When they write the book on Peter Ostroushko, they may mention that he loved his family and music and cooking and baseball. But there's no doubt they'll say he was one of the most accomplished instrumentalists and gifted composers of his generation.
The die was cast early on. Growing up in the Ukrainian community of northeast Minneapolis, Peter heard mandolin, balalaika and bandura tunes played by his father and family friends at get-togethers in their home and in church. It's the music that still echoes in Peter's memory and provides the basis for many of his compositions.
The musical road that led Peter to this point has had its share of twists and turns. He was still in high school when his career as a professional musician began. Asked to compose and play the music for a one-man staging of A Christmas Carol, Peter fell in love with theater. Soon he was honing his skills at the Children's Theatre School in Minneapolis.
He began to take up instrument after instrument, finally opting to concentrate on fiddle and mandolin. During the next three decades, he made his mark as a sideman, session player, headliner and composer. His first recording session was an uncredited mandolin set on Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks. He toured on a regular basis with Robin and Linda Williams, Norman Blake and the Rising Fawn Ensemble, and Chet Atkins. He also worked with the likes of Jethro Burns, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Johnny Gimble, Greg Brown, John Hartford and Taj Mahal, among a host of others.
As a solo performer, Peter has produced a number of recordings, including Down the Streets of My Old Neighborhood, Slüz Düz Music, and the three albums that make up his Heartland Trilogy: Heart of the Heartland, Pilgrims of the Heartroad and Sacred Heart. His latest is Meeting on Southern Soil, a collaboration with longtime friend Norman Blake.
Peter has spent more than 25 years as a frequent performer on A Prairie Home Companion, and for a few seasons, he did a stint as Music Director for the popular radio show. You may have caught Peter on TV, too. He's appeared on Austin City Limits, Late Night with David Letterman, even Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.
Peter's talents extend beyond the realm of folk and jazz. Several years ago, the Minnesota Orchestra hired him to play Mahler's Seventh Symphony. The whole piece only has about 15 minutes of mandolin – and that's not until the fourth movement. Peter figures that Mahler must have had a brother-in-law who played mandolin and needed work. You can bet if Mahler had known Peter, he would have written the mando a bigger part.
When the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's season included a mandolin concerto by 18th-century composer Giovanni Paisiello, they called – who else – Peter Ostroushko. And they did the same when they presented Vivaldi's mandolin concerto and his concerto for viola d'amore and mandola. Finally, they decided to perform one of Peter's own compositions, the exquisite Prairie Suite.
Composer Peter Ostroushko has undeniably come into his own. His works have been performed by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Minnesota Sinfonia, the Rochester (Minnesota) Symphony Orchestra, the Des Moines Symphony and the Kremlin Chamber Orchestra, among others. Twin Cities Public Television commissioned Peter to provide music for their nationally distributed programs, The Dakota Conflict and Grant Wood's America. Ken Burns used music from Heart of the Heartland for his PBS documentary Lewis & Clarke, and Peter's haunting arrangement of Sweet Betsy from Pike was underscore for Burns' Mark Twain.
And remember the Children's Theatre Company, where a teenage Peter Ostroushko first developed his interest in performance? Decades later, they commissioned their one-time student to write the music for a production of Little Women.
In 2001, Peter was the recipient of a Bush Artist Fellowship for Music Composition. And, along the way, he has picked up a N.A.I.R.D. Indie Award, and a couple of Minnesota Music Awards. His music has made its way around the world. Wherever it's heard, there's another bunch of fans eager for more.
Peter, with his wife and daughter, still makes his home in Minneapolis. He continues to compose and perform. He can still whomp up a first-rate batch of borscht. And he still roots for the Twins. Some things never change.