At 43, the famous Ukrainian conductor Oksana Lyniv is not just a global star and an influential figure in the world of orchestral conductors, which is dominated by men. In 2021, she made a splash when she became the first woman to conduct an orchestra at the Bayreuth Festival – in the 145-year history of this classical music festival that features operas by Richard Wagner. This year Oksana is once again at the conductor’s stand in Bayreuth and, like last time, will take over the musical direction of The Flying Dutchman. The premiere of the performance will take place today, August 6th.

And also Oksana Lyniv – art director and initiator of the international festival of classical music LvivMozArt in Lviv, founder and chief conductor of the Youth Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine. DW met the star in Bayreuth and talked to her about her conducting career, about Bayreuth and the sexist debate that broke out there, and how she feels about the war of aggression unleashed by Russia in her homeland Ukraine.

Deutsche Welle: Ms. Lyniv, how does it feel to be back in Bayreuth a year after a brilliant debut?

Oksana Lyniv: It’s fine! I am very happy that my so important debut in Bayreuth took place last year. This year, under the circumstances, it would be much more problematic.

– The second time you feel probably more comfortable and at ease – and less stressed …

– Now I can just focus on the music and not be distracted by this crazy media hype and publicity wave. And frankly, too much importance is attached to the gender issue. But you are a man or a woman – this has nothing to do with our work at all. I was happy when I came to the first rehearsal – and many musicians came up to me and said: “We are so glad that this year we will play together again.” Musicians don’t care if I’m a woman or not. What matters to all of us is that we put on really great performances and enjoy the fact that we work together.

“Here in Bayreuth, the debate about sexism is raging. The women are said to have been harassed. Even festival director Katharina Wagner allegedly became their target. What was your personal experience and how do you evaluate these debates?

– I was very surprised when I read about it. I don’t have any negative experiences in this regard. From the first day of work in Bayreuth, I constantly felt great respect for myself – both from all the employees and from the musicians of the orchestra. If Katharina Wagner says this, it means that smoke is not without fire. And very bad, if true. In this case, it is necessary to conduct a check, because such things have no place either in our sphere or in our society.

– Well, if we talk about the musical field in general: what can you say about sexism – based on your own experience and in general?

– It’s no secret that earlier sexism in the field of classical music was very common. Of course, this was connected with the myth of the so-called maestro – men with a certain superiority, with whom everyone must reckon. Of course, this is bad. But as a young female conductor, I more often had to listen to statements from older colleagues or male conductors such as: you will not succeed. What are you trying to do? What are you dreaming about? In general, something like that.

And yes, it’s very offensive. And I am glad that in our time it is unacceptable that the conductor and the musicians of the orchestra are required to respect each other. I am also glad that our field is becoming more and more multinational and also more diverse. If we, as a society, do not work on our mistakes, then there will be no progress.

– The Bayreuth Festival is opening up more and more to the new, and it also seems to be striving to reach out to new audiences…

– Yes, I am delighted that the Bayreuth Festival is becoming more and more open and is constantly looking for new formats. This year, a completely new open-air format was implemented – in the open air in the park next to the Palais des Festivals. His idea is to bring music to people directly, without tickets or seating arrangements. Everyone can come here – with their families and friends, taking blankets and everything you need for a picnic. A wonderful concept, and the motto of the project is “Faith, Hope, Love”.

– A wonderful motto – especially if you remember the situation in your homeland, in Ukraine…

Yes, it is indeed a tragedy. And I believe that this tragedy now affects everyone – not only those who live in Ukraine, but also every person who stands for European values, democratic values, humanistic values.

People are constantly faced with death, violence, cruelty. It’s very, very hard emotionally, and you try in vain to find some explanation for it. To some extent, I am helped by the thought that in former times there were wars and revolutions. Nevertheless, even then the great composers composed music and left us works that are relevant to us now.

– What can music really change in a desperate situation in which Ukraine is now?

– Unfortunately, we, as people of art, cannot stop the war, we cannot influence politicians. However, music and art have an incredible power of impact. It is the language of our hearts, our souls – and it is a language that also penetrates the hearts of other people. And even if we cannot help directly, we can be compassionate. And compassion gives hope. In turn, hope gives strength to endure difficulties and not fall into despair. If you see around only aggression and despair, not noticing the light at the end of the tunnel, then you will lose your future.

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