The Russian invasion has destroyed the cultural life of Ukraine, forced well-known music ensembles to disintegrate and led to an exodus of conductors, composers and players.
Now some of Ukraine’s leading artists are joining forces with the help of the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the Polish National Opera in Warsaw to use music to express opposition to Russia’s continued attacks. They will form a new ensemble, the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, and do an 11-city tour of Europe and the United States in July and August, the orchestra announced Monday.
“This is something we can do for our country and for our people,” said Marko Komonko, a Ukrainian violinist who will serve as the orchestra’s concertmaster, in an interview. “It’s not much, but it’s our job.”
The 75-man orchestra, which will consist of Ukrainian refugees as well as musicians still in the country, will perform at several European festivals, including the BBC Proms in London for a TV appearance on 31 July. It will make stops in Germany, France, Scotland and the Netherlands before heading to the United States to perform at the Lincoln Center and at the Kennedy Center in Washington. The proceeds from the concerts will benefit Ukrainian artists.
The orchestra will be led by Canadian-Ukrainian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson, who came up with the idea for the ensemble, eager to find a way to help musicians and others in Ukraine.
“We want to show the crisis-stricken citizens of Ukraine that a free and democratic world supports them,” Wilson said in an interview. “We fight like artistic soldiers, the soldiers of music. This gives the musicians a voice and the emotional strength to get through this. ”
Wilson slammed the idea to her husband, Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, who offered the company’s support and persuaded the Polish National Opera to help as well. The orchestra gathers in mid-July in Warsaw for rehearsals and holds an opening concert at the Wielki Theater, home of the Polish National Opera.
Gelb said it was important that artistic groups speak out against the Russian invasion. Shortly after the invasion began, the Met announced that they would not engage artists or institutions that supported Russian President Vladimir V. Putin. Last month, the Met held a concert in support of Ukraine; banners forming the Ukrainian flag stretched across the exterior of the theater, bathed in blue and yellow floodlights.
“This is a world situation that is far beyond politics,” Gelb said in an interview. “It’s about saving humanity. The Met, as the largest performing arts company in the United States and one of the leading companies in the world, clearly has a role to play, and we have played it. ”
The Freedom Orchestra will perform a number of works, including the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov’s Seventh Symphony; Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with Ukrainian pianist Anna Fedorova; Brahms’ Fourth Symphony; and Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony.
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Renowned Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska, who now sings the title role in Puccini’s “Turandot” at the Met, will perform an aria from Beethoven’s “Fidelio” that touches on themes of hope and peace.
The musicians represent a mix of Ukrainian ensembles, including the Ukrainian National Symphony Orchestra, the Lviv Philharmonic Orchestra, the Kyiv National Opera and the Kharkiv Opera. Some are part of European ensembles, including the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, the Tonkunstler Orchestra of Vienna and the Belgian National Orchestra.
Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture will allow male musicians in the orchestra to take part in the tour, despite rules preventing men of military age from leaving the country, the ensemble said.
Komonko, the violinist who left Ukraine last month with his family for Sweden, where he plays in an orchestra, said music could be a distraction from the violence.
“When you go through all this, you look at music differently, through different lenses,” he said. “It removes my mind from the war. It allows people to stay alive.”