April 9, 2020

Khanukaev brings breath of fresh air to orchestra program

Dr. Sergey Khanukaev joins the Wellesley performing arts faculty after a career that has included directing positions with various orchestras throughout the USSR and Israel, as well as most recently at Boston University. (Photo by Rachel Landau '16)

The 2015-16 academic year marks the beginning of a new era of expected success and stability for the high school orchestra program with a new director and rehearsal plan. String instrumentalists returned to school this fall to work with Dr. Sergey Khanukaev, who begins his first year with the Wellesley Public Schools this year.

Prior to his arrival to 50 Rice Street, Khanukaev studied piano and musicology at the Moscow Tchaikosvky Conservatory in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and obtained a diploma in symphonic and orchestra conducting from Leningrad Conservatory in St. Petersburg. He conducted various orchestras throughout the former USSR as well as a number of Israeli orchestras, leading to his receipt of the Israeli Government Scholarship for outstanding musicians and special prize at the Austrian International Conductors Competition. Since his arrival in the United States in 2001, Khanukaev obtained his doctorate and conducted the chamber and symphony orchestras at Boston University.

Khanukaev was appointed by a selection committee made up of other high school performing arts teacher and then-Interim Director of Performing Arts, Dr. Sandra Nicolucci, after a thorough evaluation, which included observing his conducting and teaching of the high school orchestras over a number of rehearsals.

“Sometimes [when evaluating music teacher candidates], you can see that a teacher is doing what seems like an interesting activity with their students, but it has the kids spinning their wheels and not really making progress as a result of doing the activity,” said Steve Scott, the high school’s band director and a member of the selection committee. “But Dr. Khanukaev, in real time, was assessing the needs of these students and giving them really good feedback that would help them grow in only the few rehearsals he was there [during evaluation].”

Orchestra students expect Khanukaev’s appointment to stabilize the program after two unsteady years that included three different orchestra directors under two different directors of performing arts. With inconsistent instruction, some students feel that the past two years have been weaker than they could have been. “At the last few concerts at the end of last year, we had a week and half to prepare when it’s the job of the conductor to arrange for adequate time to prepare for a concert,” said Honors Chamber Orchestra member Maeve Kelley ’17. “It showed in our playing that we were not prepared; my mom said we sounded worse than the middle school orchestras, which was pretty embarrassing.”

Recognizing some of the issues that have developed in the orchestra program over recent years, Khanukaev intends to impose more effective rehearsal strategies, with an emphasis on personal practice and professional demeanor. “All the kids will be encouraged to practice more and to bring their music souls to our orchestras; an important point will also be better understanding the professional point of view in conducting and the orchestra.”

“[Khanukaev] really takes charge and has an agenda for what he wants to get done in class. Ms. Greene never really seemed to, while he came prepared with music that he wanted to play. Overall, he’s really leading the class,” agreed Kelley. “With Ms. Greene [Khanukaev’s predecessor], it was really students who had to direct the orchestra, so it’s been a great change to have him.”

Khanukaev looks forward to the opportunities that this year’s new dynamic will offer. “I [told] them that they are not just students but more professional orchestra play[ers] and that I am not only [their] teacher but I am [their] colleague and we will try to make music together. I hope it will be a good collaboration.”

(Matthew Hornung ’16, Media Director)

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