandru Titrus, and founded after his death
A poster for the festival in Romania named after Alexandru Titrus, and founded after his death

'As one of Romania's finest musicians, Grandad was one of the very few people allowed to leave the country. As his family, we had to stay behind in Cluj, so that he didn't try to defect to the West. These weren't just ordinary trips ... when he went on tour, he played for the royal families of Switzerland and other Western European countries and also in Turkey and Yugoslavia. He came from nine or ten generations of Gypsy musicians, and his son -- also called Alexandru Titrus -- was principal double bass at the Romanian Opera House in Cluj. Now I'm continuing the family line, but in the West.'

Life in the new world for Ioana Osoianu began when she moved to London, obtaining a first class degree in piano performance and teaching from Trinity College of Music, then a qualification in orchestral conducting, winning the Alan Kirby and Charles Proctor conducting prizes, and going on to masterclasses with Konrad von Abel in the Czech Republic and Germany. She cites conducting teachers Paul Sarcich and Konrad von Abel as both having totally changed her perception of music.

Appointments followed ... principal guest conductor with the Vivaldi Concertante and the Millennium Youth Sinfonia, principal conductor of the Blackfriars Sinfonia, conductor of the Southwark Clarinet Consort (for whom she has arranged music by Enescu), and concerts at the Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House and at Morley College. She has also conducted concerts and recordings of new works at Goldsmiths College and Trinity Laban.

Antonín Dvorák (1841-1904)
Antonín Dvorák (1841-1904)

A hundred years or so earlier, Antonín Dvorák too had become tempted by the new world. In his case, the destination was the USA (although he had also visited England for performances of his Stabat Mater, Symphony No 7 and Requiem), to become Director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. It was there that he met the African-American composer Harry Burleigh, who introduced him to American spirituals, and there too that he wrote his ninth symphony -- destined to become his most famous work, connecting the folk music of Eastern Europe with the new multiculturalism of the West.

Listen -- Dvorák: Largo (Symphony No 9),
Iveta Bachmannová, cor anglais, with the Dvorák Festival Orchestra of New York
conducted by Steven Richman (Music & Arts CD-1078)

On the evening of Saturday 8 November 2008, 7.30pm at Tatsfield Village Hall, Surrey, UK, Ioana Osoianu conducts the North Downs Sinfonia in a programme of music by Bizet (Carmen Suite No 1), Weber (Clarinet Concerto No 2, with soloist Shelley Phillips) and Dvorák (Symphony No 9, From the New World). You can buy tickets at the door, or via

Copyright © 20 October 2008 Keith Bramich, London UK




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