Watch: Top Ukrainian musicians fight on the 'cultural front' with their elite orchestra

Watch: Top Ukrainian musicians fight on the ‘cultural front’ with their elite orchestra

Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, sirens have interrupted Svyatoslav Yanchuk’s concerts in his hometown of Odessa, forcing musicians and spectators alike to take cover. But throughout the month of August, the percussionist from the Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra will be among a group of Ukrainian musicians who have joined forces with the Ukraine Freedom Orchestra to perform in peaceful countries.

Freedom of Ukraine will be the title of a 12-concert tour of this orchestra that brings together prominent Ukrainian instrumentalists who are members of European and Ukrainian orchestras, from the National Opera of Brittany in France to the Opera of Kherson. And after its concert in Warsaw was the first of its tour, the orchestra will have stations in England, Germany, France, Ireland and the Netherlands, with the ending on the opposite bank of the Atlantic Ocean, in New York and Washington.

The Canadian orchestra conductor Kerry Lynn Wilson was enthusiastic about the project, who previously directed the Bavarian German Opera “Bayerich Statt”, the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, the Moscow Bolshoi Orchestra, and many others.

Keri Lynn Wilson grew up in Winnipeg, the capital of the province of Manitoba and the destination of Ukrainian immigrants to Canada, including her grandparents. While in Warsaw at the start of the war, Wilson saw Ukrainian refugees arriving in Poland, and felt it was her duty to make a gesture. “It made me dream of uniting Ukrainian artists into an artistic force with which to fight for their freedom as a nation,” she said.

The project aroused the interest of the Warsaw Opera, which decided to participate in its implementation with the New York Metropolitan Opera.

temporary exit permit

In Russian infused with Ukrainian words, Keri Lynn Wilson congratulates her musicians, who, within the walls of the “Great Theatre” in Warsaw, created a program in just ten days, although they had never played together before. The program includes Chopin’s Concerto No. 2, Brahms Symphony No. 4, and the piece “Abchiolicher” from Beethoven’s “Fidelio”.

The program opens with a performance of the Seventh Symphony by Valentin Silvestrov, one of the most prominent Ukrainian composers, in memory of the victims of the war. And “the program does not include Russian music”, as a large number of artists whose lives and careers have been disrupted by the war, confirm.

“Russia has genius composers, but what comes from Russian culture has to be dismissed for the time being,” young bassoon player in the Freedom Orchestra Mark Krechinsky told AFP.

Mark Krechinsky and his brother Dmytro, a violinist, have been members of the prestigious Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra for eight years. “We left Russia in the first days of the invasion. It was difficult, but any other decision was not possible,” Krechinsky told AFP.

The two brothers moved to neighboring Estonia, while the Freedom Orchestra also includes performers based in Ukraine, who have been given temporary permission to leave their country.

Freedom tympani, Kyiv Philharmonic Orchestra member Dmytro Ilyin, said he was pleased to be able to see his ten-year-old daughter “after five months of separation, as a student at the Gdask Opera”, in northern Poland. But at the end of the tour, Dmytro Ilyin will return to Kyiv, like fellow percussionist Yevhen Ulyanov. “My son is waiting for me there (…) He entered his fifth month in conjunction with the war,” he said.

cultural front

Like many of their colleagues, Dmytro Ilyin and Yevhen Ulyanov intend to continue their careers in their country after the tour, despite the war.

“We have a war to fight on the cultural front,” Liberty Orchestra chief guitarist Nazar Steps told AFP. Steps, who lives in Kyiv, confirmed his commitment to playing Ukrainian pieces. “If we don’t revive the works of Ukrainian composers, nobody will. (…) I mean the artists Kevgeny Stankovich and Valentin Sylvestrov, whose work we are going to play here, and other young contemporary composers,” he added.

Keri Lynn Wilson describes the members of the orchestra as “music soldiers” in her promotional videos on social media about this elite band.

Percussionist Dmytro Ilyin smiled when asked: Can music really be considered a weapon? “Since our childhood, we don’t know how to do anything other than music,” he replied. “We have to do something one way or the other.” As for Mark Krechinsky, “Kerry Lynn Wilson chose the perfect timing for the tour,” noting that “interest in the war declined abroad.”

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