Calling for Peace, Ukrainian Musicians Unite for a World Tour

The Russian invasion has devastated cultural life in Ukraine, forcing renowned musical ensembles to disband and leading to an exodus of conductors, composers and players.

Now some of Ukraine’s leading artists, with the help of the Metropolitan Opera in New York and the Polish National Opera in Warsaw, are uniting to use music to express opposition to Russia’s continuing attacks. They will form a new ensemble, the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra, and make an 11-city tour of Europe and the United States in July and August, the orchestra announced on Monday.

“This is something we can do for our country and for our people,” Marko Komonko, a Ukrainian violinist who will serve as the orchestra’s concertmaster, said in an interview. “It’s not much, but this is our job.”

The 75-member orchestra, which will be made up of Ukrainian refugees as well as musicians still in the country, will appear at several European festivals, including the BBC Proms in London for a televised performance on July 31. It will make stops in Germany, France, Scotland and the Netherlands, before heading to the United States to perform at Lincoln Center and at the Kennedy Center in Washington. Proceeds from the concerts will benefit Ukrainian artists.

The orchestra will be led by the 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 embattled citizens of Ukraine that a free and democratic world supports them,” Wilson said in an interview. “We are fighting as artistic soldiers, soldiers of music. This gives the musicians a voice and the emotional strength to get through this.”

Marko Komonko, the orchestra’s concertmaster, said: “This is something we can do for our country and for our people. It’s not much, but this is our job.”Credit…via Marko Komonko

Wilson pitched 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 assist as well. The orchestra will assemble in mid-July in Warsaw for rehearsals and hold an opening concert at the Wielki Theater, home to the Polish National Opera.

Gelb said it was important that artistic groups spoke out against the Russian invasion. Shortly after the invasion began, the Met announced it would not engage performers or institutions that supported President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Last month, the Met staged 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’ve been playing it.”

The Freedom Orchestra will perform a variety of works, including the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov’s Seventh Symphony; Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2, featuring the Ukrainian pianist Anna Fedorova; Brahms’s Fourth Symphony; and Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony.

How the Ukraine War Is Affecting the Cultural World

Card 1 of 6

Gavriel Heine. The American conductor, a fixture at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, Russia, for 15 years, has resigned from his post as one of the state-run theater’s resident conductors. He said in a series of interviews that he had been increasingly disturbed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Valentin Silvestrov. Ukraine’s best-known living composer, Mr. Silvestrov made his way from his home in Kyiv to Berlin, where he is now sheltering. In recent weeks, his consoling music has taken on new significance for listeners in his war-torn country.

Anna Netrebko. The superstar Russian soprano faced backlash in Russia after she tried to distance herself from President Vladimir V. Putin with a statement condemning the war. She had previously lost work in the West because of her past support for Mr. Putin.

Olga Smirnova. A principal soloist at the Bolshoi Ballet since 2016, Ms. Smirnova announced that she had joined the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam, becoming one of the most significant Russian cultural figures to leave the country because of its invasion of Ukraine.

Valery Gergiev. The star Russian maestro and vocal supporter of Mr. Putin was removed from his post as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic after he refused to denounce Russia’s actions in Ukraine. His abrupt dismissal came three years before his contract was set to expire.

Alexei Ratmansky. The choreographer, who grew up in Kyiv, was preparing a new ballet at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow when the invasion began, and immediately decided to leave Moscow. The ballet, whose premiere was set for March 30, was postponed indefinitely.

The renowned Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska, who is now singing 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 National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, 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.

The Ukraine Ministry of Culture will allow male musicians in the orchestra to participate in the tour, despite rules barring 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 is playing in an orchestra, said music could be a distraction from the violence.

“When you live through all of this, you look at music differently, through different lenses,” he said. “It takes my mind off the war. It allows people to keep living.”

Back to top button