Leonid Shulman, an orchestra conductor, was known best for his passion for classical music.

A 1997 Washington Post article described him as dressed in a shirt and “baggy dungarees” with his “baton soaring” and “wiry silver hair flying” as he led a Russian folk orchestra in an Arlington church basement. Shulman, the article said, was like a Hollywood “1950s version of the passionate Russian conductor, oblivious to everything except the musical score.”

His friends and wife agreed.

“He was very dedicated to music,” said Olga Khrichenko, of Silver Spring, a longtime friend of Shulman and his wife. “His entire life was about — and spent — in music.”

Shulman, of Arlington, died Jan. 8 of complications related to covid-19, according to his family. He was 89.

Born in Zaporozye, Ukraine, Shulman developed an interest in music and was known as a young child to wave his hands and pretend he was a conductor when he heard music, Khrichenko said.

A pianist, Shulman studied music at the Kyiv Conservatory and eventually went to study conducting at what was then called the Leningrad Conservatory of Music. Shulman spent 30 years as the conductor of philharmonic orchestras in the cities of Lugansk in Ukraine, and in Kislovodsk and Irkutsk in Russia.

Shulman had a son with his first wife, and their marriage ended in divorce. He came to the United States in 1994.

Shulman and his second wife, Nina Valyaeva, settled in Arlington.

In his retirement, he helped with conducting for the Washington Balalaika Society, a Russian music group. He and his wife also joined a group called D.C. Classical Music Meetup that shared their love of music.

Members of the meetup group described Shulman as having a “larger than life personality” on a memorial page.

“He was warm, kind and friendly and loved classical music,” said Mather Pfeiffenberger, a friend of Shulman’s who also leads the meetup group.

At one point, Shulman gave talks to the group, telling them of how connected he felt to the music of well-known Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. Shulman told the group that Shostakovich’s music “described the difficulty of life under the Soviet Union at that time,” Pfeiffenberger said.

“Shulman said he was speaking to him,” he said. “He would say ‘Shostakovich is my composer.’ ”

Shulman had several standout moments in his career, friends say, including when he led an orchestra in the performance of Russian composer Grigori Frid’s opera “The Diary of Anne Frank” in 1977 in Kislovodsk. The opera was written in the late 1960s, when Jews were trying to emigrate from the Soviet Union.

Pfeiffenberger said it was a “courageous act on [Shulman’s] part, given the persistent anti-Semitism in the former Soviet Union and the tricky political situation around Jews emigrating from there at that time.”

Shulman later conducted the chamber orchestra version of Frid’s “Diary of Anne Frank” in 2001 when it made its premiere at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. In a Post article of the performance, it described Shulman as being someone who “long championed Frid’s score.”

Victor Bunin, a Russian pianist, recalled on an online memory page how he performed with Shulman several times. He said Shulman “selflessly plunged into the world of the music performed.”

A tribute from Igor Rekhin, a composer in Moscow who had worked with Shulman, noted his musical talents and conducting skills. Shulman, he wrote, “demonstrated a high conducting culture, the ability to work with an orchestra, a keen sense of the composer’s style, the ability to compose a concert program from compositions from different eras . . . and to vividly present music to his listeners.”

In an email, Gianandrea Noseda, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, wrote he “always looked forward to seeing” Shulman and his wife backstage after his concerts at the Kennedy Center.

Noseda said, “His passionate opinions were clearly based on a deep love for music.”

Shulman and his wife often joined friends at art museums and orchestra performances in the D.C. area and New York.

“He was always interested in such diverse aspects of life — from science to music and arts,” Khrichenko said. “He was always keeping me posted on exhibitions.”

Every summer, he and his wife went back to Russia, where he would reunite and serve as a guest conductor for the Kislovodsk Philharmonic. His last trip to Russia was four years ago.

On his birthday, Dec. 22, Shulman went to lunch with his wife and friends.

“We wore masks and didn’t talk much,” Khrichenko said. “He said, ‘I feel good,’ but he was coughing. We were worried about his condition.”

After Christmas, he went to a hospital and tested positive for the coronavirus. Eventually his “condition became worse because he couldn’t breathe,” Khrichenko said.

Doctors allowed his wife — with personal protective equipment — into the hospital to see him. The couple talked for two hours, but Shulman worried about his wife getting sick. She later tested positive for the coronavirus but never showed symptoms. She recalled the “terrible” experience of seeing him in the hospital with the illness.

“He asked who it was and I said, ‘It’s me, Nina,’ ” his wife said. “He said to leave immediately because he was worried I’d get sick.”

She stayed and asked what she could do.

“Tell me how I can help,” she recalled telling her husband, stroking his hand. “Tell me what do you want?”

Water, he told her.

“He told me, ‘I have loved you my whole life. Stay healthy.’ ”

Two days later, Shulman died.