Andrew Hmelnitsky is from the third generation in a line of Russian artists and musicians, who originally immigrated to Australia in the early 1940’s after the Japanese invasion of Java. Originally from Moscow, the family had already fled from the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 to China, where they set up shop in Shanghai, running the Conservatorium of Music. Then, due to the Japanese presence in China, they were forced to again flee.
Professor Alexander Hmelnitsky, Andrew”s grandfather, a Graduate of the Moscow Conservatorium, worked as Court musician to Czar Nicholas 2 of Russia and as musical director and accompanist to Anna Pavlova the famous Russian Ballerina. He was also a member of the The Moscow Trio, who toured extensively throughout Europe, China and Japan. When the family eventually arrived in Australia in 1941, Alexander took up a position at Palings, teaching the piano.
After his death in 1965 his obituary written by Kathleen Moodie in the Sydney Morning Herald said “ I think I speak for all of us when I say that such was Hmelnitsky’s method of imparting knowledge and his power of giving inspiration to others that in future years, as in the past, we shall still quote musical ideas and thoughts given to us by this very outstanding musician”. As well, Ludmilla Hmelnitsky, Alexander’s wife was an award winning cellist and also a member of the Moscow Trio.
Their three sons were also virtuoso musicians in their own right. Bogdan a violinist. Igor a pianist, was considered one of the best in the country, giving many recitals and was also piano master at the Conservatorium of Music in Sydney for many years.
Due to the xenophobic attitude in Australia at the time of the arrival of the Hmelnitsky family, no members were permitted to play with the Sydney Symphony orchestra, as they were considered to be aliens. Bearing the title: ALIEN: restricted one”s rights to join any unions, and since they could not join the Musicians Union, they were unable to perform at a level they had once enjoyed internationally.
Oleg, the youngest of the three brothers was Andrew”s father and had been pronounced a child prodigy at the tender age of three. By the age of thirteen newspaper clippings show him performing virtuoso performances around Sydney and at the Conservatorium of Music.
“A lot of people seem to think I must be a child genius, but my brother Igor was only 6 when he toured Java as a solo pianist with an orchestra, so I am pretty old to be giving my first public performance!”
Oleg became the first person in Australia to give a public performance on the Cimbalom, a rare Hungarian orchestral instrument, like a cross between a xylophone and a grand piano. He became a soloist with the SSO performing under the baton of Moshe Atzmon in 1968, as well as performances for the ABC and many public recitals.
His life was cut short at the age of 33 when he died suddenly.
Art for Andrew Hmelnitsky is genetic. He grew up in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, playing the piano, cimbalon and other tuned percussion instruments, such as the marimba and vibraphone, once playing with Tommy Tycho at the Sydney Town Hall.
By the age of 10 the old Russian family had all passed away leaving no family hierarchy to guide the children of the next generation in music. At the age of 14, rebelling against the expectations of the family, he bought a drum kit, took up surfing and skateboard riding and threw himself into art.
“Travelling extensively throughout Europe in my teenage years, I was lucky enough to meet my Australian art hero, Jeffrey Smart and spend time with him in Arezzo, Italy. In Spain I undertook art studies with Ross Davis. In Florence each year, days were spent wandering the Ufizzi Gallery and sketching in the Academy. I drew in the streets of Paris by the side of the Seine in the frozen winters and marveled at the impressionists in the Jeu de Paume. We visited every church, monastery and art gallery that it was possible to see from The Kremlin in Moscow to St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
“My art is about love, about life and about time. It is about a journey, about memory and about loss.”
Andrew currently 49, lives and works in Northern NSW. He has been represented in solo exhibitions with Tim Olsen, Michael Car, Robin Gibson and Damien Minton, and has participated in over 100 exhibitions.