A major symphony orchestra on the world scene, the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine is the leading symphonic organization of the nation of Ukraine. It became the most-recorded orchestra located in any former Soviet territory.
Ukraine (Ukraina in the Ukrainian language) is a large nation located in the south-western part of the former USSR territory. Until the rise of the Dukes of Muscovy it was the most important territory of the groups of Slavic peoples known generally as Russians. It was a leading center of Orthodox Church music and developed its own early Baroque style and its own folk music. The Ukrainian Cossack state and Muscovy were politically united in 1654 and Ukraine remained dominated by Moscow until 1991. During this period, Ukrainian music declined as the best musicians and composers tended to go to the national capitol of Moscow or St. Petersburg.
Even so the capital, Kiev (Kjiv), became a center of music education and one of the first places in Europe to have a long-established municipal symphony orchestra, the Kiev Municipal Orchestra (1704-1865). A music school founded in 1868 survived until 1912 and is famous as the teaching home from 1875-1893 of Otakar Sevcik, one of history's great violin teachers. The school became the basis of an orchestral conservatory in Kiev. A Kiev Opera was founded in 1867.
Following the November Revolution in Russia of 1917, a Council of Ministers was established in Ukraine. It founded a Ukrainian symphony orchestra in 1918, with Oleksander Horilyj as conductor. It took part in the generally adventurous tone of Soviet music in the 1920s, but faltered when Stalin disapproved of musical modernism, and practically died out during the general starvation in the Ukraine in 1931-1932, in which it is estimated that seven million Ukrainians died.
Stalin's Soviet Constitution reorganized the USSR into quasi-independent Union Republics, including Ukraine. Under this governmental arrangement, the symphony was renamed in 1937 the Ukrainian State Symphony Orchestra, with Nathan Rachlin as Artistic Director from then to 1962. Under his direction, the orchestra gained national respectability, though its quality was kept down by the fact that the best players were siphoned off to the national orchestras of the USSR. In addition, operations of the orchestra were drastically affected by the German occupation of Ukraine, during which another seven to ten million Ukrainians died.
After 1962, Rachlin was succeeded, in turn, by conductors Konstantin Simeonov, Stefan Turchak, Volodymyr Kozhuchar, Fedir Hlushchenko, and Igor Blazhkov. It continued to get less international recognition or financial support than the major orchestras of Russia.
After 437 years, Ukraine regained its independence in 1991. In recognition of this fact, the orchestra voted in 1994 to rename itself the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine (NSOU), and promoted its Principal Guest Conductor, the American Theodore Kuchar, as Principal Conductor and Artistic Director. He undertook a firm commitment to improving the quality of the ninety-eight-member orchestra, to the point of buying supplies such as strings, rosin, and woodwind reeds, even though Ukraine's economic troubles made his salary the equivalent of $200 a month. He also made an arrangement with HNH Records, the world's largest company in terms of international sales of classical CDs, to record for its labels Marco Polo and Naxos. Kuchar and the NSOU produced fifty CDs before he stepped down in 1999, including copious amounts of Ukrainian, Russian, and American music, much of it little known.
Since April, 1999, the NSOU's Chief Conductor has been Volodymyr Syrenko. The orchestra plays in the acoustically excellent Mykola Lysenko Hall in Kiev, and has frequently toured in Europe, Australia, and Asia.