Jurij Mykolajevych Plevako Oransky, 91, of Ardmore, conductor, pianist, baritone, and teacher at Philadelphia's Ukrainian Music Institute of America, died Nov. 27 of multiple organ failure at home.
Born Jan. 30, 1917, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Professor Oransky and his parents survived the forced famine of 1932-33, when millions of Ukrainians perished. His parents were killed during Joseph Stalin's purges of intellectual "undesirables" in the mid-1930s.
The young man lived with his grandmother and studied music at the Kharkiv Conservatory, from which he graduated in 1939. Food was scarce, and he traveled to the Black Sea on a train each week to get vegetables.
"Jurij wanted to study zoology. He loved animals," said his son-in-law, Roman Petyk. "He collected animals, including an injured crow he rescued that lived in his room. But he had a talent for music."
During WWII, Professor Oransky conducted choirs and orchestras for theater, opera and ballet in Kharkiv, Kiev, and other cities in Ukraine. In 1944, Professor Oransky was captured by the Germans, and he worked in a slave labor camp until the end of the war.
Professor Oransky completed advanced studies in conducting at the Hochshüle für Musik in Freiburg, Germany, before immigrating to Los Angeles in 1949.
The maestro cleaned toilets in a restaurant in Los Angeles and gave private piano lessons to support himself. He got lucky when the restaurant owner heard his beautiful baritone and asked him to perform for his customers, Petyk said.
The dashingly handsome Professor Oransky met his future bride, Nadia "Slavtsja" Malaniak, when she sang a duet with him in a performance in the Ukrainian community in Los Angeles. They married and moved to Logan in 1952, where Professor Oransky directed the Philadelphia branch of the Ukrainian Music Institute of America and taught private lessons.
"We did not have much," his wife said. "I worked in a factory during the day and he cared for our daughter. At night he worked in a dinner theater on the Delaware River."
The couple finally bought a large three-story house in Logan, where Professor Oransky taught voice, piano and theory to a generation of Ukrainian American children, including concert pianist Lydia Artymiw, who began with him at age 4.
Professor Oransky collaborated with Ukrainian composer Mykola Fomenko on classical and contemporary compositions.
He conducted two major Ukrainian operas:
in North Philadelphia at Cook Junior High School (1965) and
(1970) at the Academy of Music.
"It was wonderful. I sang the lead role of
," his wife said. He also conducted
in New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh.
"We were not rich, but we lived a rich life. We drove our little Nash across the country three times, camping along the way and visiting national parks," his wife said. "We had a vegetable garden in our backyard, and Jurij tended his tomatoes until last summer. He also enjoyed fishing."
In addition to his wife and son-in-law, Professor Oransky is survived by a daughter, Katrya Oransky-Petyk, and a granddaughter.
Friends may visit at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow at St. Mary Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Church, 12th Street and Oak Lane in Philadelphia. The funeral will follow at 10. Burial will be in St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Cemetery, South Bound Brook, N.J.
Donations may be made toward the publication Fomenko's works in care of Lesia Penkalskyj, Philadelphia Branch of the Ukrainian Music Institute of America, 700 Cedar Rd., Jenkintown, Pa. 19046.