By Javier C. Hernández
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 earlier this week.
“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. “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 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 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. “We are fighting as artistic soldiers, soldiers of music. This gives the musicians a voice and the emotional strength to get through this.”
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 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. “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 Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov’s Seventh Symphony; Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2, featuring Ukrainian pianist Anna Fedorova; Brahms’ Fourth Symphony; and Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony.
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.”