Photo by Anthony Mair
Taras Krysa, a lanky 42-year-old Ukrainian, has a serious musical mind, a loud, ready laugh and an impish wit. He grew up playing the violin and then spent his young adulthood looking for something besides music that he could do with his life. The experiment didn’t work. Today he is UNLV’s director of orchestras and the conductor of the all-volunteer Henderson Symphony Orchestra—the latter of which he has built in four years from a small civic ensemble into a cultural force in Valley.
“Both my parents were concert musicians from the Ukraine,” he says. “My father was a violinist. My mother was concert pianist. My musical fate was decided before I was born.”
When Krysa was 6 years old, his father presented him with his first violin. Soon after, he began studying at a local school for musically gifted students. “I did have a ‘normal’ childhood,” he chuckles. “There were times I hated to practice. I played hockey, soccer. I wasn’t a musical prodigy.” His family moved to the United States in 1989 and he later attended Indiana and Northwestern universities, where he briefly looked for a career outside the family business—one where he could blaze his own trail—before he finally admitted to himself that his parents’ trail wasn’t half bad.
“I truly loved classical music,” he says. “I knew it was going to put bread on my table.” His music degree led him to a spot in the New World Symphony, a Florida-based orchestra for talented young musicians from around the U.S. who hope to land a job with a professional orchestra. He found his as a vilolinist with the St. Louis Symphony. Soon he was drawn to conducting.
Krysa describes his leadership style as “gently demanding”—and it seems to work. “When I became conductor [of the Henderson Symphony Orchestra] back in 2007, it consisted of a handful of people in the orchestra playing in a gym and about 150 people who’d show up to listen.”
Those days are a distant memory: In June, more than 1,200 people came to watch an 80-member orchestra perform Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights score as the film played on a giant screen. And it’s not just the number of musicians and concertgoers that are growing. Krysa has quietly started cultivating the symphony’s reputation outside of the Valley by bringing in soloists, commissioning new works, and bringing in guest conductors.
“All professional orchestras in America started off as community orchestras,” he says. “Our goal right now is just to expand the audience and improve the quality of the performance. As we say in Russian, ‘Tishe edesh, dalshe budesh’ meaning, ‘the quieter you go, the farther you’ll get.’”