I was born and grew up in Soviet Russia. In 1998, for several reasons, I had to leave my country and look for a new home. I was fortunate to find it in Montreal, but like every immigrant I had to face the shocking first years of adaptation to a new country, new culture and new languages.

Airat Ichmouratov Airat Ichmouratov. Photo © Mirielle Gaza

Upon arriving in Canada, I survived the first several years by playing for spare change in the subway stations of Montreal and on the streets of the market in Ottawa. Existing almost entirely on the hope that one day I would again be a recognised and respected musician performing on big stages, I persevered.

Today I am Conductor and Composer in Residence with Longueuil Symphony Orchestra, and I work not only with Canada’s leading orchestras but also with orchestras around the world. No matter where I am today, I will never forget my first years in Montreal. It was a rough schooling, but it probably made me stronger and I had a chance to learn how to improvise and play klezmer as well as many other styles of music,...